Reality Check

This post was supposed to be a warm one about my experience this evening watching the fireworks in Washington DC and how Virginia suburbanites came together on 395, 66, and US1 to make these highways part of the public realm, pulling onto the shoulders and leaning against guardrails as traffic stopped during the celebration of our nation’s declaration of independence. It was supposed to sheepishly admit that I drove all over DC with my girlfriend, burning through a half a tank of gas to see great DC, Maryland, and Virginia attractions — assets, I should say — during her brief stay.

But, in fact, I’m not so cheerful anymore. A foreboding feeling has gnawed at the fringes of my consciousness since the news a week-and-a-half ago that a Chinese government-owned corporation has bid for the purchase of Unocal. Since my sophomore year in college when Ken Organski taught us his Power Transition theory I have been warily waiting for the theoretical implication that China would surpass the United States in world power to come true.

We may very well be in the midst of this transition. The late Organski, when I queried him one day, claimed that the transition would not necessarily be bloody or confrontational — as it often had been throughout world history — if both China and the US were somewhat rational and amicable partners in the process. To return us to the present, this Washington Post article makes it look like the transition will not be as smooth as we might hope. Given the Bush administration’s deaf ear on foreign policy, economic development, domestic politics, and every other topic they’ve touched, I can’t help but be worried that this attempt to buy Unocal’s energy assets — oil, minerals, etc. — is going to get botched by the White House ideologues and we are going to have a serious situation on our hands, both long-term and short-term.

The U.S., of course, produces nowhere near the energy we consume, so we have to go to other places to get it, particularly oil and natural gas. Thus, our unhealthy fixation on the Middle East. Then, our domestic companies are some of the ones to drill for oil and mine for whatever overseas. CNOOC, a government-owned corporation, wants to buy Unocal and control its assets. CNOOC claims it is investing in energy assets, a safe bet in our increasingly consumptive world; however, if the Chinese government owns the company that owns the energy company and its assets, I have no doubt that there will be no little influence from the Chinese government on directing these assets to increasingly demanding and lucrative Chinese markets. ie, I can see them horning in on “our” oil pretty easily and there being serious domestic political upheaval here as people complain about the price of everything relying on oil for production or transportation AND the fact that the Chinese will become a more important global force than the US.

I certainly am a pessimist and even have a little conspiracy theorist in me. God, I hope I’m overreacting to China’s increasingly hostile rhetoric (given their government controlled currency and humungous trade surplus threatening the US economy) and everyone will play nice. But I am worried about where the U.S. is headed. Just what IS the future of the US economy and the world’s last remaining super power? How will the US react to the rise of the increasingly powerful and assertive China?