As China continues its economic, technological and geopolitical rise, its leadership’s unstated goal seems to be overtaking the United States as the world’s leading great power. But if China really wants to overtake the US, the best thing it can do is learn from America’s example and become a magnet for people around the globe, alluring them to become Chinese.
The US might have the world’s largest economy and military, but its real strength is that, for almost two centuries, it has been a magnet for people all over the world. Thanks not just to its living standards, but to its democratic values, open society and world-class education and research, it has attracted millions of immigrants, who started calling America home. Among them were some of the world’s brightest minds, from Einstein to Tesla, who made America’s technological development possible. Almost a third of all US Nobel laureates in Physics, Chemistry or Medicine were born overseas.
But the benefits of immigration go beyond technology or even economics. Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Madeleine Albright or Samantha Power are some of the immigrants who ended up guiding America’s foreign policy. By attracting people from any nation, who use their diverse backgrounds, knowledge of foreign countries, language and cultural skills as diplomats and officials, the US has an unmatched advantage in foreign policy.
The benefits of immigration go even deeper – the US gains not just a new citizen, but a family. Barack Obama and Kamala Harris, who reached the apex of power in America, are the children of immigrants. Their contributions to the US, like those of Steve Jobs or Walt Disney, could not have been possible without America’s status as a beacon for immigrants anywhere on Earth.
China, on the other hand, does very poorly at attracting immigrants, who rarely and only with difficulty can become Chinese citizens. The government does have numerous programs to bring foreign students and researchers to China, but almost all the focus is on short-term gains: so that students can go back home with a good image of China or foreign experts can help build Chinese industry and expertise. But there’s no intention of convincing them to call China home. The gains are only temporary, instead of long-term.
The United States is the global leader because it has access to a worldwide pool of talent. Its workers, scientists, professors, doctors, entrepreneurs and even politicians come not just from among its 330 million citizens, but from all of humanity’s 8 billion people. Anybody anywhere in the world could one day be American. This offers the US an unrivaled pool of human resources.
Today, there are Chinese-Americans, born in China, who work for the US government, helping shape its strategy against China. More Chinese-Americans who left China have won Nobel Prizes in sciences than citizens of the People’s Republic of China. There are over 300.000 Chinese students in the US, many of which will settle down and become American citizens, but only 20.000 American students in China, few of which will spend their life there. With every such person who immigrates from China to the US, there is a transfer of power, however small, between the two countries, as workforce and brainpower move across the Pacific. But the flux is almost unidirectional.