The United States must prioritize investing in domestic infrastructure and innovation at home in order to compete abroad against foreign rivals, including China, a “rising power,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday.
Blinken, speaking at the University of Maryland, sought to establish that long-term domestic investment is critical to strengthen the nation’s national security and foreign policy, saying it will help boost global competitiveness, strengthen U.S. diplomacy, and stand up for democracy.
The remarks come as a massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill backed by President Joe Biden nears approval in Congress, with a final vote on the bill in the Senate expected on Tuesday, after weeks of negotiations. The bill targets multiple infrastructure projects including roads, water, and bridges, as well as broadband internet.
The secretary of state acknowledged China as a major rival and called it a “rising power” and is “full speed ahead” when it comes to investing in infrastructure and innovation, but added that other countries have also begun to invest more in their infrastructure than the United States.
“Many countries are making major investments in their own domestic renewal right now. For the United States to continue to lead and to successfully bring countries together in common cause for the good of all our people, we have to do the same,” he said.
“We could be doing better. That is the hard truth. We’re falling behind where we once were in the world, and our rivals are slowly but surely pulling close behind us. In some areas, they’re already ahead of us,” Blinken said after touring an engineering laboratory at the University of Maryland, where 3D printing and other advanced manufacturing techniques were on display.
Blinken said that public investment in infrastructure, as a share of the economy, has fallen more than 40 percent, while other countries have “doubled down,” with China spending about three times as much on infrastructure compared to the United States every year.
China has also advanced in innovation, ranking second in the world for investing, as a share of the economy, in research and development. Such research involves industries such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and solar cells. The United States ranked number one 30 years ago, but now comes ninth, Blinken said.
Domestic renewal will help the United States compete for jobs, investment, as well as trade, Blinken said.
“For too long, we thought we could trade more with the world while investing less here at home. That didn’t work out for our economy, for our workers, or for our communities,” he said.
“President Biden has made it clear that before making more trade deals, we must first make a generational investment in our own competitiveness,” he added. “Our domestic renewal comes first. If we do that, we will compete in the 21st-century global economy from a position of strength.”
He sought to counter arguments by other countries that America is in decline, while making the case that domestic renewal can strengthen U.S. diplomacy.
“It’s no secret to us that the Chinese and Russian governments, among others, are making the argument in public and in private that the U.S. is in decline—’so it’s better to cast your lot with their authoritarian visions for the world than with our democratic one,'” he said.
“Nothing would put to rest faster their specious argument that America’s best days are behind us, than if the U.S. made serious investments in our domestic renewal right now,” Blinked later added. “It’s a lot harder to say a country is in decline when you’re watching it become stronger, more effective, more united before your very eyes.”
Blinken asserted, “If your economy is growing, if your people are healthy, if the cultural life of your country is thriving, if your country is known to give people from all backgrounds access to opportunity, it all adds up to greater diplomatic strength.”
Democracy is under threat due to rising authoritarianism in the world, and domestic renewal can help strengthen the former, Blinken said.
“By investing in our strength at home, we can show the world that democracies can do hard things and that we can do them without jailing dissidents, letting corruption run rampant, or violating fundamental freedoms,” he said.
“The more we and all democracies can show the world that we can deliver—for our people, for each other—the more we can refute the lie that authoritarian countries love to tell—that our system is hopelessly polarized and paralyzed and that theirs is the better way to meet people’s fundamental needs and hopes.”