Former President Jimmy Carter told a church congregation this weekend that he had spoken with President Donald Trump about China on Saturday, and said the commander in chief was worried that Beijing had outpaced its global rivals.
According to Emma Hurt, a reporter for NPR affiliate WABE, Carter spoke of the call during his regular Sunday School lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.
Carter, 94, said Trump was worried that "China is getting ahead of us," and suggested the president was right to be concerned.
He told the congregation that Trump feared China's growing economic strength. Economic modeling indicated that China would overtake the U.S. as the world's strongest economy by 2030, and many experts have said that we were already living in what has been dubbed the "Chinese Century."
Carter said he did not "really fear that time, but it bothers President Trump and I don't know why. I'm not criticizing him this morning," he added, to laughs from fellow churchgoers.
Carter—who normalized diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing in 1979—suggested that China's breakneck growth had been facilitated by sensible investment and buoyed by peace.
"Since 1979, do you know how many times China has been at war with anybody?" Carter asked. "None. And we have stayed at war." The U.S., he noted, has only enjoyed 16 years of peace in its 242-year history, making the country "the most warlike nation in the history of the world," Carter said. This is, he said, because of America's tendency to force other nations to "adopt our American principles."
In China, meanwhile, the economic benefits of peace were clear to the eye. "How many miles of high-speed railroad do we have in this country?" he asked. While China has some 18,000 miles of high-speed rail, the U.S. has "wasted, I think, $3 trillion" on military spending. "It's more than you can imagine. China has not wasted a single penny on war, and that's why they're ahead of us. In almost every way."
"And I think the difference is if you take $3 trillion and put it in American infrastructure you'd probably have $2 trillion leftover. We'd have high-speed railroad. We'd have bridges that aren't collapsing, we'd have roads that are maintained properly. Our education system would be as good as that of say South Korea or Hong Kong," Carter told the congregation.
Before he left the pulpit, Carter noted, "I wasn't comparing my country adversely to China. I was just pointing that out because I happened to get a phone call last night."
The Trump administration remains locked in a costly trade war with China, though Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Saturday the end could be in sight. "I think we're hopeful that we're getting close to the final round of concluding issues," Mnuchin told reporters, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, military tensions remain over Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea and its continued insistence that the independent island nation of Taiwan will eventually fall back under Beijing's control.