A Race We Can All Win

China's economic transformation over the past two decades is a fascinating, but still poorly understood, story. Many American politicians have played to voters' economic insecurities by scapegoating China, suggesting that the Chinese are the source of our problems and a threat to our prosperity. But based on my 35 years of experience in the private sector, and six years running the nation's largest city, I believe that China is not a threat to

America, but an opportunity. An incredible opportunity.

While we should recognize that China and the United States are competitors, we should also understand that geopolitics and global economics are not zero-sum games. Just as a growing American economy is good for China, a growing Chinese economy is good for America. That means we have a stake in working together to solve common problems, rather than trying to browbeat or intimidate the other into action. And it means we should seize on opportunities to learn from one another.

In early December I met with business and government leaders in Beijing and Shanghai. It was not my first trip to those cities: the company I founded 25 years ago has built offices in 130 cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Over the years I've watched China emerge as an economic dynamo, but I've also seen the frailties underpinning its system. From a distance of 7,000 miles, it's easy to think that China is overflowing with success. But the picture on the ground is far more complicated.

When I landed at the Pudong airport near Shanghai on my recent visit, I rode the high-speed magnetic-levitation train that runs between the airport and the city: with a top speed of 268 miles per hour, it's far faster than any train in the United States. This high-tech train of the future symbolizes how Shanghai, with its rising skyscrapers and booming financial markets, is working to rival New York as the city of the future.

But one of the chief reasons China built the maglev train—and why other countries like Japan are also developing maglev networks—was to help relieve their increasingly congested roads and increasingly polluted air. When you are in Shanghai or Beijing, it is impossible to escape either, and together, they threaten to choke the Chinese economy and its people. The growth of Chinese cities is also exposing other fundamental long-term economic challenges for China. For instance, China's education system is simply not producing enough skilled workers—engineers, doctors, scientists and managers—to meet the demands of its economy. At the same time, health-care costs are skyrocketing, which is causing rising financial anxiety among Chinese families.

Congestion. Pollution. Education concerns. Rising health-care costs. If this all sounds familiar, it should. In New York and across America, we face similar problems in all of these areas, but with all the hyperbole about China, it's easy to forget that we remain substantially ahead. We also have a system of government that is far less corrupt and far more stable, owing to our democratic politics, free press and open, transparent markets.

The challenge that we face is not preventing China from catching up with where we are today, but preventing ourselves from slowing down. That means overcoming the political inertia that has stopped us from investing in the 21st-century infrastructure that we need—not just high- speed rail lines but bigger ports, more mass-transit systems, more clean-energy capacity and more extensive broadband systems.

It also means overcoming widespread inertia in our efforts to improve the affordability of health care and the quality of education. In New York, we're proving that raising standards and holding schools and students accountable for results can lead to dramatic improvements in student achievement. America has the most advanced, cutting-edge universities in the world, driving innovation in every field. But to maintain that edge, we need a public-school system that is just as good, and that prepares our students to succeed in the new economy.

This summer's Olympic Games will give China a chance to showcase its impressive economic progress. But it will also remind the world that much work remains to be done in building a healthy society where differences of opinion—on politics, philosophy and faith—are respected as fundamental human rights. We live that lesson every day in New York, and as China may yet come to see, it is our greatest competitive advantage in the global economy.