Allan Topol is a partner in a large Washington-based international law firm. He has a science and engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon, and a law degree from Yale University. For almost 40 years, he has been involved in issues at the height of the Washington power structure.
He is also a national bestselling novelist, using the thriller genre to explore international geopolitical and military issues. His new novel, ENEMY OF MY ENEMY, dealing with an American pilot shot down over Eastern Turkey and Russian nuclear weapons, was released February 1, 2005.
His 2001 novel, SPY DANCE, is about a former CIA agent on the run and Saudi Arabian oil. His 2003 novel, DARK AMBITION, deals with the corruption of power in Washington and China's threatening posture toward Taiwan. In January 2004, his new novel CONSPIRACY was released dealing with a foreign leader's attempt to influence an American presidential election and the possibility of renewed militarism in Japan.
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June 8, 2005
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Last weekend, I traveled to Fort Worth, Texas to attend the finals of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition -- the premier world contest for concert pianists. It was a welcome break from intensive research about China I had been doing as background for my next novel. The only problem was that I kept thinking about China while I was in Fort Worth.
To start with, two of the six finalists were young women from China. One was a young woman from South Korea. The others were a young man from Russia and two from Italy. The Russian took the gold medal, the Korean woman came in second, and Sa Chen, 25, of China, finished third.
Having a Chinese presence of this magnitude in the Cliburn is a remarkable feat. During the “cultural revolution” of the sixties, which had an impact for decades, an effort was brutally implemented by the regime to eradicate all western music. The teaching, practice and performance of the pieces Sa Chen played were banned. What this competition underscored for me is the extent to which China is becoming a force in all aspects of American life.
Of course, our main concern is economics, not music. At a small dinner one evening at Fort Worth's fabulous Museum of Modern Art, I happened to end up seated next to a man who owns and operates a trucking company based in the Pacific Northwest. When I asked him whether China's hot economy was impacting his business, he replied, “Absolutely.” His company hauls logs and lumber. With the now insatiable Chinese demand for wood, as well as oil, cement, steel and most other raw materials, his trucks are on the road all the time, hauling to Pacific ports for shipment to China. Of course the flip side is that at least some of that wood will be used in making the furniture that is flooding the American market and driving North Carolina producers out of business.
I had just been reading about the incredible construction boom in China. For example, in Beijing alone, millions of square feet are under way -- including two thousand high-rise buildings. The numbers are staggering throughout all of China, even in smaller cities.
This brings me back to Fort Worth. It was my second visit to this wonderful city. Again, I found the people to be gracious and friendly, the museums world class, and the restaurants good. What I didn't see was a single construction crane either downtown or in our travels in the suburbs. When I pointed this out to an accompanying colleague who works in the financial sector in the United States, he said, “There's nothing going on here.”
This fact is astounding when we consider that Fort Worth is in the heart of Texas oil country. With the price of oil rising so sharply in recent months and energy companies reporting record profits, this should be boom time in Fort Worth. Clearly there are oil and gas profits being returned to investors. That's obvious from the mansions in posh suburbs. But they are not going into economic development.
As someone who cares deeply about the United States and the future we will be leaving our children, I found all of this depressing. It confirmed what the economists have been predicting that at present levels of growth, the Chinese economy should surpass ours in approximately two decades.
Of course, economists are frequently wrong, and we can sit back hoping they will be erroneous this time as well. A better alternative would be to have a major national effort to meet the Chinese challenge. We did it in World War II. We did it when the Russians launched Sputnik. And we can do it again.
Drive and determination are two of the qualities that led Sa Chen to a medal in the Van Cliburn. These are both lacking in our collective national will.
The time has come to stop wrangling about whether this judge or that judge sits on the court of appeals and other comparable domestic issues. Let's launch a “Manhattan Project” for our stagnant economy. We're acting like a horse on a track, trotting along unaware that we're in a race for our economic survival. If we don't wake up and develop a national response, we'll be left behind in the dust -- the way England was as we surpassed them a hundred years ago.
For those who say it can't happen to us, I respond why not?
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