The first thing that I think we need to do in order to share the 21st century with China is take a step back from the issue of human rights. Every time we try to overlay trade and economic foreign policy with morality we run smack into the same problem; our understanding of other cultures diminishes in direct proportion to how many layers of ethnocentric moral clap trap we bring to the table. We so want the Chinese to think and act just like us that we act as if they already do. They don't!
As I mentioned in the first China post, they are a culture that takes the long view. Their history and pre-history go back over 5,000 years. China contains almost 20% of Earths people at 1.33 billion (and counting). They've earned the long view of culture. We, on the other hand, lose interest after 15 minutes. We're like a bunch of puppies in a field of butterflys. It is that inherent difference between our cultures that may end up benefiting them and, maybe, harming us.
Take energy. In this moment in time, as we worry about global warming and climategate, we hear that it really doesn't matter what the U.S. does since China is just going to out carbon everybody going forward. They are putting into service one coal fired power plant every week to 10 days. But they are also the world leader in so called clean coal technology. They are building more nuclear power plants than the entire world combined (our contribution being zero). They have doubled the amount of energy gotten from wind power in each of the past four years and will soon be the world leader in wind technology equipment purchases. That's taking the long view.
The Chinese know that they cannot sustain their current carbon excesses, so they plan for a future world where the mighty U.S.A. has to buy wind turbines, along with TVs, from them. We can't decide where or how to address nuclear waste and are scared out of our jammies that a nuclear power plant will melt down and kill us all. So we don't build nuke plants. We carp about the need for clean coal fired plants but don't want to pay the price, or claim in campaign ads that "There's no such thing as clean coal!", so we don't try to build them either.
Here in the Mountain State of West Virginia we have the coal is king group taking the tops off of mountains while the environmentalists would rather preserve all of nature by just keeping all the people away. No one is seeing that we need coal for some time to come, but we also need to push ahead with non-coal produced energy (oops, there goes my local reader(s)) like wind and geothermal. Hey, lets put wind turbines on those topless mountains. Flat terrain and good road beds already in place!
And in the end I think that's the answer to the question of China as the next super power. If we continue to make every discussion an argument between vested interests, we can only make progress in the short term. If that happens the Chinese will surpass us in the long term and the long term is not that far away. If we continue to be reactive to environmental crisis instead of being proactive in the face of sound scientific predictions, the Chinese will surpass us in the long term. If we continue to think that some future technology, not yet thought of, will get us out of environmental trouble, the Chinese will surpass us. I wish it were not so, but we are a stubborn bunch. I think I better learn Mandarin!