Millions of us have been swept up in the color and drama of the Olympic Games. But the Beijing Stadium isn't the only arena for global competition. Now, after decades of dominance, will the U.S. soon be "passing the torch"? Here's Martha Teichner:
Consider the Olympic Games a giant exclamation point … a fanfare announcing a message from the Chinese.
They're putting the world on notice, that they are players playing to win, and not just Olympic gold. They want you to know that China is a power to be reckoned with, and proud of it, that it's bearing down on the United States … fast.
"The implications are that China will be the commercial leader of the world," Albert Keidel, an expert on China's economy, told Teichner. "It will also deserve and demand leadership in global institutions."
Keidel is the author of a startling new study for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "China's Economic Rise: Fact And Fiction."
"We can model the economy and show that by 2035, it will be as big, if not bigger than the United States' economy will be at that time, and by the middle of the century it will be twice the size of the U.S. economy at that time," Keidel said.
"That's staggering," Teichner said.
"That's conservative," Keidel said.
In cased you missed that - within the next 50 years China's economy will double the size of the United States' economy.
So where will that leave the United States? Are we slipping? Are we reaching some inevitable tipping point that will change the world as we know it? Is the golden age of America coming to an end?
Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, said, "What's happening right now is, the world is moving beyond America. The future is, in many ways, being shaped in distant places by foreign people."
Zakaria is author of "The Post-American World," which is a bestseller.
"That's a big shift from a world in which America was at the center economically, financially, culturally, militarily, politically, to a world in which there are more centers and many forces, from India to China to Brazil to South Africa that have to be taken into account," Zakaria said.
The meltdown in the U.S. economy at the moment isn't helping: The price of gas, the mortgage crisis, the weak dollar, the cost (both monetary and political) of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the shift, according to Zakaria, is more fundamental.
"This is not happening because America is failing or declining," Zakaria said. "It's happening because the rest are rising, and it's happening because the natives have gotten good at capitalism."
And it's happening right under our noses. America's beverage, Budweiser beer, is now owned by Belgians.
The government of Abu Dhabi last month bought a 90% stake in New York City's iconic Chrysler Building.
And isn't the United States supposed to be the place with the biggest and best of everything?
The tallest building in the world isn't in New York or Chicago anymore. It's in Taipei.
The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, once the world's largest, isn't even in the top ten now. The biggest one's in - surprise, surprise - China.
Alan Wolff, an international trade lawyer and former U.S. trade negotiator who specializes in china, said we're not used to foreign competition.
Coming out of World War II, we had a lot of breathing space; the rest of the world's economies were devastated, "but they're catching up," Wolff said.
"Worldwide, 179 countries are growing faster than we are. As our manufacturing jobs have moved offshore, the United States has counted on innovation to keep its edge, but how much longer will that be possible?"
Take the iPhone. The idea, the genius, was American. But the phones themselves are made in China, where the government is determined that the next generation of geniuses will be Chinese.
"Actually, that's a stated national policy," Wolff said. "They have a medium- and long-term science and technology policy, 2006-2020, and in that policy one of the statements, one of the parts is to establish global brands, with indigenous technology, with Chinese technology behind those brands."
Think Japanese cars. When they arrived here in a big way in the 1970s, Detroit didn't see what was coming. Today Toyota, not GM, is the number one-selling car company in the U.S. And find an American community that wouldn't like a Toyota plant putting people to work.
China wants to be next.
Michael Jemal is president and CEO of Haier America, told Teicher that innovation and having its own patents is the "life blood" for Haier. "Haier applies for two patents every single day, every day of the year. In fact, it's more than that."
Never heard of Haier America? Just wait. Right now, Chinese-owned Haier is trying to buy GE's appliance division
When it entered the U.S. market nine years ago, the company sold three products. Now it sells 3,000. You name it, Haier makes it, everything from little dorm refrigerators to air conditioners, washing machines to flat screen TVs.
"Haier is the number one brand in China," Jemal said. "In asia, we're in the top ten. The objective here in the U.S. is also to build a market share, to be in the top three in the U.S."
Haier is a pioneer, the first big Chinese manufacturer to build a plant in the United States, a $40 million dollar refrigerator factory outside Camden, South Carolina.
There the Chinese flag hangs alongside the Stars and Stripes.
"This is an American plant," said Joe Sexton, president of Haier America Refrigerators.
"It's run by Americans, and it is staffed by Americans. It is owned by the Chinese."
They employ 125 hourly employees, and 30 salaried employees at Camden. Half these people used to work in the textile industry. They lost their old jobs to lower-paid workers in Asia. In other words, this is globalization in reverse.
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford said, "We've been, I mean, really whacked in textile job loss. We lost about 95,000 direct textile jobs in that process."
Sanford said that thanks to foreign investment, the state has made up those losses and then some. The 600-plus foreign companies operating in South Carolina account for 1 out of 5 manufacturing jobs. They employ nearly two hundred thousand workers.
"Capital goes to where it's loved, and we try to be very inviting on that front, and not just in terms of tax policy and regulatory policy and other things, but also in terms of direct relationship," Sanford said.
"That's happening at the local level in the United States," Wolff said, "but the federal government is oblivious to it."
Wolff said the president and Congress must face the new reality of global competition.
"We need to change our tax policies, change our immigration policy. We made the U.S. a magnet, an attractive place for the best and the brightest in the world, and we frustrate that by saying, 'You get a Ph.D. here and that doesn't matter. Right now, we're throwing you out.' That's very self-destructive behavior."
"We save too little, we consume too much, we borrow too much from the rest of the world, we use energy in a profligate and wasteful fashion," said Zakaria. He says the U.S. must change its ways, and soon, if we want to hang on to the wealth and influence we have.
"I think that our window for policy change is very short," he said. "I think if we don't, in the next few years, four, five years, make the necessary adjustments, what you'll see is something that looks a little like the trajectory of the British empire in the 20th century. It's not that Britain collapsed, it's that it just slowly faded away in significance, in power and wealth."
Halfway through the Olympics, the enormity of China's ambition is a wonder for all to see - and for Americans, a sobering wake-up call.
"At one level a post-American world is a sign of American failure, and at another it's a sign of glorious success," said Zakaria. "Why is this happening? Because countries around the world are doing what we've been telling them to do for the last 60 years: open yourself up to capitalism, to free trade, to technology."
But Zakaria worries that one day historians will write about how the United States globalized the world, but forgot to globalize itself.