That mission to Mars wasn’t the first manned mission to the red planet. After the US government removed the years-long restriction on NASA’s cooperation with its Chinese counterpart, which was motivated by fears that China’s military could profit from space technologies, the two agencies decided to partner with the European Space Agency and make the first manned mission to Mars a global endeavor. It wasn’t an American, Chinese or European flag that was planted on Martian soil, but a blue flag depicting planet Earth. Scientific results from the Mars missions were released to private space companies, which were keen to start the planet’s colonization.
At the heart of US-China cooperation was the end of military competition in the early 2020s. As political trust had become strong enough, the two great powers announced coordinated military budget cuts, deciding that that 21st century will not be marked by an arms race. No longer afraid that technological progress could power a foreign military machine, tech cooperation became unrestrained. The most powerful supercomputer, a joint US-China initiative, has never been used for simulating nuclear blasts or for other military applications, but for climate models and deepening the understanding of the human brain.
But just as important were the budgetary consequences of this transition from Sino-American military competition to cooperation. As hundreds of billions of dollars became available, while jobs were becoming scarcer because of robotics and AI advances, Congress finally decided to give each American a monthly Universal Basic Income (UBI).
US-China cooperation extended around the world, especially in challenges like global warming, migration, pandemics, terrorism, development and poverty alleviation. As China became a leader in battery technology and electric vehicles, the US didn’t panic and try to save its own industry, but kept its market open to Chinese products, reducing greenhouse emissions. An old idea proposed by the chairman of State Grid Corporation of China, the world’s largest utility company, took shape: a worldwide green supergrid that enabled solar energy from the Equator and wind energy from the Arctic to power the world. When first proposed, there were geopolitical and political fears about the project, but as trust between China and the outside world grew, while the Chinese Communist Party gradually withdrew from the economy and established an independent judiciary, the idea was embraced.
The past two decades were far from perfect. While the global community started acting against global warming, consequences have still been felt. But whether it was a typhoon in Southeast Asia, drought and famine in Africa, or rising sea levels in the Pacific, China and the US cooperated to provide aid and lessen the impact. Their cooperation was also vital in improving living standards in Africa, as China invested in infrastructure building, while the US focused on education, transparency and capacity building.
Ties between the two societies also tightened. Starting in 2020, as China became the country with the most billionaires, over 100 of them joined Bill Gates and other famous philanthropists and signed the Giving Pledge. Thirty Chinese and American billionaires later launched a $200 billion fund for global sustainable development, with outstanding results.
Celebrating 60 years of US-China relations that day in January 2039, the American president, a Mandarin speaker, looked back at the beginning of the century, when there were doubts whether China, a rising power, and the US, the established power, would be able to get along or will become victims of an inevitable conflict. It was decisions taken in those years that lowered tensions and distrust and opened the door to unprecedented cooperation between the two superpowers, setting the 21st century on the road to success.
Robots assuming the burden of the most arduous physical tasks. 3D printing transforming manufacturing. AI revolutionizing almost every field. A Universal Basic Income that allows people a decent living, while robots and AI do the job. Nanotechnology and genetic engineering curing countless diseases. And humanity colonizing Mars and expanding into outer space. The 21st century held the promise of unprecedented technological change and progress, making the world a better and safer place. At least, until China and the United States decided otherwise.