Saturday, August 13, 2005

Crouching Superpower, Hidden China

Newsweek has a wonderful, if sobering, editorial by Fareed Zakaria about the differences between how China has been positioning itself as the dominant player in Asia in contrast to how the US has made far more enemies than friends lately. In other words, what China is doing right and the US is doing wrong.

What ever happened to China anyway? In the 1990’s, many pundits (particularly conservatives) saw China as the greatest threat to the US, their economic AND military power becoming far more powerful than we would like.

Now that terrorism and the Missle East have become our great concerns, should we be worried about China? The short answer is yes. While many Americans may take comfort in the knowledge that they need us as much as we need them, in fact they do not. The US needs China far more than China needs us. As Joseph Stiglitz writes in the Financial Times, “China could easily make up for the loss of exports to America – and the wellbeing of its citizens could even be improved – if some of the money it lends to the US was diverted to its own development… But the US could not so easily make up for the gap in funding without large increases in interest rates, and these could play havoc with the economy.”

Stiglitz also points out that China’s economy is growing far faster than the US, with higher net savings. China is also producing far more engineers and scientists "that are necessary to compete in the global economy than the US, while America is cutting its expenditures on basic research as it increases military spending. Meanwhile, as America’s debt continues to balloon, its president wants to make tax cuts for the richest people permanent.”

The problem, of course, is not just economic (as if that alone were not enough to reconsider certain policies). Americans have no reason to fear that China’s growing military will ever be used against them, but they should be bit concerned that such strength makes China increasingly less immune from the standard US diplomatic tactic (that is, “do as we say or we will bomb you senseless"). Furthermore, a strong China could decide to start doing in Asia and the Pacific what the US does for Europe: act as the chief defender and protector of the peace and stability of the region. Thus far, as North Korea demonstrates, China seems to have no interest in becoming the Asian version of America, but one day it might and it could. What would be the implication of all this? Well, for one thing, the current Euro-American centered international order in which the US, Britain and other European government pretty much decide what gets done, could be replaced with a more Asian-centered international policy. Why not drop out of the UN and invite Japan and South Korea to form a new multinational body, the UAN? Unlikely any time soon, but certainly not impossible, especially if Japan continues to be rejected a SC seat.

The final nail in the coffin for a strong China is that the rising power has been met with rising international prestige, or at the very least a rising regional prestige. The US has come to look like a big billy at best (and an international pariah at worst- a PEW research center, China is more popular than the US in both Europe and Asia. Although the poll shows that few want China to be able to rival the US, majorities do want SOMEONE to rival us.

Of course, I don’t mean to sound paranoid. Although foolish fiscal policies and an explosive trade deficit make the economic situation with China outright dangerous, the military power of the Communist state and its international reputation remain only potentialities for now. Nor am I suggesting that a world with a dominant China need necessarily be all bad or cannot be taken advantage of (although personally, I do not look forward to that day for other reasons). I bring all this up only because China is yet another area almost entirely ignored both by the media and by this administration, and I thought I would point out why this ought not be the case.


Nellie the Ellie (C.Pettit) said...

Of course the US does not protect peace, rights or law in Europe, and has in fact destroyed these things more than any other nation (cumulatively) in the past 50 years (with the only possible rival being the now defunct USSR), so your analogy kind of falls flat on its face. However, your point about another ideologically driven power hungry government seeking to be a hegemon taking the place our our desperately needing to be overthrown and re-constituted nation is well taken...there should be an international community actually based on rights, law and peace, and not silly ideological positions dressed up with those words so as to render them meaningless when used.


Cram said...

Your final point about the desirability of “an international community actually based on rights, law and peace, and not silly ideological positions dressed up with those words so as to render them meaningless when used” is well taken and I could not agree more.

The great difficulty, of course, is how to actually construct such a community since I think we can agree that none currently exists. What does exist is numerous international organizations that are composed of countries who are driven primarily by their own self-interest, with altruism and human rights embraced only when the cost is near zero. The exception to this generality of course, tends to be those smaller organizations composed of dedicated individuals rather than states, who are often supported by countries only to the extent that it serves their interests (it is a cynical view I hold, I readily admit, but an accurate one I believe). Although I share your frustration with the self-guided policies of powerful states, I don’t think we see eye to eye when it comes to the proper role and potential morality of institutions such as the United Nations.

So long as the nation-state exists, which I believe will be for the remainder of human presence on this planet, such an international community of peace and law will never be achieved. What we should strive to do, at least, is create an international environment where democracy and open markets are everywhere encouraged while types of government that suppress the rights of individuals are everywhere discouraged. So long as much of the planet’s population remains enslaved to their own despotic or corrupt governments, any cooperation between states is only really cooperation between elites.