Sunday, December 5, 2010

How Will Two Goliaths Meet?

This past couple of weeks I have been following the progress of Thomas Barnett's ongoing effort to find a starting point for better relations with China. As noted in earlier posts here and here, Barnett in concert with the Center for America China Partnership are meeting over the next ten days with leading Chinese policy experts to discuss a grand strategy proposal for a bilateral and multilateral agreement between the United States and China. Several of the proposals ask that the United States rethink it's position in a definitive Geo-political way. Many of  the proposals on surface will give Americans pause, because it goes against what has been part of our national policy for the past half century. Is Barnett, as some have inferred, a "Panda Hugger" or is he being truly visionary? The answer for me lies in carefully reading history and thinking about both China's history and ingrained philosophy as well as the history and philosophy of the United States. Blog friend Mark of Zenpundit posted on this subject and got a variety of comments, some negative and sceptical that tend to reflect the perceived American image of China. 

Today our national creed has become to spread American style democracy around the globe, even to the point of a gun. The results have backfired in several places as nationalistic tendencies led to the election of leaders now bent on confronting our hegemony by inciting disdain for all things American. We should all be reminded of America's first foray into imperilism cum, "nation building" in 1900, which saw the Philippines racked with a war of resistance that cost thousands of American and Philippine lives and ended in the United States tarnishing it's image of being the shinning hope for the down-trodden. Ultimately we left behind a country still struggling to make it's way beyond the grinding poverty that still resides on many of their far flung islands.

Many Americans still see the rise of China in Cold War terms. China is continually referred to as Communist or the Chi-Coms who are still bent on changing the world into a collective farm and concrete block apartments of robotic people dressed in  drab Mao jackets and riding bicycles in mass transit to equally drab work assignments. For anyone who has visited China, you will quickly learn that image has joined Chairman Mao in his tomb. Mao jackets along side Russian style fur caps are sold only to tourists by hundreds of vendors, all eager to gain a middle class existence. This is aptly apparent when one considers that just a short thirty years ago, over 65% of the Chinese people lived in extreme poverty on less than $1 per day, but by 2007 it had fallen to 4%. Today, it is even lower, but still far behind our American standard of living. Bottom line, they accomplished this by emulating the best traditions of liberal Capitalism, not Communism. If anything, China is returning to her roots, as the Communist Party assumes the role traditionally held by the Mandarin class who administered policy for the imperial court. We may not like it, but with the growing nationalist pride many Chinese feel, seeing them elect a firebrand who becomes bent on starting wars is not in any one's best interest at this time. So in the short run it is better to allow them to progress towards a popularly elected representative government at their own pace.

China's String of Pearls

Other voices are calling out for similar approaches besides Barnett and his Chinese based counterparts John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min. Intrepid author of a dozen books on geo-politics of our world Robert D Kaplan in his recent best seller Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, writes about American and Chinese cooperation in maritime matters. He concludes that.
"...I said that strong American-Chinese bilateral relations going forward are not only plausible but might be the best-case scenario for the global system in the twenty-first century, allowing for true world global governance to take shape."
One of the links in a previous posts had the following analogy by Kishore Mahbubani.
The world has changed fundamentally. Humanity hasn’t. Or, to put it more accurately, humanity has not changed its organizing principles to deal with a changed world. A simple metaphor demonstrates how fundamentally our world has changed. Before the contemporary era of rapid globalization, when humanity lived in 192 separate countries, it was like living in 192 separate boats. Hence, all the world needed was rules to prevent collisions. The 1945 rules-based order did just this, while also allowing for some cooperation. Today, as a result of a shrunken world, humanity no longer lives on 192 separate boats. Instead, all 7 billion of us live in 192 separate cabins on the same boat.
And though we live on the same boat, we have no captain or crew to manage the boat.
None of us would dream of sailing out to sea on a boat without captain or crew. Yet, this is precisely what humanity is doing with Earth as we sail into the 21st century. Global problems require coordinated global actions to solve them: from financial crises to global warming, from pandemics to global terrorism. Yet, despite this, we shy from creating institutions and processes of global governance. Note, global governance is not global government. Despite this crucial distinction, no national government dares to espouse greater global governance.

Now look at this editorial by Robert D Kaplan in the December 5, 2010 Washington Post.
Currency wars. Terrorist attacks. Military conflicts. Rogue regimes pursuing nuclear weapons. Collapsing states. And now, massive leaks of secret documents. What is the cause of such turbulence? The absence of empire. ¶ During the Cold War, the world was divided between the Soviet and U.S. imperial systems. The Soviet imperium - heir to Kievan Rus, medieval Muscovy and the Romanov dynasty - covered Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia and propped up regimes in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. The American imperium - heir to maritime Venice and Great Britain - also propped up allies, particularly in Western Europe and East Asia. True to the garrison tradition of imperial Rome, Washington kept bases in West Germany, Turkey, South Korea and Japan, virtually surrounding the Soviet Union.
The breakup of the Soviet empire, though it caused euphoria in the West and led to freedom in Central Europe, also sparked ethnic conflicts in the Balkans and the Caucasus that cost hundreds of thousands of lives and created millions of refugees. (In Tajikistan alone, more than 50,000 people were killed in a civil war that barely registered in the U.S. media in the 1990s.)
The Soviet collapse also unleashed economic and social chaos in Russia itself, as well as the further unmooring of the Middle East. It was no accident that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait less than a year after the Berlin Wall fell, just as it is inconceivable that the United States would have invaded Iraq if the Soviet Union, a staunch patron of Baghdad, still existed in 2003. And had the Soviet empire not fallen apart or ignominiously withdrawn from Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden never would have taken refuge there and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, might not have happened. Such are the wages of imperial collapse.
Now the other pillar of the relative peace of the Cold War, the United States, is slipping, while new powers such as China and India remain unready and unwilling to fill the void. There will be no sudden breakdown on our part, as the United States, unlike the Soviet Union, is sturdily maintained by economic and political freedom. Rather, America's ability to bring a modicum of order to the world is simply fading in slow motion.

Read the whole article for Kaplan's razor sharp insight.
A world with no one in charge 

I will continue to write about this evolving process. The reality is that time is not standing still. The United States casts about seeking leadership that at times appear to the people in the developing economies as selfish as the infamous robber barons when they rail on about losing jobs overseas, as their children scorn school and many of their elders lobby for entitlements in the form of rich pensions and ever increasing government programs. Beyond the questions posed by forging bilateral relations, how do we as a nation re-discover our own national myth of greatness and opportunity amid the anguish caused by generations of indoctrinated navel gazing about our frailties and injustices. Kishore Mahbubani, Robert Kaplan and Tom Barnett all agree, the world is no longer made up of individual boats, but now if you will we are on a huge ark, with the survival of humanity at stake as in antiquities tale.


John Milligan-Whyte said...

The insights expressed in this article, How Will Two Goliaths Meet? are wise and true. I want to send my compliments to HG and I look forward to working with you.

John Milligan-Whyte
Center for America China Partnership

HISTORYGUY99 said...

Hi John,

Thank you for the very kind words. I too am looking forwarding to working with you and Tom, and helping to build a bridge of understanding between China and the United States that will be beneficial to the future of both countries.