Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chimerica? A Team of Rivals?

Ever since President Richard Nixon visited China in 1972. The door has slowly opened and like it or not the world has become a safer place. Our arch enemy since the Korean War became a major trading partner and eventually underwriting our debt. Our economies are intertwined so much that to break those bonds would almost ensure a mutually assured destruction of the world's economic health.

Thomas Barnett author of Great Powers: America and the World After Bush has a really forward looking post up today East and West, intertwined and imperative in which he describes his reaction to an article in Asia Times Online.

This is a very good but complex description (in the aggregate) of the nature of East-West financial/trade ties over the past years, with a prescription that makes sense regarding the future of U.S.-Chinese strategic cooperation. Without using the same words, its vision matches up nicely with mine in Great Powers--the notion of a "team of rivals" in diplomacy and a coordinated "race to the bottom of the pyramid" as a way to reorder global trade patterns (getting away from just the tremendous treadmill of China selling to us and buying our debt with its surplus) so as to close the Gap by having New Core powers like China integrate Gap economies into their buyer and producer chains and attracting Western competition in the same.

....In effect, what this piece says is that the globalization model of the past quarter century that saw America provide virtually all the global Leviathan services and the lion's share of consumer demand (an implicit Marshall Plan) is broken (I prefer the term, "consummated" or "completed"). But no matter the term you use, it has come to its useful end, this model. We can't take on more debt nor more global security burden--we are tapped. These are my essential arguments in Great Powers.

Barnett confronts the fear that many are having about the direction of the economy and America. He answers that fear this way.

Now I feel completely empowered across the board, and I no longer fear the subprime System Perturbation's play in my model of the future (fear, to me, is always a matter of not knowing how to integrate). Deep down, when you think about alternative global futures, you always know that the big facilitators are going to be scary crises. That's just the way it is. People will not change on the basis of frantic warnings during calm times, but they will change on the basis of calm warnings during frantic times.

Bottom line: if you want to be a grand strategist, you have to welcome the frantic times. No tumult, no play. And no play, no real structural change.

Part of what Tom is writing about is a vision expressed in this article by Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek. Wanted: A New Grand Strategy,

Grand strategy sounds like an abstract concept—something academics discuss—and one that bears little relationship to urgent, jarring events on the ground. But in the absence of strategy, any administration will be driven by the news, reacting rather than leading. For a superpower that has global interests and is forced to respond to virtually every problem, it's all too easy for the urgent to drive out the important.

Strategy begins by looking at the world and identifying America's interests, the threats to them and the resources available to be deployed. By relating all these, one can develop a set of foreign policies that will advance America's interests and ideals. When the unexpected happens, one can respond in ways that are aligned with these broader objectives. One uses the urgent to pursue the important. Or, to put it another way: never let a crisis go to waste.

Zakaria ends on this note by encouraging President-elect Obama to seize the moment.

This is a rare moment in history. A more responsive America, better attuned to the rest of the world, could help create a new set of ideas and institutions—an architecture of peace for the 21st century that would bring stability, prosperity and dignity to the lives of billions of people. Ten years from now, the world will have moved on; the rising powers will have become unwilling to accept an agenda conceived in Washington or London or Brussels. But at this time and for this man, there is a unique opportunity to use American power to reshape the world. This is his moment. He should seize it.

In a companion piece in Newsweek, Richard N. Haass China: Don’t Isolate, Integrate calls on America to invite China into the tent, as a way of confronting the problems that Tom Barnett has been writing about for the past decade.

The single most important challenge for the new administration—one with the potential to shape the 21st century—is China. As goes China, so go 1.3 billion men, women and children—one out of every five people on the planet.
China's economy is now roughly half the size of America's; in three decades, the two are likely to be about equal. What the Chinese eat, how much (or whether) they drive, where and how they choose to live, work and play: all will have an enormous impact on the availability and price of energy, the temperature of the planet and the prosperity of mankind.

Beijing's foreign policy is no less important. A cooperative China could help stem the spread of nuclear materials and weapons, maintain an open global trading and financial system, secure energy supplies, frustrate terrorists, prevent pandemics and slow climate change. A hostile or simply noncooperative China, on the other hand, would make it that much more difficult for the United States and its allies to tame the most dangerous facets of globalization. But the emergence of a cooperative China is anything but inevitable. That is why Washington needs a new approach to Beijing. Think of it as "integration."

Integration should be for this era what containment was for the previous one. Our goal should be to make China a pillar of a globalized world, too deeply invested to disrupt its smooth functioning. The aim is ambitious, even optimistic, but not unrealistic.

Much of what Haass and others have written, is countered by those who say we can not trust China now any more than the generation of our grandparents could trust Germany in the 1930's. During that time we never were able to influence Germany to change her ways before the world went over the cliff. Today, our best hope is to take the experiences we have learned from our past and practice pragmatic diplomacy, using trust, but verification as Reagan used to say, to ensure that our security and prosperity is protected through the strength of our people to innovate and adopt to a changing world.

Haass's final words are as cautious, as they are optimistic.

Even if all this happens, China and the United States aren't likely to become allies. But they could build a relationship based on selective cooperation, complemented by an understanding to limit the fallout from their disagreements. Both countries have a stake in such an arrangement. Trying to bring it about—integrating China into the highest councils of the 21st century—should be a top priority for the new president and his team.

1 comment:

Dan tdaxp said...

Excellent post.

Relatedly, the PLA Navy may deploy against pirates.