The Asian Century 2 12 July 2019.

In the 1960s, Charles de Gaulle believed that the bi-polar international system of the Cold War would eventually give way to a multi-polar system.  This—correct—belief led him to imagine that the future world already had come into existence.  He pursued policies that put up the hackles on Americans, without advancing the interests of France.

Fifty years later, de Gaulle’s vision has come true—kinda-sorta.  It’s fair to say that America has been living through a prolonged dark hour.  The Soviet Union has collapsed into something more than a “regional power” but less than a superpower.  Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East count for little in the councils of the world.  The European Economic Community of his day has grown stronger and larger, and then has begun to go into retreat for the moment.  The Peoples Republic of China has emerged as an economic and military powerhouse.  Today, many smart people are uncertain of what the future holds.

Early in the Trump Administration, the highly-intelligent and highly-experienced journalist Gideon Rachman[1] took a stab at prognostication.[2]  The new multi-polar world is, Rachman thinks, “unstable and dangerous.”  The Chinese American relationship stands at the center of the new world order.  The competition between these two states is likely to spread into every corner of the globe.  The core area, however, will be the Western Pacific.  Since 1945, these waters have been an American lake.  Many of the countries surrounding that “lake” are American allies or under American protection: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines.  Now Chinas economic growth is enabling it to increase its own military power.

Is “Asia’s Rise and America’s Decline” unstoppable?  Hardly.  For one thing, China isn’t all of Asia.  Even if Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are not China’s equals, they are prosperous societies which have benefitted greatly from the American-sponsored global economic system.  If Xi Jinping hopes to reverse China’s “century of humiliation,” these other countries won’t want their own humiliation forced on them by China.  For another thing, while China may want to construct its own global system, Westerners know how to work the actually existing system.  Finally, like every other country, China has its own vulnerabilities.  At the heart of these vulnerabilities is the very thing that has made China so strong.  The Communist Party has led a rapid industrialization of the country.  That industrialization has sucked tens of millions of people out of the countryside into urban slums.  It has generated immense wealth, but distributed it very unevenly.  It has degraded the environment.  And the Communist Party is an in-bred elite that protects its own interests ahead of those of the people.

Nothing is written.  It can blow at any seam.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gideon_Rachman

[2] Gideon Rachman, Easternization: Asia’s Rise and America’s Decline (2017).

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