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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: But first here is my take. As Moscow continues to send its forces into Ukraine, it seems clear that Putin’s Russia presents America and the West with a frontal challenge. But in the longer run, it is not Russia’s overt military assault, but China’s patient and steady nonmilitary moves that might prove the greater challenge. Russia is a great power in decline. Its economy amounts to just 3.4 percent of global GDP. China’s is nearly 16 percent and rising. Now almost four times the size of Japan’s and five times that of Germany’s according to the World Bank.

Presidents Obama and Xi deserve the accolades they are receiving for their historic agreement on climate change and it seems to suggest that America and China are moving toward a new, productive relationship. Except that even while signing these accords, Xi Jinping’s government has been taking steps that suggests it is developing a very different approach to its foreign policy, one that seeks to replace the American-built post-1945 international system with its own.

If it continues down this path, it would constitute the most significant and dangerous shift in international politics since the end of the Cold War. It’s been widely reported that Xi has presided over a rise in nationalist rhetoric in recent years, much of it anti- American. While nationalism has been circulating in China for a while, the quantity seems to have risen sharply.

One count done by the “Christian Science Monitor, found that the number of anti-western polemics in the official “People’s Daily” in 2014 so far has tripled compared with the same period last year.

Perhaps more important, however, is that China has begun a low-key but persistent campaign to propose alternatives to the existing structure of international arrangements in Asia and beyond. It’s moved from being anti-American to post-American.

This summer Beijing spearheaded an agreement with the other BRICS countries to create a financial fund that would challenge the IMF. In October Beijing launched a $50 billion Asian infrastructure bank explicitly as an alternative to the World Bank. And last year President Xi declared that China would spend $40 billion to revive the old silk road to promote trade and development in that region.

For China to fit into an international system rubs against its deepest historical traditions. In his recent book Henry Kissinger notes that China has never been comfortable with the idea of a global system of equal states. Historically China considered itself in a sense the sole sovereign government of the whole world.

Diplomacy was a series of carefully contrived ceremonies in which foreign societies were given the opportunity to affirm their assigned place in the global hierarchy. One in which China sat on top. These are worrying signs not because Beijing’s efforts will surely succeed. They may not. Many of its efforts have run into opposition, but if China continues down this path using its growing clout to ask countries to choose between the existing set of arrangements or new ones, it might create conditions for a new kind of cold war in Asia.

It will certainly help to undermine and perhaps eventually destroy the current international order, one that was created by the United States after 1945 and which has been a platform on which peace and prosperity have flourished in Asia for seven decades.

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