Fair. Balanced. American.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

China, the US and the developing world: a window of opportunity. Part I

What country symbolizes imperialism in Africa? Increasingly, the answer is China, not the United States. And an African American president who does the right thing carries a huge amount of moral weight.

One of the reasons even most elites don't get the Nobel Prize win is that it's hard to understand that in international relations actually is all about words and speeches. They matter, because short of war and economic sanctions, words are how nations deal with one another. Who has actually accomplished peace? Did Yitzhak Rabin? Did Jimmy Carter? Kofi Annan? Elie Wiesel? Outside of exceptional cases like Gorbachev and Mandela you will find that most winners, as Juan Cole noted, were gamechangers.

But let's move to more pragmatic considerations. As we noted on Saturday in our piece on the Pakistani army, global power is shifting away from the United States and Europe to Asia. That shift will accelerate in the second quarter of this century, assuming China and India bridge their geographical/class divides and maintain their territorial integrity. The shift will accelerate even further if our financial institutions somehow implode altogether. It will shift even further if China succeeds in taking over Taiwan (and, here's a nightmare scenario, Japan. A lot can happen in forty years).

If we assume for now that none of these occurs, China will have the largest GDP in the world by 2050. The top four powers in the world, almost equal economically, will be China, India, the EU and the United States. Japan and Brazil combined will comprise less than half of any of the top four individually.

Geopolitical power lags behind economic power, but not by that long. Indeed, even if China were to project as much geopolitical power as it is already capable of doing, that would already be enough to create major waves regionally.

Our interests are bound to clash with the new rising power. Since India and Japan are not particularly expansionist powers, they, too, fear China. Thus they are our natural allies, as Sam Huntington, the greatest political scientist of the century, predicted from a different, socio-cultural vantage point a decade and a half ago in his sadly misunderstood Clash of Civilizations.

Read Part II here.


el blogador said...

When I was in West Africa 2 summers ago visiting a friend in the Peace Corps, I was surprised at the size of the Chinese embassies in the various countries (e.g. Benin) and the number of cultural programs they sponsored. They seemed more visible and active than the U.S. embassies in the same cities.

Sini said...

I'm sorry to hear that. The good news is that these Chinese efforts are recognized for what they are. Still, positive efforts by the US could pay off big right now and leave a legacy for future administrations.