Time to think of global or­der in a new way

China Daily European Weekly - - Cover Story - Kerry Brown On War, The author is pro­fes­sor of Chi­nese stud­ies and direc­tor of the Lau China In­sti­tute, King’s Col­lege, London, as­so­ciate fel­low of the Asia-Pa­cific pro­gramme at Chatham House, and author of The views do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of Ch

That is surely a good thing in the long term, since adopt­ing a dif­fer­ent model can cre­ate a more in­clu­sive world

There are two great pro­cesses cur­rently go­ing on in the world. One, the chal­lenges and changes be­ing brought about by the ris­ing promi­nence of China, has man­i­fested it­self for a num­ber of years in the eco­nomic realm. But the bound­ary be­tween eco­nom­ics and pol­i­tics is a highly por­ous one. And since the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 2008, the ways in which China has ap­peared more in ques­tions about not just pro­duc­ing growth — but also deal­ing with geopol­i­tics, sta­bil­ity and cre­at­ing a new kind of gov­er­nance struc­ture that is more in­clu­sive of newly emerg­ing pow­ers — has al­most in­evitably in­creased.

This was never go­ing to be a straight­for­ward process. The de­bate started in many ways only a few years af­ter China en­tered the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2001. By 2005, Chi­nese aca­demics and ad­vis­ers like Zheng Bi­jian were speak­ing of the “peace­ful rise” of the coun­try. At the same time, Robert Zoel­lick, an of­fi­cial in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of then US pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, was de­mand­ing that China take a more ac­tive role in global is­sues, and be a “stake­holder” rather than more of an ob­server. Within China, a pop­u­lar se­ries was aired on na­tional tele­vi­sion de­scrib­ing 12 pe­ri­ods in his­tory when there were tran­si­tions be­tween one power and an­other. The process of think­ing about sce­nar­ios where China would have a more prom­i­nent role had al­ready started. With the im­pact of the eco­nomic re­ces­sion on the US, Europe and other de­vel­oped coun­tries from the end of the decade, this only be­came more ur­gent.

That links to the se­cond process — the re­trench­ment and changes within coun­tries like the United States, and the loss of con­fi­dence and rise of greater con­fu­sion and di­vi­sion within the past decade. This has cul­mi­nated in the elec­tion of a num­ber of pop­ulist par­ties in Europe and of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. It has also brought about the ref­er­en­dum out­come in the United King­dom in 2016 to exit the Euro­pean Union.

Un­der­ly­ing pro­tec­tion­ist sen­ti­ment has come to the fore. Not only are many ap­pre­hen­sive about what a world in which coun­tries like China in par­tic­u­lar have a more dom­i­nant role will be like, they have also be­come less op­ti­mistic about the strengths of their own sys­tems, and more prone ei­ther to nos­tal­gia (want­ing things to re­turn to the golden ages imag­ined about the past) or, in the most wor­ri­some cases, to out­right hos­til­ity. For these rea­sons, fig­ures as di­verse as Henry Kissinger, for­mer Bri­tish prime min­is­ter Gor­don Brown, and for­mer US pres­i­dent Barack Obama have char­ac­terised the present as highly dan­ger­ous and full of risk.

Prus­sian gen­eral and mil­i­tary the­o­rist Carl von Clause­witz, in his clas­sic trea­tise of two cen­turies ago, talked of fields of con­flict be­ing dom­i­nated by fast-paced change and con­fu­sion, with many things hap­pen­ing at once and the fo­cus shift­ing al­most se­cond by se­cond. This meant that in­stinct, rather than ra­tio­nal­ity, dom­i­nated. We can speak in this con­text about the loom­ing trade war that seems to be hap­pen­ing at the mo­ment be­tween the US and China. And while, of course, this isn’t a phys­i­cal bat­tle, things are cer­tainly hap­pen­ing at such a pace that it is very hard to keep up with and make sense of them. Step­ping back and at least try­ing to es­tab­lish a frame­work within which to broadly un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing is im­por­tant. Oth- er­wise, we re­ally do risk be­ing led by events, rather than lead­ing them, and op­er­at­ing blindly.

First of all, ev­ery­one has to re­mem­ber that the op­tion of China, ac­count­ing for a fifth of the hu­man race, sim­ply ex­ist­ing in some prepre­pared space cre­ated for it, and obe­di­ently oc­cu­py­ing that, is not vi­able. It wasn’t vi­able even in the era of Richard Nixon 50 years ago when, be­fore be­com­ing US pres­i­dent, he ar­gued in a cel­e­brated ar­ti­cle in For­eign Pol­icy mag­a­zine that the out­side world had no moral or in­tel­lec­tual right to bar Chi­nese peo­ple and their coun­try from the world com­mu­nity. That sort of think­ing led to the rap­proche­ment of a few years later be­tween the US and China. The same ap­plies even more now, when one re­mem­bers the size of the Chi­nese econ­omy and its in­ter­link­ages with the out­side world.

Like the US, do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, China is an in­trin­si­cally global power. Its af­fairs are ones the rest of the world needs to be knowl­edge­able about and fac­tor into its own plans. At best, there can be ne­go­ti­a­tion, dialogue and dis­cus­sion. There can be no dic­ta­tion or de­mand­ing from ei­ther side. Things have to be more bal­anced and driven by con­sen­sus. There has to be com­pro­mise.

Se­cond, the US and its al­lies have to ask the ques­tion of whether the cur­rent global or­der is fit for pur­pose, and be brave enough to seek to cre­ate a new frame­work where a much more broadly sup­ported and agreed-upon sys­tem ap­pears. The US with­drawal un­der Trump from the cli­mate change concord agreed in Paris in 2015 is pre­cisely the kind of uni­lat­eral ac­tion that dam­ages ev­ery­one. Paris was a gen­uinely global treaty — some­thing China and 77 other de­vel­op­ing coun­tries sup­ported, af­ter dif­fi­cult de­bate. That the US, a coun­try so long con­sid­ered a rule abider and sup­porter, sim­ply de­cided to walk away from an agree­ment it had al­ready signed up for is per­haps one of the things in re­cent years that has most un­der­mined faith in the pre­vail­ing global or­der. That the US un­der Trump has done this is ironic, but, in view of the clear ev­i­dence of ris­ing tem­per­a­tures across the world this year and as­so­ci­ated nat­u­ral weather calami­ties like the re­cent ty­phoons that have swept across Asia and the US, it is also po­ten­tially tragic.

In the short term, Trump’s mav­er­ick ac­tions and un­pre­dictabil­ity in trade, in­ter­na­tional gov­er­nance and diplo­macy may well be prob­lem­atic to China — as to ev­ery­one else. In the long term, he has cre­ated a greater po­ten­tial space for China to start to op­er­ate, and to demon­strate that it is a truly global player and needs greater global space. At the heart of this will be a Chi­nese vi­sion that oth­ers can ei­ther en­gage with, or, in the more pos­i­tive spa­ces (like that of ac­tion on the en­vi­ron­ment), see China as tak­ing a lead­ing role in. This promi­nence might not be some­thing that China it­self wanted to hap­pen so quickly. It may well also be some­thing it feels it needs more time to pre­pare for. But the op­por­tu­nity is clearly now here.

The sim­ple fact is that, as never be­fore, there is doubt, and lack of con­fi­dence, in the cur­rent or­der, and a will­ing­ness to think about things in a dif­fer­ent way. China can con­trib­ute ideas and ini­tia­tives to this new area, like the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, and get a more at­ten­tive au­di­ence than ever be­fore. That will ne­ces­si­tate a new kind of diplo­matic at­ti­tude from Beijing, and a dif­fer­ent kind of diplo­matic lan­guage. It also in­volves an out­side world that needs to be much more ready to at least lis­ten to China, and to con­tem­plate its ini­tia­tives and ideas in ways it never did be­fore.

Some­times we just need to em­brace new mod­els. That was what China did in 1978 when it started the re­form and open­ing-up process — the 40th an­niver­sary of which is be­ing cel­e­brated this year. That is yet one more rea­son to say that the global or­der needs to also re­form and open up, in a dif­fer­ent way. And in the long term, be­cause it cre­ates a more in­clu­sive world, that is surely a good thing. China’s Dreams: The Cul­ture of Chi­nese Com­mu­nism and the Se­cret Sources of Its Power.


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