A focused delineation of the shifting center of gravity toward Asia and the need for a strenuous Western response without losing global primacy.
Financial Times chief foreign affairs commentator Rachman (Zero-Sum Future: American Power in an Age of Anxiety, 2011), a recent winner of the Orwell Prize, presents a fair, astute assessment of China’s rise during the past few decades in relation to its nervous neighbors and especially the nuanced—and highly criticized—response of President Barack Obama. Neither China nor the U.S. care to fall into the “Thucydides trap,” as defined by China’s President Xi Jinping: avoiding “destructive tensions between an emerging power and established powers.” On one hand, the rise of China corrects the reigning imbalance imposed by the imperial powers during the 19th century and through World War II, when China’s and Japan’s markets were forced open. On the other hand, China’s increasing military might and its muscle-flexing over the Senkaku Islands have become alarming at a time when America has been distracted by Middle Eastern issues and decreased its military spending. The era of China’s “hide and bide” policy under Deng Xiaoping has been replaced by assertive policies, as revealed by the blunt warning issued by the Chinese foreign minister in 2010: “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.” During the recent decades, national rhetoric in China has unmasked a desire for a re-establishment of its “historic grandeur” in the Pacific region. This has deeply troubled neighbors such as South Korea, Japan, and the Southeast Asian nations. Meanwhile, China has doubled down on internal censorship in order to avoid the threat of a “color revolution,” such as those that have occurred in Ukraine and elsewhere. Rachman carefully looks at both India’s and Russia’s roles in the global shift toward “easternization,” and he considers the American and Western response, which has been largely ineffectual since the crises of 2008—although institutions like economic governance and law remain firmly entrenched in the West.
A sage, forward-seeing study to be heeded.