Via Martin Wolf at the FT:
Across-the-board rivalry with China is becoming an organising principle of US economic, foreign and security policies.
…A framing of relations with China as one of zero-sum conflict is emerging. Recent remarks by Kiron Skinner, the US state department’s policy planning director (a job once held by cold war strategist George Kennan) are revealing. Rivalry with Beijing, she suggested at a forum organised by New America, is “a fight with a really different civilisation and a different ideology, and the United States hasn’t had that before”.
This is the most important geopolitical development of our era. Not least, it will increasingly force everybody else to take sides or fight hard for neutrality. But it is not only important. It is dangerous. It risks turning a manageable, albeit vexed, relationship into all-embracing conflict, for no good reason.
…China’s ideology is not a threat to liberal democracy in the way the Soviet Union’s was. Rightwing demagogues are far more dangerous. An effort to halt China’s economic and technological rise is almost certain to fail. Worse, it will foment deep hostility in the Chinese people. In the long run, the demands of an increasingly prosperous and well-educated people for control over their lives might still win out. But that is far less likely if China’s natural rise is threatened. Moreover, the rise of China is not an important cause of western malaise. That reflects far more the indifference and incompetence of domestic elites. What is seen as theft of intellectual property reflects, in large part, the inevitable attempt of a rising economy to master the technologies of the day. Above all, an attempt to preserve the domination of 4 per cent of humanity over the rest is illegitimate.
Both wise and naive stuff from Martin Wolf. Wise because he recognises that the conflict is epochal and the flaws in our own system. Naive because he thinks that the counter-factual is manageable, perhaps because he is comfy in London while I’m sitting on the front line in Melbourne. Or, he’s been sucking too long on the Chinese propaganda straw.
From the Australian democracy’s perspective there is nothing benign about the Chinese Communist Party’s (CPC) designs for regional power. The CPC wants to drive the US out of Asia. If it happens, what will follow will not be the same as the liberal empire of the US. The region will take on freedom with “Chinese characteristics”. Look to Xinjang, Tibet and Hong Kong to know what that means. It is the end of democracy, replaced by puppet regimes led by favoured elites that do Beijing’s bidding. Children rebel and are shipped off for “re-education”.
If you think it can’t happen here then just consider the extent of Australian leader’s pragmatism to date. They are virtual nihilists, prepared to take the bribe from anyone, any time.
Wolf’s fatal miscalculation is that the global free movement of peoples and goods would persist unchanged under a CPC hegemon. They wouldn’t. We’ll all be free so long as we agree with Beijing on whatever subject it chooses, whether that be free speech, religion, sexuality, work, political orientation, environment, you name it. All run as mini-me CPC client states.
I’m not so fast to throw away the multilateral order of rules-based geopolitics either. Sure, it is being ignored and trashed by the Trump Administration but that looks like overreach to me. I expect Trump will most likely lose next years’s election and a Democratic contender take up the struggle with greater sympathy for allies. The amount of pressure that could be brought to bear upon China if Europe were recruited to trade pressure is strategically irresistible.
Nor is China’s rise is irresistible economically. It’s fate looks more like that of a premature Japan. With debt saturation derailing development, leading directly into a decaldal demographic bust. I expect Chinese catch-up growth to end through the 2020s with all kinds of social instability at home the result.
Not that that will aid Australia all that much. We are torn utterly in two by this conflict and the economy will most likely be the historic casualty in due course.