Sunday, May 13, 2018

Richard Cullen on The New US Perception of China (IPP Review)

"The New US Perception of China"
Richard Cullen
IPP Review
April 26 2018
The American perception of China has gone through an intriguing transition over the last century. Once, compassion was dominant. Today, increasing hostility is prominent with rumbles of a serious trade war in the air. These US views have significantly shaped the discernment of China around the world over the last 100 years. They continue to do so ... 
     My aim in this essay is: to look at how this discontented transition from empathy to antipathy has come to pass; to examine what it has to tell us about the state of China and the US today; and to consider where it may be leading.
     It is a fact that China, within its remarkable and enduring history, did not develop a system of governance where the governed played any sort of democratic role in selecting those who would govern. Such a system did evolve in a partial but significant way in ancient Greece around 200 years before China’s unifying Qin Dynasty was established in 221 BC. That experience in Greece has, over many centuries, fundamentally shaped the development of Western views (especially during The Enlightenment) on the best form of political governance. China meanwhile has retained a top-down authoritarian governance system to this day, in keeping with its millennial, traditional understanding of how best to govern. As we will see, that governance system has performed exceptionally well over the last 40 years by delivering an unparalleled improvement in the livelihood of millions, notwithstanding any democratic deficit.
     As the American perspective on China has moved from bewilderment to increasing antipathy, the American account of what has happened constantly stresses that the US and its allies are engaged in a recommenced battle to protect democratic values from a fresh authoritarian challenge spearheaded by China. In fact, this outward justification is energized, above all, by the deeper challenge to US global political supremacy now unfolding. The focus on telling the enfolding story, as seen from Washington, makes very good sense: a respected Harvard academic and former senior member of the State Department, Joseph Nye, recently observed in the journal Foreign Affairs that “a strong narrative is a source of power.”
     The current edging towards a Sino-American trade war is one manifestation of the significant, geopolitical mood change being examined in this essay. This very important trade quarrel is mentioned peripherally but it is not dealt with in any central way, here.
The Rise of a Superpower and the Retreat of Another
... This transition from one dominant world power to the next proceeded with minimal resentment. Although the superpower “torch” was moving out of the British Empire, the new dominant power was closely related in terms of ethnicity, language and deeply shared traditions. Moreover, the UK soon enough found itself in need of vital US assistance to secure the defeat of Germany in World War I. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the UK was able to rely on its own mature understanding of the changes underway and thus avoid too much counter-productive, national swaggering.
It is now around 100 years since that fundamental international transition. During this period, the US has played a pivotal military role in stopping the German–Central Powers’ assault on Europe in World War I. In World War II, the US role was still more crucial in defeating the unspeakable rise of Nazism and destroying the barely less horrific Japanese onslaught across East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific...
Pax Americana & Sharp Power
... By the end of World War II, the US was outstandingly dominant, despite the cost of fighting the war. The narrative of how it has deployed that strength since has a positive side (the Marshall Plan in Germany, for example) plus an accompanying, grim side, which gathered distinct momentum as the Cold War began.
   This US supremacy ushered in an era within the Western Hemisphere, especially, of continued peace subject to American oversight. It also facilitated foundation building for the new global trading system. As we will see, China has, over the last 40 years, taken exceptional advantage of this comprehensive global restructuring.
   This US ascendancy was built on immense power, which included the capacity, regularly used, to shape transnational outcomes to a remarkable extent.
   This era has regularly been referred to as Pax Americana drawing on terminology extending back the Pax Romana of the early centuries of the Roman Empire (after 27 AD). In like manner, it was said, the clear dominance of American military, economic and political power provided the means for the US to oversee an era of extended peace particularly after World War II.
   Fairly recently, certain leading US commentators have critically analyzed what they call China’s sharp power. This sharp power is juxtaposed with two other long, commonly used, political terms — soft power and hard power. Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig in their article “The Meaning of Sharp Power” in the journal Foreign Affairs in November 2017 argued that sharp power “is not principally about attraction or even persuasion; instead, it centers on distraction and manipulation.” Soft power is a term coined by Joseph F Nye in 1990, which he has more recently defined in the following way: “soft power is the ability to affect others by attraction and persuasion rather than through the hard power of coercion and payment.”
    In fact, the US has itself deployed all three powers — soft, sharp and hard — for many decades... Click here to read the full text. 

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