China’s decade long surge into becoming an economic power house and global heavy hitter has given rise to a myriad of theories and assertions regarding the role of Asia in this century. It has been widely touted that the 21st century will be “Asia’s Century” as the US fades from virtual hegemony and hyperpower and joins its European cousins in the ranks of imperial has beens. That the on going economic crisis embattling what I’ll term the “Old Order of Global Primacy” has left China’s 10% annual economic growth unscathed seems to be validating those theories and assertions.
The Chinese leadership appears to accept at least a nascent version of this wind of change, as it were and are flexing the new found confidence of an emerging power. China’s belligerence during the Copenhagen Climate Conference, staunch opposition to sanctions on Iran, loud protests of a US/Taiwan arms deal and the subsequent threat of sanctions on US firms selling those weapons suggest a state looking to call attention to its own considerable might. Indeed a recent poll suggested
that a majority of Chinese foresee a “cold war” with the United States, suggesting the specter of another global bi-polar century.
Of course for all its growth and success late in the last century and early into the current there lurks endemic threats to China and very real challenges to the concept of anything remotely like a unified Asian renaissance. The downfall of America and the rise of Asia are the theme of this very skeptical piece in the Boston Globe (the link will take you to Council on Foreign Affairs) written by Joshua Kurlantzick entitled “Dazzled by Asia
.” Kurlantzick presents the above mentioned threats and challenges to the “Asian Century” and suggests the end of American hegemony isn’t quite as nigh as some would have us believe. A brief selection from the article:
<blockquote>Yet there are many good reasons to think that Asia’s rise may turn out to be an illusion. Asia’s growth has built-in stumbling blocks. Demographics, for one. Because of its One Child policy, China’s population is aging rapidly: According to one comprehensive study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, by 2040 China will have at least 400 million elderly, most of whom will have no retirement pensions. This aging poses a severe challenge, since China may not have enough working-age people to support its elderly. In other words, says CSIS, China will grow old before it grows rich, a disastrous combination. Other Asian powers also are aging rapidly – Japan’s population likely will fall from around 130 million today to 90 million in 2055 – or, due to traditional preferences for male children, have a dangerous sex imbalance in which there are far more men than women. This is a scenario likely to destabilize a country, since, at other periods in history when many men could not marry, the unmarried hordes turned to crime or political violence.</blockquote>
Kurlantzick goes on to discuss China’s growing income gap between the urban wealthy and the rural impoverished and the some 90,000 so called “mass incidents” per year, a nifty turn of phrase China’s security apparatus has for protests. Beyond China he sites India’s own endemic issues not the least of which is its Maoist Naxalite insurgency and the unlikely, regional “EU-ification” due to Asia’s healthy appetite for nationalism. Moreover he suggests the lack of a common political or cultural thread to build such a semblance of unity. He wraps his analysis up with a convincing conclusion that while the US may be embattled economically its days of being the “go to guy” for disasters (think Haiti or ’04 tsunami,) conflict moderation (think Israel/Palestine) and reform movements (think Iran or the Orange revolution) are hardly over. I suggest going beyond my own brief synopsis and giving the piece a full read.
One brief bit I would add that the article doesn’t mention is China’s grand strategy as an emerging superpower and one glaring difference it has with the post WWII American emergence. The US emerged as a superpower not only through economic and military might but also by launching a global marketing campaign to export its model of governance abroad. While China jealously guards its proxy states and happily engages the more nefarious to obtain resources I see zero evidence of marketing its hybrid of authoritarianism and capitalism abroad. Whose to say that China <i>wants</i> to lead a unified Asia into the 21st century and shoulder the burden of casting a shadow over the previous hegemon?
Map via Wellesly College Chinese Politics