A train with railcars assembled by China Railway Rolling Stock Corp. Sifang America Inc. during an in-service test run in Chicago, the U.S., on May 6 (XINHUA)
America's greatest existential threat today is not China; it is making China into America’s existential threat. The war of words launched by the U.S. over the coronavirus is a sad commentary on the lack of necessary cooperation, not to mention a lack of compassion initially for the severity of the epidemic in China in the early months. The escalating hostility toward China now so evident in Washington will all but ensure a competitive rather than any collaborative search for vital solutions. The result will be wasted resources, duplicative research, insufficient financing, and the undermining of international dissemination of advanced green technologies. And this is only to note the consequences for coping with just one of humanity's looming crises.
Yet amid all this, Washington has been gearing up for a full society mobilization against China--the "looming new superpower" that threatens America. In U.S. national security discussions today, as well as in Congressional and media debates, the depiction of China as a frightening new superpower is in reality a reflection of what has so often happened in the past--a projection onto China of the dark underside of what American globalism has long been about. In the current fear-provoking projection, China would, like the U.S., be everywhere and into everything. Its economic might will lead to a domineering Chinese-centric world order; its military might would extend worldwide; its drones would be everywhere; its ethos would threaten alternatives of all sorts all over the globe.
But this is a fantasy, however useful for those lining up in Washington today for greater defense spending and those urging escalating military maneuvers against China. China, unlike the U.S., will not have 800 overseas military bases, be invading and overthrowing numerous governments, or committing regime change actions throughout a large part of the planet as the U.S. has done for decades. Why? Because China is not the U.S.--and the world is not what it was when U.S. power sought to fashion an American-centric world after 1945. The world today is a very different place.
End of U.S. centrality
The world China entered as it embarked on its great reforms since the late 1970s coincided with a fundamental restructuring of the capitalist world as the U.S. sought to reconstitute and transform the operations of its global centrality after the Viet Nam War. The U.S. was at home in a bipolar world; its global preeminence was augmented and ideologically sustained by it. China’s rise is a “rise” in a multi-polar world, a very different world from the one in which the U.S. envisioned a worldwide American-centric ordering of global capitalism amid a "bipolar" struggle in the immediate post World War II decades.
Today, with China having become the world’s largest exporter, a financial powerhouse and global investor, and a main trading power for a large number of nations throughout the world, its example of successful development and ways of governing itself allows for a greater range of alternatives for nations long locked into the embrace of "the West."
The West’s comprehensive global dominance and its American-centric moment are slowly coming to a close as the non-Western world comes more to the fore. Washington is finding it has less control, less influence in such a world, whereas China may prove to be far more at home in it. It’s not that its immediate power is less, but its capacity to use it effectively and to control others has changed. What Washington’s preoccupation with China today significantly does is to filter these global changes through its depictions of a rising China rather than seeing China’s emergence as a part of this "rising" world. As a consequence, "China" becomes the problem, not more fundamentally the changing world the U.S. finds itself in.
Even if China someday becomes the greatest power on the planet, as it well might, this is not about the country somehow coming to dominate a growing number of determined independent nations and creating a Chinese-centric world along the lines of a declining American-centric pattern. Indeed, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, America’s attacks on it to the contrary, holds promise of being a dynamic step toward furthering a multi-polar order, not a new form of neo-colonialism. Laying the foundations for an interlocked pan-Eurasian economic cooperation zone that promises, however arduous the challenges, to further transform existing global economic and political dynamics.
What Washington still refuses to accept, as it has for seven decades, is that neither it nor any other power can dominate the world single-handedly. Not only is this about elemental realities of the limits of geopolitical power, it entails as well an acceptance that countries have to find their own ways to develop; that no all-embracing-one model exists. And as China’s own quest to find viable and effective ways to develop shows, what brought China success came to be seen by Washington as clashing with its pre-eminence and “rules.”
This globalist policy and the fervent conviction that the centrality of American power is indispensable for "world order" and the proper “rules-based” functioning of the global economic system regrettably remains as strong as ever in President Joe Biden’s administration. As before, it continues to profoundly distort the ability of Washington’s national security managers to accurately accept the world as it is today and China’s place in it. It motivates Washington to see aggressive drives that are in reality often reactive, defensive efforts to protect or project quite legitimate rights.
And more: This globalist strategizing repeatedly injects itself into a host of issues a wiser course would have sought to avoid--such as the extension of NATO to the East or the intricate and extensive involvement of the U.S. in disputes over the South China sea and various islands.
Rather than discussing the merits of the specific issues, Washington often weaves them into a complex, interactive dynamic of analysis and conviction so that the global big picture overrides specific issues, making them all the harder to either resolve or--in the U.S. context--to intelligently debate. Almost every time Washington’s "credibility" is invoked, you’ll find this “big picture” descending into each specific issue in ways to muddy the waters. So much so that every time American credibility is invoked, almost all sensible thinking and strategizing come to a screeching halt. The dangers in continuing down this road are obvious.
In Washington’s world, an accurate image of China cannot easily emerge--and the reasons are analogous to why the U.S. refuses to accept a multi-polar world. China’s independence, and the efforts of other nations in the South to find their own independent ways, strenuous as they may be, ultimately are not compatible with Washington’s intensely ideological American-centric globalism.
In the end, a view of China as part of an emerging multi-polar world, and not simply as an emerging superpower confronting Washington, provides a far more accurate context for understanding what has for so long been grossly distorted by America’s global agenda. In the future, there will be no superpower in the American model. The needed changes may be coming, but Washington continues to fiercely resist them. It would rather focus on China than the realities of the world it now confronts.
This is an edited excerpt of the article first published on Cnfocus.com. The author is an adjunct professor at New York University in the History and East Asian Studies Departments
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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