Donnerstag, September 18, 2008

What It Means To Live In A Multipolar World...

This is a very, very interesting article in The China Daily.

While it's not official, nothing appears in The China Daily that hasn't been vetted, and this is certainly an interesting take on some current Chinese strategic thinking. Makes some of China's recent moves into Africa and elsewhere a tad more understandable, at least.

Let's start:

With the clout of China and India rising on the international arena, some people in the West, who are concerned over the already fragile, US-dominated unipolar world political structure or the Western hegemony, have rushed to offer a variety of recipes for inter-power relations in the 21st century and for the world's new power structure.

What is being said here? First of all, that China and India are losing their role in world affairs as scarcely anything better than markets. This may seem obvious to the pundits, but is a critical point: both countries are the most populous, and given the vacuum in current world geopolitics - because the US declines, thank you very much, the role of world hegemon as the Chinese authors of this piece expect it to play, the vacuum will be filled with regional players. This is a key point: regional players, and not a new hegemon.

These recipes include multi-polar, non-polar or collective power models, a "democracy value alliance", a new trans-Atlantic union, and even a joint China-US governance idea.

The authors have done their homework: they've listed most hypothetical power constellations. What is missing is what I would call the Chinese nightmare, of a more democratic Russia unified with the West.

All these concepts are in essence changed versions of the new US or Western hegemonic model that proposes maintaining the world's established power structure through absorbing some emerging powers. The model also proposes carrying out reforms of the new power structure. In all this the idea is to keep the US and Western hegemonic position intact as much as possible. The new situation emerging from the very beginning of the 21st century indicates that neither the US nor the Western hegemony will last for ever, and there will not be a transfer of the old hegemony to a new one. In the 21st century, the world will see the end of not only the US-dominated hegemony, but also of the hegemonic model that allows a few world powers to control global affairs.

Here the authors are alos correct: most of these options are a continuation of the status quo, continuing things as they are today. Pointing this out lays the foundation for the fundamental questioning of this, which is what I think China is actually doing: rather than seeking to confront the US and the West directly - which, given the enormous military costs and geographic distances, is a very expensive proposition - the goal is to change the fundamentals of power relationships, breaking the hegemony in the interest of regional powers.

This is nothing new for China: if anything, it is a continuation of old Chinese divide-and-conquer methods, of allowing no major coalitions to grow up around it that can challenge China. China would be, I think, happiest in a world made up of individual political states that have no entangling alliances and which operate only according to their individual self-interests: this is the level playing field that China wants in order to flourish.

The last sentence tells it all: here the US is the world's last super-power, that there will be no further super-powers like we saw during the Cold War. This is indeed fairly perceptive of how world development is moving: the US does not care to shoulder the burden of being the world's only super-power for long, unwilling to do what is necessary in order to ensure that it remains on top (this would entail, for instance, forcing China and Taiwan to settle, forcing Israel and the bickering factions of a theoretical Palestine to settle, and deciding, basically, how geopolitics will be run: this requires a vastly more ruthless application of military force, one that the US is not willing to apply (but the Russians would have been: see Chechnya and Georgia for examples)).

The decease of the US and Western hegemony will not be caused by the challenge from such rising powers as China or other countries. It will be caused by the world's irreversible efforts for a hegemony-free political structure. As the result of this situation, we can expect a hegemony-free and harmonious world in the 21st century in which big countries will fulfill their responsibilities and obligations and small ones can enjoy equality, democracy and assistance from each other.

Again, this is very perceptive: the multi-polar world is the result of the defeat of the Soviets and the absolute military superiority of the US. By this I mean that conflicts will continue to take place, but they will be conflicts between all countries except the US, as no one will directly choose to fight the US, but they will choose to fight their counterparts. The authors interpret this through their standard ideological blinders - according to Maoist theory, hegemony powers are the cause of conflict, hence if you remove the hegemony, there is no conflict. This is where the authors - and by extension the Chinese intelligentsia - have a lot yet to learn about human nature and the polity of nations.

In the 21st century, the United States, the protagonist of the current unipolar world, will gradually evolve into a common power because of accelerated efforts of many countries which will advocate an end to the unipolar power pattern. Since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, a "balance of power" has come into being among the major countries. Despite its sole superpower status, the United States cannot always succeed in solving some global issues. It is even incapable of handling some domestic issues such as the subprime crisis. All these transmit to the world a strong signal that the US hegemony and Western dominance are now in an irreversible process of decline and final disappearance.

Again, this is perceptive, but I'd extend this analysis with a twist to it: the US will not evolve to a common power, but it will behave as if it were a common power, but with the knowledge that it will not be attacked by conventional means. I see a tad of Chinese hubris here in reference to the US not being able to handle all of its problems: China is sitting on a multiplex of social and political issues that can, virtually at any time, explode in their faces and tear down the facade of modern China.

In dealing with some global issues, today's United States not only needs substantial support from staunch allies, but also needs understanding, participation and cooperation from other key world or regional players. Sometimes, it even has to give up its leading role to other big powers in finding settlements of some intractable issues.

Which again underscores the unique nature of the US in world affairs: the reluctant hegemon...

With the spirit of peace and democracy exercising strong restraint within their boundaries, European countries have lost the basic driving force for hegemonic wars against other countries. On the other hand, economic globalization and marketization of the world since the end of the Cold War have activated the urge for peace and development among a number of developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Especially the peaceful rise of some powers, such as China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, has prompted some Western countries to join the resistance to hegemonism.

This is exactly the perception that Russia has of the West: that Europe has completely lost its way in terms of being able to exercise any kind of power politics and hence can be simply written off for the time being.

Some new-generation European leaders, though, still want to maintain the Western hegemony with the US at its core. They want to do so by advocating the "values diplomacy" and setting up the so-called democracy and values alliance or by forming a new trans-Atlantic union. But all these wishes will be difficult to fulfill.

To coin a phrase: duh.

The emergence of some peace-promoting powers will be an irresistible historical tide in the 21st century. Their rise will lay a solid groundwork for the final end of the long-standing hegemonism in world politics.

Now here is where the article really starts to show some teeth, so to speak: the emergence of peace-promoting powers. What does this mean?

Fundamentally, it means that the Chinese are aiming at playing the power game without reverting to force, using instead their economic clout in a kind of economic colonialism that is somehow "ok" because it's not the old colonialism. Once you take a closer look at what the Chinese are doing, it has very little difference from business as usual in developing countries: the difference is that the Chinese build the roads and infrastructure, rather than giving the money to the local authorities directly (who of course then over the last 30 years have simply absconded with it). The question becomes one of ownership, which as far as I know has not been completely clarified, meaning that the Chinese retain control over the country's infrastructure to ensure that it a) continues to work and b) continues to be a source of income for Chinese, rather than local, companies. While admittedly not an approach that lends itself to corruption and thievery, it does place a foreign power in control of what are effectively the means of production, which is fundamentally a definition of what a colonial power does. Hence China is setting itself up, more or less on the sly, as creating and controlling the infrastructure in the Third World, providing indeed something that local authorities were too venal or incompetent to do, but at the same time putting itself effectively in control of this infrastructure and enabling it to dictate, at a later date, what economic policies will be and as a result ultimately also what political policies may be: consider this a form of neo-neo-colonialism, colonialism with a human face, as it were.

New Delhi has generally chosen a path of peaceful development in South Asia despite its position of supremacy in the sub-continent. China has been even more committed to a peaceful development and always condemns any use of force in solving international disputes.

This is the public face of the New China: peaceful development, no use of force in solving international disputes. Of course, they are defining the conflicts that they currently have not as international, but rather as being purely domestic (Taiwan, Tibet, minority repressions, etc.), which is code for "none of your business". Believe this at your peril.

The strong efforts and calls for a hegemony-free world from these new emerging powers and the massive populations of Asian, African and Latin American countries have exerted a huge pressure on hegemonic countries, prompting them to deal with others on an equal footing.

Here the authors believe their own propaganda a tad much: Chinese and Indian political opinions are of no interest to the West, outside of academia and some commercial interests. This is more the expressed desire that this should be the case: the idea of a world-wide plebescite democracy that would force the West to transfer its monies for past transgressions both real and imagined, whilst elitist-controlled countries - and China and India are such countries - could manipulate from the background public opinion: the Chinese ruling elite believe that they can continue to do this for the foreseeable future, as they have successfully up to this point.

The change of the world's hegemonic pattern pushed by newly emerging powers serves the basic interest of the whole world, including the West. It will also act as the main impulse to build a conflict-free and harmonious world in the new century.

A lovely appeal to a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.

China is facing two major challenges: first of controlling its socio-economic development such that it can weather the next 30 years or so until the steep downward decline in population (in the wake of decades of one-child policies) alleviates the major challenges that China faces in terms of environmental mismanagement and the continuing absurdities of Chinese economic policy: second of spreading the kind of demographic colonialism that it has used in Southern Asia (the overseas Han minorities) to win friends and influence people to the rest of the world.

That is why this article is insightful and points out what it may mean to live in a multi-polar world. The Chinese are not dumb - far from it, as this article shows - but tend to keep very hidden and, keeping to character, inscrutable for the Western mind.

Keine Kommentare: