Wednesday, December 06, 2006

China has stood up, and started running

After years of eschewing the rhetoric of a rising power, some in China are finally starting to talk a big game:
One of its best-known academics, Yan Xuetong, has a new term for China's mounting influence. Within the next decade, he says, China will become a "semi-superpower."

And he has a warning for the United States: The gap between Chinese and U.S. power is dramatically narrowing.

The forecasts are especially remarkable because Prof. Yan, director of the International Studies Institute at Tsinghua University in Beijing, goes far beyond the usual economic barometers of China's rise. He measures the size of China's expanding military arsenal, its rising political and diplomatic power and even its "soft power," its cultural influence and its public image....

Prof. Wang predicts that the United States will soon fall to the status of a regional power, rather than a global power, because of its arrogance and imperial overreach, and he advises Washington to learn to accept Chinese power on the world stage.

Another scholar, Wang Jisi, gives this summary of the Chinese view: "In the long term, the decline of U.S. primacy and the subsequent transition to a multipolar world are inevitable."
Let's say, for a moment, that Prof. Wang is correct - that America goes from being a global power to being a regional one, which we'll assume means that the US retreats from East Asia. Presumably, a "regional" US would still be dominant in the Americas and Europe - that is, the most powerful parts of the World today. (I'm assuming, for a moment, that Europe does not exhibit much more independence.) Meanwhile, a strongly US-aligned Japan will remain strong enough to rebuff any Chinese attempts at coercion for quite some time indeed. Barring a macroeconomic disaster, India will have a similar ability to rebuff coercion.

The problem for the US, or other countries in the region, is not Chinese mass or hard power. The problem is that China's rising star, combined with America's diminishing influence and the incredible damage done to America's reputation by the war in Iraq, causes countries like South Korea or Vietnam to choose, of their own will to "switch sides" - the US is already incredibly unpopular in Korea, and the Vietnamese have exhibited a certain realpolitik that might mean they flip from pro-US to pro-China.

One other interesting tidbit: A survey asked the Chinese what their perception of US and Chinese power was, and what they thought US and Chinese power ought to be. Where the average Chinese believed US power is today, on a scale of 1-10: 8.6. Where the average Chinese thinks China ought to be: 8.9. So the average Chinese believe that, irrespective of where the US is, China ought to be just a bit more powerful than the US is today.

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