Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Who Is Dominant in the World, U.S.A. or China?

In the United States’ recent “pivot to Asia,” we see our government reemphasizing the fact that our country needs to reassess our relationship to the Far East. A problem of political and military dominance in the area obviously exists.

We, Americans have steadfastly considered ourselves the saviors of the world, as concerning how a country should model itself. Henry Kissinger has recently emphasized in his book, “World Order,” that American exceptionalism seeks to show the world how a legitimate political arrangement should be manifest in all nations. He points out that a legitimate government must provide its people with influence in their government, a modicum of civil rights, and a free and open market for goods and services. It must also provide safety to its people by maintaining an effective military establishment. We see the United States as a “missionary” power filled with the righteous conviction that it must usher the earth to liberty and democracy.

The Chinese see themselves as an anti-missionary power convinced by their own bitter experiences of foreign domination that nonintervention in the affairs of other states is a necessary form of respect. The traditional Chinese view of world affairs is that China has the only proven model of national policy; the Chinese see their country as one that will eventually lead the whole world by setting an example of peace and non-intervention into the internal affairs of other nations. They have a vision of their nation’s eventual dominance, which will come about through their quiet and peaceful attitude built up by their concept of their own moral rectitude.

However, a look at the history of China reveals that the nation has hardly been a model of peace and nonintervention in the affairs of neighboring nations. The history of the Song dynasty (960-1279) and the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) shows that Confucian China was far from being a pacifist state. On the contrary, Song and Ming leaders preferred to settle disputes by force when they felt the country was strong, and in general, China was expansionist whenever it enjoyed a preponderance of power. As a regional hegemon, the early Ming China launched eight large-scale attacks on the Mongols, annexed Vietnam as a Chinese province, and established naval dominance in the region.

In the early fifteenth century, the Chinese dispatched seven spectacular voyages led by Zheng He to Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, and East Africa. That Chinese fleet consisted of 27,000 soldiers on 250 ships-which allowed the Chinese to "shock and awe" foreigners into submission. The Chinese fleet engaged in widespread "power projection" activities, expanding the Confucian tribute system and disciplining unruly states. As a result, many foreigners came to the Ming court to pay tribute. Moreover, the supposedly peaceful Zheng He used military force at least three times; he even captured the king of modern-day Sri Lanka and delivered him to China for disobeying Ming authority.

No matter how the Chinese want to think of themselves as passive observers of the world scene, not intervening in the affairs of other nations, it is simply not so.

The American dream of victory for the American model rests in a belief that our enlightened self-interest in the name of the collective good on a shrinking planet will carry the day in foreign policy. What will matter above all is the capacity of the United States and China to avoid fatal misunderstanding. In a state of mutual incomprehension, clashing interests will escalate. (This is the article by Roger Cohen in NYT 10-20-14. China Versus America)

The Myth of Chinese Exceptionalism by Stephen M. Walt 3-6-14 in foreign Affairs.

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