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New World-Order Paradigm: The Best of the West Agrees It’s Moving East

By Tom Plate

April 13, 2004

It would be churlish to accuse the East Coast foreign-policy establishment of ignoring Asia.

That would be unfair. For the astonishing escape of China from the imbecility of Maoism, the evident economic re-charge and possible remilitarization of Japan, the tragic turmoil in ordinarily brilliant South Korea, the budding of democracy in Islamic Indonesia, the slow but steady turn toward globalization in heretofore tradition-bound India, the testing travails of tortured Taiwan, the potential implosion of Muslim Pakistan, the effort at public-policy innovation and leadership in prosperous Singapore -- all of these phenomenally interesting events and many others are of course wholly familiar to the principle figures of the U.S. establishment that scoot and shuttle up and down the corridors of power from Boston to Washington.

And Asia has certainly not fallen below the radar screen of "Foreign Affairs," the New York-based establishment journal which has a status in American international policy circles almost as regal as "L’Osservatore Romano" in the Vatican. Even so, from the perspective of the Atlantic coast, Asia still seems a very, very long plane ride and several colossal conceptual leaps away, whereas Europe is but just a half dozen or so time zones distant and for some reason thoroughly less complicated. The inevitable result is that Asia has played second fiddle to Europe in the American foreign-policy mind for as long as anyone can recall.

No more, asserts "Foreign Affairs" editor James Hoge. America’s East Coast is getting over its Euro-centrism. Hoge, one of America’s most prominent journalists, agrees that the center of global gravity is irrevocably and dramatically moving from the West to the East. "Economic power, political power, military power is moving to Asia," says Hoge, "and the old order will have to make adjustments with India and China coming down the road at a fairly fast clip. Why, even the smaller surging nations of Asia are bigger than the bigger ones in Europe."

Hoge, after three decades of newspaper journalism, became editor of "Foreign Affairs" in 1992. He plans to lay out his perspective on the coming paradigm shift in an address later this month (21 April) at a notable pillar of the East Coast foreign-policy Vatican: The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Jim (an old friend) offered an advance peak at his speech during a chat in his book-lined office at the plush Council of Foreign Relations headquarters on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan.

Central to his thinking is that the historic shift to the East may well prove very bumpy. Geopolitical paradigm shifts, he warns, "seldom occur peacefully." The rise of Germany and Japan in the early 20th century was resisted by the imperial order of the time, triggering colossal military catastrophe. "The transformation now underway is bigger, more complex and more unfamiliar," he warns.

China’s economy, he notes, will probably surpass Germany’s in less than ten years and overtake Japan’s in less than twenty. Suppose a new generation of leadership in both giants was to bury the historic hatchet and combine in alliance against the West? On the other hand, he also notes, Asia has not recently witnessed a fully enabled China and Japan cohabiting together on the same Asian continent at the same time. Suppose the two giants were to choose to have it out militarily at some point? This would devastate Asia politically -- and the world economically.

And that’s not even the full enormity of the new Asian paradigm. Crack geopolitical strategists like Singapore’s Kishore Mahbubani and George Yeo have likened the new emerging order to a solar system that now features two powerful suns -- China and the United States. But Hoge envisions a third: India moving slowly but surely into the picture as a global solar superpower. In his speech he will cite a Goldman Sachs prediction of a possible Indian economic eclipse of China in the next half century.

Already the major nations of Asia account for most of the world’s foreign exchange reserves, he points out, and thus finance most of the U.S. current account deficit, which is now gigantic: "The bottom line is that we face an enormous transformation of power, attended by unavoidable dislocations." he says.

To date, the U.S. response to the new reality seem more old-style -- mainly with military moves -- than new-age global. A key element appears to be an emerging policy of "soft containment" for growing China. Our bases in Central Asia look awfully large and unnecessary, unless the point is to deter China; the new missile-shield commitment from Japan (at Washington’s intense behest) looks awfully expensive and unnecessary, unless the point is China (and, of course, North Korea); and the intensified U.S. military cooperation with India would seem awfully sudden and unnecessary, unless it is fashioned to seal off the Indian Ocean and the Malacca Straits from Chinese influence. "If you were a Chinese strategist," he says, "what would you think?"

It is possible to quarrel and quibble with Hoge’s hunches here and there. India, with its huge internal Muslim population, surely has to come to a stable settlement with neighboring Pakistan before it can even begin to think of an alliance with the United States against China -- or, for that matter, with China against the United States. Japan’s economic recovery could stall and the Koizumi government’s Iraq involvement could still blow up in Tokyo’s face (as the recent hostage psychodrama suggests), throwing the Japanese back into its pacifist protectionist shell. And any sentient recollection of Chinese history should serve to fill us all with extreme humility about making any predictions about China, which retains, it seems to me, a genetic ability to self-destruct internally at any time.

Even so, Hoge, as a certified foreign policy intellectual -- and skillful gatekeeper of our leading international journal -- is trying to make a serious contribution to reorienting American foreign policy in the direction of what used to be called the Orient. His effort could prove helpful and timely for an America that seems lately to have made some very bad calls and shockingly misconceived policy turns.















































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