Will “America First” hasten “China First”?
I have written a number of things in this tymshft blog over the years, but if I were to look over them again, I suspect that every one of them was written with an exclusively Western mindset.
Which is surprising when you think about it, because the most significant trend that people have been talking about for decades is the coming end of American dominance.
Over the last several hundred years, various countries and empires have taken turns as major world powers. For the people of today, it is inconceivable that Portugal was once one of those world powers. Now it’s the holiday spot for people from England, who themselves once presided over an empire upon which the sun never set. After the United States pretty much bailed Britain out in the 1940s, there were two world powers – and by 1990, there was only one.
Meanwhile, futurists kept an eye on the billion-plus people in the so-called “uncivilized” part of the world. Here’s part of what the American Conservative wrote in 2012:
[China’s poverty] began to change very rapidly once Deng Xiaoping initiated his free-market reforms in 1978, first throughout the countryside and eventually in the smaller industrial enterprises of the coastal provinces. By 1985, The Economist ran a cover story praising China’s 700,000,000 peasants for having doubled their agricultural production in just seven years, an achievement almost unprecedented in world history. Meanwhile, China’s newly adopted one-child policy, despite its considerable unpopularity, had sharply reduced population growth rates in a country possessing relatively little arable land….
Even a century ago, near the nadir of China’s later weakness and decay, some of America’s foremost public intellectuals, such as Edward A. Ross and Lothrop Stoddard, boldly predicted the forthcoming restoration of the Chinese nation to global influence, the former with equanimity and the latter with serious concern.
While the American Conservative article goes on to argue that China’s ascendancy does not necessarily mean the United States’ decline, it argued that at the time (2012) we were clearly heading that way.
Our elites boast about the greatness of our constitutional democracy, the wondrous human rights we enjoy, the freedom and rule of law that have long made America a light unto the nations of the world and a spiritual draw for oppressed peoples everywhere, including China itself. But are these claims actually correct? They often stack up very strangely when they appear in the opinion pages of our major newspapers, coming just after the news reporting, whose facts tell a very different story.
Just last year, the Obama administration initiated a massive months-long bombing campaign against the duly recognized government of Libya on “humanitarian” grounds, then argued with a straight face that a military effort comprising hundreds of bombing sorties and over a billion dollars in combat costs did not actually constitute “warfare,” and hence was completely exempt from the established provisions of the Congressional War Powers Act.
But as the 2012 author well knew, the Obama administration would not be in power forever. At worst, Obama would be re-elected in 2012, but would leave office by 2017.
What if a very different leader were to take his place? What if a new President were to appeal to those who were NOT elite? What if he were to (intentionally or unintentionally) heed the George Washington warning against entangling alliances, and were to reverse the traditional isolationism that dominated the United States for most of the years between 1789 and 1940 – when the “America First” movement fell due to Communist disapproval (after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union), followed by American disapproval the next year after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor?
What if, on Inauguration Day in 2017, a new President were to stand on the Capitol steps and, despite their loaded meaning, actually utter the words “America First”?
Well, that could lead to unexpected consequences:
This year’s Davos forum taking place from January 17, is supposed to be dominated by a haunting specter of hostility to globalization and the rise of protectionism around the world. It comes at a time, when the new U.S. president-elect is talking tough on trade, promising tariffs and increased government interference in the market. The forum will end on the day the new president is sworn in. It also, for the first time, features the Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Xi’s pitch was fundamentally a focus on free trade rather than geopolitical confrontation, and a pitch for inclusive globalization. Protectionism, nativism and populism were identified as three threats that must be contended with by a more cooperative approach to global trade.
The speech itself comprised of a robust defense of the current world order.
The above was written by Sumantra Maitra at china.org.cn. And why not use china.org.cn as a reference? The Davos crowd, hit by the double whammy of Brexit and Trump, is all too willing to welcome anyone who champions the global interconnectedness of nations. And while there are some who argue that China remains a totalitarian state, with its population controls and its notorious “Great Firewall,” China can simply tell its critics to look in the mirror.
As Maitra poses the argument, two new coalitions of nations are forming. One consists of the nationalists – the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, and possibly other European nations in the coming months – nations who value nationalism and protectionism. According to Maitra, the other coalition consists of nations such as China who remain committed to globalism. Maitra concludes:
One needs to understand, that as long as there are laws of demand and supply, trade will be paramount and the forces of economics will favor countries which are pro-trade. Countries, which will try to be protectionist, will ultimately suffer as the market will inevitably punish them due to the lack of competitive advantage. Smaller countries will automatically coalesce around the powers which are more open to trade, and that should be a point well-articulated in Davos.
And as those small countries coalesce around the larger countries, obviously the larger countries will take the lead.
And which country is the largest country of all? Hint – it isn’t Switzerland.
When I shared this hypothesis with Tad Donaghe, a futurist whom I respect, I shared it in much shorter form. I was responding to this statement:
We will not accept Trump as the Leader of the free world.
I replied (while sharing the Maitra article):
Many have thought that the US would pass from world leadership regardless, and that China would ascend as the world leader. Perhaps this is happening, and both “America First” conservatives and “human rights” liberals are now on the sidelines.
We cannot allow that. There is no real freedom at all in China.
But csn “the West” truly prevent that from happening? And if so, how? None of the past Presidents – Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, or Obama – were able to free China’s masses, and Trump doesn’t look like he can do it either.
Continue the discussion here, or at Tad’s Facebook post.