Home .Change and innovation The great convergence -- not quite yet!
The great convergence -- not quite yet!
Saturday, 22 August 2009 10:12



America is anxious about its place in the world, despite the excellent international relations of President Obama.  The financial crisis has discredited its model of globalization.  Terrorists could strike at any moment.  China is throwing its weight around.  Russia is assertive.  Even Japan’s new government wants a more equal relationship with the US.  As Fareed Zakaria argues, after the rise of the West, we are now seeing the rise of the rest.  He calls this a “Post American World”, but it is a world where America can and should still lead.



“We are living through the third great power shift in modern history”.  First, there was the rise of England and Western Europe through the Industrial Revolution.  Second, a century ago, was the rise of the United States.  And now we have the rise of the rest – especially but not only the BRICs of Brazil, Russia, India and China.  America was created as the New World, in rejection of the Old World.  But now a newer world is being formed.




Faint-hearted Americans should not worry, this is the result of very positive trends in terms of peace, prosperity and poverty reduction.  Notwithstanding terrorism, we are in reality living in the most peaceful time in human history.  What frightens us most is the information revolution which brings us images of every event around the globe.  And countries like China and Russia do not represent global military threats, as they may have some decades ago.  They are now dependent on the global economy and US markets for their power.  And let’s face, the BRICs are basically poor countries with big populations.


But as emerging countries develop, nationalism rises.  Citizens are proud of the achievements of their countries.  Also, they vent the frustrations of having lived over 60 years in a global system dominated by the West and especially the US – a system riddled with hypocrisy, like Western support for Saudi Arabia and Western criticism of China for its relations with Sudan.  In a world of many more players, governmental and non-governmental, international co-operation is more complex.


The complexity of future international relations is highlighted by Minxin Pei in his Foreign Policy article where he questions the hype of American decline and the dawn of a new Asian age.  He argues that it's a gross exaggeration to say that Asia will emerge as the world's predominant power player. At most, Asia's rise will lead to the arrival of a multi-polar world, not another unipolar one.  Asia is nowhere near closing its economic and military gap with the West.


Asian history is replete with examples of competition for power and even military conflict among its big players.  Although Asia today may have the world's most dynamic economies, it does not seem to play an equally inspiring role as a thought leader.  But the region faces enormous demographic hurdles in the decades ahead. Much of the region will grow old before it becomes rich.  Environmental and natural resource constraints could also prove crippling. Political instability could also throw Asia's economic locomotive off course. State collapse in Pakistan or a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula could wreak havoc.  And if a democratic breakthrough somehow forces the Communist Party from power, China is most likely to enter a lengthy period of unstable transition, with a weak central government and mediocre economic performance.


Although it is true that China will become Asia's strongest country by any measure, its rise has inherent limits. China is unlikely to dominate Asia in the sense that it replaces the United States as the region's peacekeeper and decisively influences other countries' foreign policies.  China has formidable neighbors in Russia, India, and Japan that will fiercely resist any Chinese attempts to become the regional hegemon.  For complex reasons, China's rise has inspired fear and unease, not enthusiasm, among Asians.  The reality is that that most countries in the region welcome Washington as the guarantor of Asia's peace. Asian elites from New Delhi to Tokyo continue to count on Uncle Sam to keep a watchful eye on Beijing.


Coming back to Zakaria, before delivering a few warnings to his American friends, he starts with a few compliments.  He notes, quite rightly that, the US still has the world’s most competitive and innovative economy, and the best universities.  “It remains the most open, flexible society in the world, able to absorb other people, cultures, ideas, goods and services.”  “What has worked for America is that we take the best ideas and the best people, mix them all up and invent the future.”  But the US’s advantages today are in large part a product of immigration.


The big challenge is for American government which must adapt.  It must “bring these rising forces into the global system, to integrate them so that they in turn broaden and deepen global economic, political and cultural ties”.  The US must cede some of its own power and perquisites, and accept a world with a diversity of voices and viewpoints.  The rise of the rest is after all happening because of American ideas and actions.


The American people need to globalize.  They do not learn foreign languages, culture or markets.  That can leave the US at a competitive disadvantage, as much of the rest of the world increasingly has an understanding of and access to two markets and cultures.  Americans have never developed the ability to move into other people’s worlds.





The Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria



The Rise of the Rest, by Fareed Zakaria



Playboy Interview: Fared Zakaria



The Future of American Power, by Fareed Zakaria.



Think Again: Asia Rise, by Minxin Pei



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