A letter written today to The New Yorker:
Throughout his review of current books on China, Ian Buruma, like the authors whose books he discusses, accepts as a given – as if it were some sort of natural law, as incontrovertible as the law of gravity – that the United States and China are doomed to be rivals. Why is he, like every pundit who has something to say about China, stuck in that 19th century mindset? This is a new world. We can complain about the evils of globalization and multi-national corporations, but there is no sane rationale whatsoever, either in terms of world peace or the self-interest of the United States, for China and the United States to be at loggerheads.
“The surest way to court disaster,” Buruma ends his essay, “is to have no coherent plan at all.” How’s this for a plan? 1) China is to be congratulated on its success in overcoming daunting handicaps to become, in the last fifty years – without going to war even once – a world power. 2) The United States will encourage the symbiotic economic relationship that already exists between the two countries, which has proven advantageous to both. 3) As long as China continues to respect the political sovereignty of other nations, the United States welcomes the expansion of Chinese economic interests in the Pacific and elsewhere, recognizing it as a mechanism for increased global prosperity.
As for excoriating China for its abuses of human rights: considering the chaos that the United States government has caused, and has enabled other countries to cause, in the Middle East and elsewhere, it has no moral authority whatsoever.
Left unsaid, because the letter was already too long:
The increase and decrease of territory no longer is the measure of national power. Now that markets and resources are controlled by large, often multi-national, corporations, the expansion of markets and access to resources no longer requires the expansion of borders and colonization. Commercial clout, which is nothing more or less than most-favored-customer status, is the 21st century measure of national power.
Territory still is being disputed only because armies – massed agglomerations of armaments and armed personnel – still exist. Mobile armed forces are monstrous anachronisms, whose only raison d’etre has devolved into the policing of rogue states. China wants to cut in on the American hegemony in the Pacific, it does not want to invade Japan and the Philippines. Its demonstrations in the China Sea are reactions to the armed forces, equally anachronistic, of its neighbors in the Pacific. (If there are oceanic oil or gas reserves near the islets China is claiming as its own, access to them by China would be more easily gained through the rough and tumble of commerce, than the primitive and dangerous conduct of warfare.) NATO does not want to invade Russia, it simply wants American and European oligarchs to be allowed to operate there. Its construction of missile bases in Eastern Europe is only a reaction to Russia’s military.
Should we say good-bye, then, to Clausewitz’s dictum that war is “the continuation of politics by different means?” No. The nature of war simply is in transition. Taking control of the computers by which a country is administered is now the aim of meaningful warfare – that is, warfare which can really make a difference. Taking control of territories under that country’s administration is just a needless and expensive headache.
If anything is to be learned from history, it is not that territorial expansion is the inevitable extension of power, but that power is always in flux. Nations, which are static, can last forever (so to speak); empires, which are dynamic, ebb and flow, expand and contract.
Imagine if the United States took a practical, businesslike approach to the obvious fact that American power, at least for the nonce, is on the wane, and China’s is increasing?
With a few exceptions in the area of heavy manufacturing, the interests of China and the United States are interdependent – in many case, intertwined. Instead of the United States railing against the historically inevitable, why not give historical inevitability a Nietzschean kick in the pants and join forces with China? In some ways we are more compatible with China than we are with Europe. Our socio-economic principles – what we regard as the proper relationship between employers and employees – are closer to each other’s than they are to Europe’s, in which labor plays a moral and political role it does not play in China and the United States. Unlike those who control the wealth of Europe, those who control the wealth of China and the United States are not hindered by a vague, inhibiting sense of guilt, left over from the Enlightenment. China and the United States each possess a strong national mythology and solid self-image, which Europe, a messy bunch of unfederated states which have been feuding with each other for centuries, does not possess.
The rivalry between the United States and China, which everyone takes for granted (at least in the American camp – I don’t know what the pundits say in China) is stupid, senseless, short-sighted, entirely reflexive and, I’m sorry to say, will only end in tears.