When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order by Martin Jacques (2009), “The Future of American Power. Dominance and Decline in Perspective” by Professor Joseph Nye (2010) in Foreign Affairs (Nov/Dec).
There is a close nexus between ruling and power. As Machiavelli well instructs us one cannot rule, and even less govern, without power.
To consider political-economic-military power in its various vicissitudes and intricacies conjures up not only Machiavelli’s Prince, but also Karl Marx’s Das Kapital,not to speak of Vico’s philosophy of history in his New Science concerned with the rise, dominance, decline, decay and final fall of entire civilizations. To merely repeat what these eminent authors have written on the history of power is to run the risk of reinventing the wheel. Yet, it remains beyond me how anyone can possibly grasp and explain the present status of global power without possessing at least a cursory knowledge of its historical record on a regional or global level. It would be like driving a car without a rear-view mirror; a possibility to be sure, but misguided and dangerous too. To employ another metaphor, it is not unlike a doctor prescribing a prognosis without first conducting a diagnosis.
So, as a solution to this conundrum of mine I have decided to situate my contribution within a Vichian-MacLuhan “back to the future,” framework, attempting to envision modernity as it may be lived in the 21st century. It is intriguing to me that of the two centuries within which the theme is situated, the 20th century is already in the past while the 21st century is mostly in the future. The question then is this: How does one bridge that great divide? Leonardo would have no problem with bridging any kind of divide, be it physical or mental, but he was a Renaissance man, not a logical positivist, and I am no Leonardo. Nevertheless, let us attempt it.
I will first proceed with the examination of a book and an article which take opposite views of the diagnosis of power within modernity and then propose a few interpretations and a possible prognosis of my own; which is to say that in this essay, history (which is made by man but profoundly affects man and his culture) shall take center stage as the protagonist of the human drama. I shall bypass an inane identification and description of the mediocre visionless politicians and bureaucrats who presently hold the levers of power in our brave new global world. The two nations that will be closely examined are the United States, which is still widely considered the number one superpower in the world, and China which seem to be bent on competing for that title. As far as civilizations are concerned we will of course examine and compare the age old civilization of the West and that of the far East or Asian civilization.
For over five hundred years now we have lived in a western-made world, one shaped by colonialism and imperialism wherein the very notion of being modern was synonymous with being western. It was assumed that such a state of affairs would be permanent for no other civilization could claim to be as modern and scientifically advanced as that of the West. But lo and behold, in 2009 a book came out which challenges such a taken for granted assumption. I refer to When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order by British journalist and scholar Martin Jacques.
The book has aroused a vehement debate in the United States and elsewhere about the role of China in the creation of the new 21st century world order. The book argues that the twenty-first century will be different: with the rise of increasingly powerful non-Western countries, that the west will no longer be dominant and there will be various ways of being modern. In this new era of ‘contested modernity’ the central player will be of course China which is already signaling the end of the global dominance of the West and the emergence of a world which will become increasingly disconcerting and unfamiliar to those who live in the west.
Indeed, the book’s claim was disconcerting from its first appearance, for it challenges some politically correct, almost sacred assumptions by claiming that China’s future economic strength will heavily alter the political and cultural landscape of the world. In other words, China will rule the 21st century. The book’s original subtitle is quite revealing in this respect: “The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World”. So, here is a bold prediction of the end of a civilization and the rise, or perhaps we should talk of a rebirth, of another quite different civilization, one that while being intriguing to most Westerns, remains a mystery wrapped up in a riddle.
Martin Jacques forcefully argues that far from becoming a western-style society, China will remain highly distinctive. It is already having a far-reaching and much-discussed economic impact, but its political and cultural influence, which has hitherto been greatly neglected, will be at least as significant. Continental in size and mentality, and accounting for one fifth of humanity, China is not even a conventional nation-state but a ‘civilization-state’ whose imperatives, priorities and values are quite different. As it rapidly reassumes its traditional place at the centre of East Asia, the old tributary system will resurface in a modern form, contemporary ideas of racial hierarchy will be redrawn and China’s ages-old sense of superiority will reassert itself.
The whole narrative of When China Rules the World has caused a profound academic debate. This is understandable since it questions Western hegemony and the future of American power in the 21st century. On the other hand, as one could expect, the book was highly praised in China and East Asian countries, where it was perceived by some pundits as the best and most understanding analysis of Chinese society and economics. I suspect it will be mentioned by other contributors in the context of this theme too and that would be all for the good so that we don’t run the risk of reinventing the wheel. In any case, whether one agrees with it or not, the book remains a lively one full of provocations and predictions.
The book can be summarized in twelve key arguments: 1) There is not one western modernity, instead we are witnessing the birth of multiple modernities. This is perhaps the core argument. 2) Chinese modernity will be very different from western modernity. 3)We are fast moving into a world of contested modernity. 4) China will become the largest economy in the world within less than two decades and then proceed to rapidly out-distance that of the United States. 5) China’s impact on the world will not simply be economic; it will also have profound political, cultural and ideological effects. 6) For thousands of years, China was at the centre of the tributary-state system in East Asia, which only came to an end with the arrival of European colonialism at the end of the nineteenth century. 7) As the East Asian economy is rapidly reconfigured around China, we should expect elements of the tributary system to reappear 8) At its core, China is a civilization-state rather than a nation-state, a fact which will become steadily more apparent. 9) The Chinese state is very different from the western state: it has existed for over two thousand years, and for over a millennium it has had no competitors (e.g., church, merchants) nor limits to its power; it is regarded with reverence and deference by the Chinese as the guardian and protector of Chinese civilization. 10) The Chinese have a deep and living sense of their own culture and civilization which they regard as superior to all others. 11) 92% of the Chinese believe that they are of one race, the Han Chinese, unlike the other most populous nations such as India, the United States, Brazil and Indonesia, which recognize themselves to be highly multi-racial and multi-cultural. 12) The similarities between the communist period and the Confucian era are more striking than the differences. This is another intriguing assertion which belies a desire to collapse Communism into Confucianism.
What in fact strikes the reader immediately about the overall analysis is the fact that Communism, the political system which still today runs China, is somehow conceived not in Marxist-Leninist terms but a something already existing in the traditional culture of China. But the ineluctable historical fact remains that, as a philosophy and an ideology it is imported from the West unless one wishes to claim that Karl Marx was Chinese. Such an ideology, I submit, has profound western assumptions even when critical of the traditional capitalistic tenets of liberal democracy as Das Kapital indeed is. So in this book the whole issue of freedom and liberal democracy in The People’s Republic of China seems to have been side-stepped. So Jacques’ assertion that China is somehow “outside the history or experience of Western societies” is historically untenable and belies a certain disconcerting inattentiveness to both Chinese politics, from at least 1911 onwards, as well as international relations more broadly. One begins to wonder if the author has begun with a bias, conscious or unconscious, and then has gone looking for its support and justifications.
But this is not the only glaring problem with Jacques’s thesis, there are others. Take this assertion: “…China is not primarily a nation-state but a civilization-state. For the Chinese, what matters is civilization. For Westerners it is nation. The most important political value in China is the integrity and unity of the civilization-state.” He’s taking an idea – China as “civilization state” – first forwarded by Lucien Pye and misapplying it by putting it in the service of a facile historical exceptionalism. Here again history belies Jacques statement, for the very concept of nation which comes from the West is in fact very important to the Chinese. One may call the phenomenon cultural colonialism but the fact remains that following Western notions of sovereignty, many political and intellectual Chinese leaders have for over a hundred years now embraced the concept of national identity and attempted to reconcile it, as best they could, to the more international aspects of the Communist ideology. In any case both nationalism and communism happen to be distinct Western imports. This curious conundrum is in no way addressed by Jacques.
The fact that Jacques’ training is that of an economist focusing on Marxism may explain why he so cavalierly discounts the importance of nationalism in China, but he ought to know that Marxism is not an Asian ideology. The question arises: has Jacques really missed the boat here? While it is true that China has gained a great deal of economic and political and military power in the past three decades, other “Western” powers have behaved in similar ways beginning with the Romans and ending with the British Empire. It remains unclear that China will “rule the world” any time soon. It will undoubtedly be more powerful; it will get its way in some areas where in the past it did not, but global power is diffuse, capital is dynamically mobile, advantages come and go, and that pattern seems to be accelerating as globalization makes everything – production, information, understanding, faster and faster and faster.
Assertions of cultural exceptionalism thus seem untenable in a world that fragments and shifts and changes so quickly. Nostalgia for a world that never existed is simply misplaced, as with this line from Jacques: “The Chinese idea of the state could hardly be more different [than that of the “West] They do not view it from a narrowly utilitarian standpoint, in terms of what it can deliver, let alone as the devil incarnate in the manner of the American Tea Party. They see the state as an intimate, or, to be more precise, as a member of the family – the head of the family, in fact. The Chinese regard the family as the template for the state. What’s more, they perceive the state not as external to themselves but as an extension or representation of themselves.”
In this assertion we have the collapsing of Confucianism into Communism. Yet Han Feizi rejects the government-as-family metaphor, not to speak of the constant tyrannical attacks, since Mao’s era, on families and family institutions beginning with the so called “Great Leap Forward.” That misnomer is typical of a mindless progressivism that declares that anything that arrives at the end of a process is always the best and that progress always goes forward and cannot be stopped. Is Jacques asserting that the death of tens of millions of deaths is politically and culturally insignificant within the larger scheme of things? Does the refusal to answer that question make the CCP more or less legitimate than the West? So far Jacques has no ready answers to such questions.
This is not is not my lament only. There is a powerful rebuttal to Jacques’s assertions coming from a Harvard Professor Joseph Nye who wrote an article in Foreign Affairs (Nov/Dec. 2010) titled “The Future of American Power.” He begins with a definition of power as “the ability to attain the outcomes one wants, and the resources that produce it vary in different contexts…” Then he goes on to point out that “This century is marked by a burgeoning revolution in information technology and globalization, and to understand this revolution, certain pitfalls need to be avoided.”
Which exactly are those pitfalls? First, he warns against the misleading metaphors of organic decline. “Rome remained dominant for more than three centuries after the peak of its power, and even then it did not succumb to the rise of another state. For all the fashionable predictions of China, India, or Brazil surpassing the United States in the next decades, the greater threat may come from modern barbarians and non-state actors. In an information-based world, power diffusion may pose a bigger danger than power transition. Conventional wisdom holds that the state with the largest army prevails, but in the information age, the state (or the non-state actor) with the best story may sometimes win.” This is quite an eye-opener resembling Vico’s warning about the “barbarism of the intellect,” a sort of barbarism which has to do with the disappearance of the values and the narrative buttressing an entire civilization.
He then treats us to another metaphor, that of the chess game. “Power today is distributed in a pattern that resembles a complex three-dimensional chess game. On the top chessboard, military power is largely uni-polar, and the United States is likely to retain primacy for quite some time. On the middle chessboard, economic power has been multi-polar for more than a decade, with the United States, Europe, Japan, and China as the major players and others gaining in importance. The bottom chessboard is the realm of transnational relations.” He acknowledges that in the near future the most important factor will be the continuing return of Asia to the world stage. “In 1750, Asia had more than half the world’s population and economic output. By 1900, after the Industrial Revolution in Europe and the United States, Asia’s share shrank to one-fifth of global economic output. By 2050, Asia will be well on its way back to its historical share. The rise of China and India may create instability, but this is a problem with precedents, and history suggests how policies can affect the outcome.”
Next Professor Nye brands as misguided the fashionable comparison of the United States’ power to that of the United Kingdom a century ago and the prediction of a similar hegemonic decline. There will be some decline but it will not be absolute, he tells us, and it does not have to lead to decay and ultimate fall. The United States does not have geographical empire, although some have made the case for a commercial capitalistic entrepreneurial global empire. Then the Professor this to say: “Power measured in resources rarely equals power measured in preferred outcomes, and cycles of belief in decline reveal more about psychology than they do about real shifts in power resources.”
Then Professor Nye takes on frontally the issue of the rise of China and Jacques’ book asserting that “China has a long way to go to equal the power resources of the United States, and it still faces many obstacles to its development. Even if overall Chinese gdp passed that of the United States around 2030, the two economies, although roughly equivalent in size, would not be equivalent in composition. China would still have a vast underdeveloped countryside, and it would have begun to face demographic problems from the delayed effects of its one child policy… China’s authoritarian political system has shown an impressive capability to harness the country’s power, but whether the government can maintain that capability over the longer term is a mystery both to outsiders and to Chinese leaders. Unlike India, which was born with a democratic constitution, China has not yet found a way to solve the problem of demands for political participation.” So, much remains to be seen in the light of future events which remain mysterious.
On the military front Nye states that “Some have argued that China aims to challenge the United States’ position in East Asia and, eventually, the world. Even if this were an accurate assessment of China’s current intentions (and even the Chinese themselves cannot know the views of future generations), it is doubtful that China will have the military capability to make this possible anytime soon.” The U. S.- Japanese alliance and the improvement in U.S. -Indian relations mean that China cannot easily expel the Americans from Asia which validly claims to be a Pacific power. From that position of strength, the United States, Japan, India, Australia, and others can engage China and provide incentives for it to play a responsible role” Here is another eye opener for those contemplating an imminent assertion of Chinese hegemony in Asia.
On internal decay Professor Nye opines that it would be a great mistake for the US to seriously curtail immigration. “With its current levels of immigration, the United States is one of the few developed countries that may avoid demographic decline and keep its share of world population, but this could change if xenophobia or reactions to terrorism closed its borders. Although too rapid a rate of immigration can cause social problems, over the long term, immigration strengthens U.S. power. Today, the United States is the world’s third most populous country; 50 years from now, it is likely to still be third (after India and China)… When Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew concludes that China will not surpass the United States as the leading power of the twenty-first century, he cites the ability of the United States to attract the best and brightest from the rest of the world and meld them into a diverse culture of creativity. China has a larger population to recruit from domestically to be sure, but in his view, its Sinocentric culture will make it less creative than the United States, which can draw on the whole world.” This statement ought to be a warning for the EU which is considering limiting its young Moslem immigrant population as its own native population ages.
Another informative statement is this: “Today, however, even after the financial crisis and the ensuing recession, the World Economic Forum has ranked the United States fourth (after Switzerland, Sweden, and Singapore) in global economic competitiveness. (China, in comparison, was ranked 27th.)” Also important to consider those statistics: In terms of investment in research and development, the United States was the world leader in 2007, with $369 billion, followed by all of Asia (S338 billon) and the European Union ($263 billion). The United States spent 2.7 percent of its GDP on research and development, nearly double what China spent (but slightly less than the three percent spent by Japan and South Korea). In 2007, American inventors registered about 80,000 patents in the United States, or more than the rest of the world combined. A 2009 survey by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor ranked the United States ahead of other countries in opportunities for entrepreneurship because it has a favorable business culture, the most mature venture capital industry, close relations between universities and industry, and an open immigration policy.
A well-educated labor force is another key to economic success in the information age. At first glance, the United States does well in this regard. It spends twice as much on higher education as a percentage of gdp as do France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The London-based Times Higher Educations 2009 list of the top ten universities includes six in the United States, and a 2010 study by Shanghai Jiao Tong University places 17 U.S. universities-and no Chinese universities-among its top 20. Americans win more Nobel Prizes and publish more scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals-three times as many as the Chinese-than do the citizens of any other country. These accomplishments enhance both the country’s economic power and its soft power. American education at its best-many universities and the top slice of the secondary education system-meets or sets the global standard.
Next Professor Nye deals with the thorny issue of decline and blames the alarmists for offering misleading metaphors and warns us that “There is always a range of possible futures, not one… As for the United States’ power relative to China’s, much will depend on the uncertainties of future political change in China. Barring any political upheaval, China’s size and high rate of economic growth will almost certainly increase its relative strength vis-à-vis the United States. This will bring China closer to the United States in power resources, but it does not necessarily mean that China will surpass the United States as the most powerful country-even if China suffers no major domestic political setbacks.” Projections based on gdp growth alone are one-dimensional. They ignore U.S. advantages in military and soft power, as well as China’s geopolitical disadvantages in the Asian balance of power…American power is based on alliances rather than colonies and is associated with an ideology that is flexible. . . . Together they provide a core of relationships and values to which America can return even after it has overextended itself. The United States is well placed to benefit from such networks and alliances, if it follows smart strategies. Given Japanese concerns about the rise of Chinese power, Japan is more likely to seek U.S. support to preserve its independence than ally with China.” On the question of absolute, rather than relative, American decline, the United States faces serious problems in areas such as debt, secondary education, and political gridlock. But they are only part of the picture.
Plenty of food for thought here! I suppose what the professor is reminding us of is that civilizations have come and gone throughout history but sometimes they have also been reborn. The phenomenon of Renaissance, well known in Europe, is after all a classical Greco-Roman civilization that is reborn anew, albeit synthesized to a phenomenon the ancient Greeks and Romans did not know, Christianity. Rinascimento, after all literally means “rebirth.” So rebirths and resurrections remain historically in the realm of possibility for any civilization, Eastern or Western. As Vico has well taught us, there are recurring historical cycles and they are not deterministic since they are not closed circles.
Finally Professor Nye offers his most intriguing insight: “It is time for a new narrative about the future of U.S. power. Describing power transition in the twenty-first century as a traditional case of hegemonic decline is inaccurate, and it can lead to dangerous policy implications if it encourages China to engage in adventurous policies or the United States to overreact out of fear. The United States is not in absolute decline, and in relative terms, there is a reasonable probability that it will remain more powerful than any single state in the coming decades…Because globalization will spread technological capabilities and information technology will allow more people to communicate, U.S. culture and the U.S. economy will become less globally dominant than they were at the start of this century. Yet it is unlikely that the United States will decay like ancient Rome, or even that it will be surpassed by another state, including China.” This new narrative, professor Nye reminds us, will require a deeper understanding of power, how it is changing, and how to construct “smart power” strategies that combine hard-and soft-power resources in an information age. The country’s capacity to maintain alliances and create networks will be an important dimension of its hard and soft power.
Indeed, power is not good or bad per se, it is the intention behind it and the how it is wielded that makes all the difference. More of it is not necessarily better if the intention is to use it badly. According to professor Nye, “a smart-power narrative for the twenty-first century is not about maximizing power or preserving hegemony. It is about finding ways to combine resources in successful strategies in the new context of power diffusion and the rise of the rest…The coming decades are not likely to see a post-American world, but the United States will need a smart strategy that combines hard and soft-power resources-and that emphasizes alliances and networks that are responsive to the new context of a global information age.”
Obviously, what we have here are two differing views of who will rule, or better who will have hegemony and power to throw around in the 21st century. It remains an open question despite the views of Professor Nye or Martin Jacques. Many in the West are understandably concerned that the view they reject may come about, many in the East believe that their time for power has finally come as confirmed by Jacques’s assertions.
I am afraid they are both wrong. The real question at this point is this: can the two views be bridged and synthesized, or are they mutually exclusive? I tend to believe that a bridge between the two, a la Leonardo, or closer at home a la Edward Said is possible and desirable (see my Ovi article on Said’s bridging of East and West at http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/2112 . To build such a bridge we need to go back to the issue of “multiple modernities”; that is to say, abandon the idea that there is only one way of being modern, the Western mode. The Western mode, as a matter of fact may be flawed to begin with.
What do I mean about the flaw in the Western conception of modernity? I have already addressed this flaw in various article in Ovi over the last five years or so, but allow me to repeat it succinctly in this context. The flaw in the Western conception of modernity lies in its misguided notion that only what arrives at the end is truly progressive and the best, that what is traditional, such as religion and its practices, needs to be repudiated and jettisoned as so much obscurantism and primitivism. Here is where Jacques’ theory of multiple modernities could have been useful but he fails to carry the notion to its proper conclusion and opts to side with those who believe that China’s destiny in the 21st century is somehow inevitable and written in stone.
Nevertheless, the concept of multiple modernities which refuses to reject religion as mere superstition has been argued by influential modern philosophers such as Whitehead and Habermas and various others (the inquisitive reader may wish to consult in this regard the article I wrote on Habermas’s philosophy of multiple modernities some four years ago in Ovi magazine at the following link: http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/4225), philosophers these who have convincingly argued that multiple modernities are not only possible but desirable in the EU, the West at large as well as more traditional religious communities such as India and other Asian places.
Unfortunately that kind of hard look is found unappetizing by Western man bent on finding truth via science and ignoring a simple fundamental question such as that posed by Heidegger: why is there something rather than nothing? Since Voltaire’s age of reason and Galileo’s age of science that question appears slightly ridiculous to modern “enlightened” man, but I would submit one more time that it remains an imperative to achieve a modicum of cultural identity and a definition of what it means to be a European or a Western man in order to be then in a position to confront other cultures and other traditions and find a modus vivendi with them. As I have repeatedly in previous articles: the Enlightenment has still to enlighten itself.
So, once again let me submit to the attentive reader, and at the same time urge the inattentive reader to consider the fact that the flaw in the Western approach to modernities lies exactly in the failure to perceive that religion and faith, independent of its intrinsic spiritual value for human nature which seems to have arisen within it, can be a powerful cultural glue, a centripetal force, a center to keep disparate cultures with different languages together in any sort of planned political union. This political insight was certainly not lost on an emperor Constantine, or a Charlemagne, two political geniuses whatever their overt or covert views on religion per se.
For some strange reason this political genius which refuses to jettison religion from the body politic seems to be lost on many current intellectuals and politicians who think of themselves as moderns or post-moderns and conceive logical positivism as the non plus ultra of modernity. Alas, it seems to also have been lost on the present Communist leadership of China, bent on a Machiavellian grabbing and exercise of power and on distracting the people from their real needs with material prosperity. As already argued they tend to lose sight that Communism is an imported Western phenomenon. But then, to their credit, one must consider that they do not consider themselves Westerners and do not wish to become such, nor should they; they just need to get better informed about the West and what they have ideologically bought from it.
A concluding modest proposal: as the 21st century progresses let’s keep watching carefully those two continental nations by which I don’t mean China and the US, which will surely continue their obsessive competition for power, rather I mean India, which even more than the US honors its religious heritage and accepts multiple modernities, and China which, in embracing the the imported Western Communist ideology has jettisoned its religious heritage and accepted a modernity based on materialistic entrepreneurship and the accumulation of wealth proclaiming, via ideology if nothing else, that by bread alone does man live and democracy and freedom are mere unnecessary frosting on the cake, not really that relevant for the achievement of prosperity. In the final analysis history will tell. It always does, sooner or later, and what it reveals about the past and the future is often surprising, even miraculous. It has happened before in the West and it was called Rinascimento which translates as “rebirth.” A new Renaissance may be needed, one that places less emphasis on mere political power and consumerism and focuses on the common good. As Einstein aptly put it: when modern man will have reached the positivistic pinnacle of scientific rationality, he may be greatly surprised to find out that the philosopher and the theologian are already there waiting for him. Food for thought!
Twists and Turns in US -China Trade War
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s stopover at Beijing on 08 October may not have been a pleasant experience, more so in the backdrop of accusation of US Vice President Pence about China attempting to interfere in U.S. elections. The agenda of North Korean denuclearisation, where US and China were broadly agreeing earlier, seems to have taken a back seat, and improvement of relations doesn’t seem to be realistic in near future. The ongoing trade war continues as both sides dig their heels despite being the biggest trading partners of each other, because it is also linked with global dominance, strategic and military posturing, diplomatic and information offensive.
China Braving Threat to its Vulnerabilities
China is putting a brave front despite being badly hit at some of its most vulnerable spots in the tit-for-tat trade war with both sides spiralling the slapping of tariffs on a wide range of each others’ trade items. Taiwan, which is another sensitivity of Beijing is witnessing visit of US officials after Taiwan Travel Act was signed by President Trump, with a promise to arm it further with latest weaponry. US continued military posturing in South China Sea, along with the appearance of UK warship ignoring Chinese repeated warning is another concern. A recent injection of over $110 billion by China into its banks and hardly any financial benefits coming out of BRI partners incapable to repay anything is tightening its financial freedom for global dominance. Some of its BRI partners want to get out of the ‘Debt Trap’ by refusing/reducing Chinese investments is adversely affecting Chinese dream project (BRI), after five years of its announcement like Philippines.
Not a Smooth Sail for US
US on the other hand cannot be celebrating either, with China digging it heals and refusing to give up either in trade war or South China Sea. On North Korean front, the policy of good optics continues with Kim managing to get a lot of goodies from South Korea (presumably at their cost), during the last summit of North and South Korea. Kim in fact has been an outright winner, managing to get another Summit with President Trump, which helps him in convincing his countrymen of his sound leadership, as well as boosting his status internationally. US sanctions on paper continue, but after the chest thumping at Singapore Summit, his friends like China automatically relaxed the sanctions on North Korea, without any worthwhile denuclearisation/reduction in his nuclear/missile arsenal. US realises that knocking out China financially is the key to its global dominance; hence is unlikely to soften up to China. US also faces another challenge of keeping its allies like Japan and South Korea satisfied while negotiating with North Korea and asking ASEAN to make choices of partners, besides continuing with CAATSA hurting some of its strategic partners who could be helpful in balancing China.
It will take some time to see that whoever has greater resilience to withstand the economic stand-off and appetite to take setbacks will have an upper edge, which seems to be US at this point of time. As per IMF assessment, China’s GDP size will be 1.6 per cent lower in 2019 than it otherwise would be, if the US slaps tariffs on all Chinese imports.
How is India affected?
The Indian economy has survived some global slowdowns earlier and should be able to sail through the present one. The bigger problem is the sanction under CAATSA in dealing with Russia for urgently needed military hardware like S-400 and Iran for cheaper crude oil being paid in rupee terms, for which India has adequate refineries. The US option of buying shale oil does not suit India as it does not have adequate refineries and will have to purchase finished product in dollar terms. The port of Chabahar is also crucial for India for connectivity to Afghanistan and CAR. The silver lining is that US being our strategic partner will like to have well equipped Indian Forces to balance China and Indian connectivity to Afghanistan, in case Pakistan does not serve their strategic interest. On both counts I am hopeful that US will find a way out not to hurt its strategic partner.
The talks held in September 2018 between Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-In
In less than one year three meetings have been held between the North Korean Leader and the South Korean President, Moon Jae-In.
In the initial meeting the two leaders had decided to put an end to the state of war between their two countries. They had also reaffirmed the goal of denuclearization of the entire peninsula, with the consequent destruction of the nuclear potential of South Korea and of the United States, in particular. They also decided to create an inter-Korean Liason Office between the two sides of the Demilitarized Zone and to bring together the families dispersed between the two Koreas. Finally, the idea was to create new communication infrastructure – railway lines, in particular – a project by which Russia has always set great store.
Indeed, Russia is betting many of its cards on a reunification between the two Koreas, capable of enabling it to keep its excellent relations with South Korea – which are essential for the economy – and to also support North Korea, which is Russia’s unavoidable strategic goal.
Now the two Koreas are dealing on their own, without the US brokerage and intermediation with respect to South Korea, although President Donald J. Trump has recently stated that President Moon Jae-In is his official “delegate” for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
The United States is scarcely interested in the internationalization of the North Korean economy. It only wants denuclearization, while Kim Jong-Un wants denuclearization to develop his country’s economy and maintain its geopolitical and national autonomy.
A serious problem – both in talks and in the final or working documents – is also to define an effective mechanism to check denuclearization.
Indeed, between September 17 and 19, 2018, the signing of the Joint Declaration of Pyongyang has not fully clarified the mechanism of checks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Kim Jong-Un’s idea is to organise these checks with a series of “experts” appointed by the friendly powers, while the South Korean idea is to accept the maximum possible denuclearization to start the long process of reunification.
The two respective Defence Ministers, however -namely Song Young Moo for South Korea and Rho Kwang Chul for North Korea – have just signed a separate document from the rest of agreements.
In that text confidence-building measures between the parties are put first, with North Korea’s acceptance of dismantling a launch pad and a site for checking jet engines, with the presence of yet unspecified, but friendly international experts. From IAEA? We have some doubts, in this case.
Subsequently North Korea could also dismantle the Nongbyon site, if the United States does the same in South Korea.
It should also be recalled that most North Korean missiles are built to be launched by mobile vehicles, not from fixed bases.
In short, North Korea wants the United States to remove the nuclear umbrella protecting South Korea and Japan while, in the recent talks with North Korea, the United States thinks of a bilateral treaty regarding only the Korean peninsula and, at most, some classes of North Korean missiles.
In the US mind, the planned reduction of North Korean long-range missiles could be even equivalent to a nuclear and conventional decrease of its troops stationed in Guam.
On the basis of a new future agreement, both Koreas (and God only knows how and to what extent the North Korean conventional military potential would be useful for a South Korea unified with North Korea) would also define maritime and land buffer zones, as well as a no-fly zone over the old border, with a view to avoiding clashes or accidental air battles.
This is already partially clear, but much work shall be done to define all the details.
There would also be plans to cover or reduce artillery batteries along the coast.
Obviously, should these talks run aground, the only concrete political result would be the progressive divergence between South Korea and the United States, precisely on the problem of the peninsula’s denuclearization.
Furthermore, over and above the aforementioned sites, North Korea will dismantle the site of Dongchang-ri, in addition to the site of Yongbyon, while Kim Jong-Un is also very interested in the building of fast railway links between South and North Korea.
The two Koreas will get the industrial site of Kaesong back in shape and the old tourist project concerning Mount Kumgang back in track, besides planning new joint economic and tourist areas.
The inter-Korean agreement regards also collaboration for medical and environmental issues, as well as for the protection from epidemics.
In other words, both Koreas think of an economy of compensation between them, which could also develop at a later stage and become a need for the development of both countries.
An economic-political symbiosis that could get the United States out of play and later reinstate Russia, which is increasingly interested in the South Korean economy, as well as finally favour China, which has no intention of leaving the Korean peninsula to the hegemony of North Korea alone.
At the end of the Treaty, there is also the project of a joint participation in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and a joint candidature for the 2032 Olympics.
A few days ago, North Korea also expressed its intention to join the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – a sign that the internationalization of the North Korean economy is now a certainty.
Hence it is a de facto peace treaty between the two Koreas.
If North Korea continues along this line, it is very likely that South Korea will gain a tactical advantage over the sea while, if the relations between South Korea and the United States remain as they currently are, there should be no significant changes in bilateral relations between the USA and South Korea.
However, what is the current state of relations between the United States and North Korea?
In fact, while the inter-Korean relations are all in the framework of effective confidence-building measures, the clear purpose of the fourth round of talks between the two Korean leaders is to preserve a strong US engagement in the whole negotiation process.
Kim Jong-Un wants to engage the United States for his global economic projection and he certainly does not want to remain tied to a regional economy, albeit open and “reformed” according to China’s rules.
For North Korea, the procedure is simple: at first, bilateral talks with the US support for South Korea; later peace between the two Koreas and finally what is only interesting for the USA, namely denuclearization.
It is not even unlikely that the United States does not accept this timing, but it is also unlikely that it realizes the strategic and economic aspects of this timing.
North Korea wants a fundamental agreement with South Korea because: a) it is an unavoidable asset for the modernization of its economy; b) it is the fundamental strategic factor to have the support of both Russia and China, who want to avoid North Korea’s hegemony over the peninsula, but also want to keep it as a rampart for US forces in South Korea; c) it is only through South Korea that North Korea will eventually be in a position to be connected to the Chinese maritime economic and strategic system and reach up to the Mediterranean.
In fact, if the relations between the United States and North Korea improve further, the site of Yongbyon could be dismantled definitively.
Hence currently Kim Jong-Un wants to thoroughly test the US goodwill, rather than South Korea’s goodwill, in developing a long or very long-term peace policy.
In Kim Jong-Un’s mind, there is in fact a key factor: the US behaviour in the phase in which Muammar Gaddafi accepted its proposal to dismantle his nuclear project.
Kim Jong-Un thinks that not even the story of Saddam Hussein is a guarantee for the US long-term reliability and for the stability of its leaders’ word of honour.
This is the real important factor in the strategy of the North Korean Leader.
Moreover, the US immediate reactions to the last meeting between the two Korean leaders have been fast and positive, both by President Trump and by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
And North Korea’s autonomous foreign policy has been seen also recently, with the 70th Anniversary military parade.
North Korea’s military parade and its important national celebration, was attended by Li Zhansu, ranking third in the internal power hierarchy of the Communist Party of China (CPC); by Valentina Matviyenko, President of the Russian Federal Council, the third elected office in the Russian Federation; by a very significant figure, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, President of Mauritania, and finally by Hilal al Hilal, deputy-General Secretary of the Syrian Baath Party.
With peace, North Korea will significantly develop its already multiple economic and political relations with Africa, which will be essential for its new economic development.
At the military parade staged on September 9, there were also authorities from Iran, South Africa and Singapore – which is the never forgotten model of the Chinese “Four Modernizations” -as well as other 60 delegations from “friendly” countries.
At economic level, in August, shortly before the big military parade of the 70th Anniversary, there was the International Fair of Razon, which hosted as many as 114 companies of which 52 North Korean ones.
The North Korean product lines mainly included pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, textiles, electronics and cosmetics.
However, there were many Chinese large companies selling their products in North Korea despite the UN sanctions.
As from September 17, there was also the Autumn Fair which brought together 320 commercial companies from Russia, New Zealand, Australia and China.
This is in fact the new paradigm of North Korea’s foreign policy.
The dollar has also grown in the exchanges with the North Korean currency, both on the official and on the “parallel” markets.
If all goes well at geopolitical level, the North Korean project will be to further improve its light industry, in addition to the diversification and quantity of products, with a view to trying its own autonomous way on the market world, as was the way of the nuclear system.
It should be recalled that this was also Kim Il-Sung’s project.
China’s Imprint underneath the Pyongyang Joint Declaration
On September 18, the leaders of two Koreas met each other in Pyongyang, the capital of the DPRK. The world media focused on the meeting during which the two sides issued the “Pyongyang Joint Declaration”. If we see the Panmunjom Declaration serving as the cornerstone of the dialogue between two Korea, it is necessary to say that this joint declaration took a substantial step to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula that is vital to the regional peace and beyond.
Literally speaking, the Pyongyang joint declaration highlighted the key issues as follows. First, both sides are determined to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Second, they will work together to improve their relations with a view to the existing state of war, as the defense chiefs from the DPRK and ROK earlier signed a comprehensive agreement aiming to reduce tensions on the peninsula. Third, they will promote the peace talk process of the Korean peninsula. Given that Kim pledged to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, it would be seen as a political declaration that would mark a starting point for peace negotiations. If all goes well, a peace treaty would be sealed and then comes normalization of DPRK-US relations after it achieves complete denuclearization.
As a close neighbor to the Korean Peninsula, China always supports the DPRK and ROK as well in improving their relations through dialogue and consultation and promoting reconciliation and cooperation. This is the consistent and persistent position of Beijing, which has been playing a responsible role in politically resolving the Korean Peninsula issue and achieving the long-standing peace of the region.
In effect, prior to the leaders of two Korea met each other this week in Pyongyang, they have closely contacted their respective allies or strategic partners. Among them is China, dealing with both sides – Pyongyang and Seoul – in a unique way. It is true that China is the largest trading partner of the ROK while it is equally the only legal ally of the DPRK as well as its largest ideological partner now. If we review the bilateral relations between China and North Korea since last March, Kim Jr. has paid three significant, though unofficial, visits to President Xi of China. For example, during his March 25-28 visit, both sides vowed to continue their traditional solidarity in terms of their shared ideologies and common strategic interests. Xi especially proposed to strengthen the close ties between the two ruling parties. As he said to Kim, “party-to-party and state-to-state relations are the common treasure to both sides. And safeguarding, consolidating and developing China – DPRK relations are unswerving guidelines for China’s foreign policy and security strategy.
During his second meeting with Xi in Dalian summer resort, Kim vowed to terminate all the nuclear tests and to follow denuclearization if the United States took corresponding measures with good wishes. Then following his meeting with Trump in Singapore on June 12, Kim came to Beijing again on 19 to meet his Chinese counterpart. Xi confirmed China’s “3-no change” policy towards the DPRK, that is, political solidarity between the two parties remains unchanged, the friendship between the two peoples remains unchanged, and China’s support of a socialist Korea remains unchanged. Essentially, they serve as the foundation of the strategic consensus between Beijing and Pyongyang. In return, Kim reiterated his permanent shutdown of all nuclear tests and facilities if the US would respond sincerely and responsibly.
Given all the analysis above, it is understandable to conclude that China’s long-standing adherence to the goal of denuclearization of the Peninsula through dialogue and consultation is fully reflected in the Pyongyang Declaration. Meanwhile, China’s stance remains evident since it claims that the Korean issue must be resolved eventually by the Korean people rather than any external power. Therefore, peace not force is the only acceptable way. Also, as China and Russia have repeated that no coercive change of the regime by outside power is tolerated, North Korea can be confident and comfortable to proceed the permanent shutdown of the missile engine test site with international experts observing; and then a complete denuclearization is not too far in the future.
Here is necessary to argue that China has never claimed to play an exclusive role in the Korean Peninsula. Instead of that, China has always encouraged the DPRK to talk to the United States and other relevant parties. Since Kim has agreed to make a trip to Seoul for further talks and to meet the US high-ranking officials in Pyongyang soon, the summit between Kim and Moon marks a leap forward toward peace.
Yet, as the lessons in history show, it is better to approach realistically the Korean issue simply because it has involved too complicated concerns and memories and the overlapped interests. Therefore, we should be ready to accept trial and challenges lying ahead. China has insisted on diplomacy which means that all parties concerned should be brought to the negotiating table under the mandate of the UN Security Council.
Now, Beijing has navigated the course of denuclearization proactively to protect two sides’ common core security stakes when Kim reportedly promised to give up his nuclear program if the United States and South Korea respond to his proposal with good will. Due to this reason, China will do what it can to help ensure “no change of regime by force and denuclearization at the same time in the Korean Peninsula”. This is China’s influence or Beijing’s imprint on the Korean denuclearization issue and the regional peace.
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