The first secretary of state in the British government, Peter Mandelson, recently published an editorial entitled “We Want China to Lead” in the New York Times. The editorial proposed that, because China will soon surpass the U.S. and Germany to become the world’s largest exporter, and also will soon surpass Japan to become the world’s largest economy, Europe and the U.S. hope China will move into a leadership role. Mandelson further argues that, “the reality is that effective multilateralism will be impossible without Chinese engagement.” Mandelson calls upon China not to “retreat into inflexibility or insularity.” At the same time, he calls upon Europe and the U.S. to sympathize with China’s trepidations in the realm of global governance.
This concept of “China’s responsibility” reflects a remarkable shift in China’s relationship with the rest of the world. Some will remember that, in October of last year, Somali pirates hijacked the Chinese bulk carrier De Xin Hai. Just twenty or thirty years ago, it would have been very difficult to imagine pirates would target Chinese ships. At that time, China was liberally assisting our African brothers’ efforts to resist imperialism. But China is now considered a normal country and the light of idealism that once surrounded the name “China” has all but faded.
With China’s rise, the world can no longer ignore us. Under these circumstances, criticism and questioning is actually more meaningful than empty praise. Recently, a current events commentator in Germany published “The Cassandra Complex,” in which he questions the argument that we have already entered a G-2 era in which China and the U.S. are the sole global leaders. He argues that, whether looking at salaries, national defense, education, technology or any other indicator, the U.S. has long-term advantages over China and other countries. The U.S. remains the “last man standing,” he insists. Those who predict America’s demise are wrong, he argues, because China will have a very hard time displacing the U.S. as the global leader for the foreseeable future.
The author also looks favorably upon the U.S. because, in his eyes, the U.S. still has one thing other nations will have difficulty obtaining. This is its culture and tradition of war. In order to protect its security and its interests, the U.S. dares to use all the tools it has at hand, including weapons. The author argues that the difference between the U.S. and other nations is that the U.S. is determined to be useful and self-confident in the international arena.
Having saved Europe from ruin twice in the 20th century, the U.S. profited from war. This military tradition turned the U.S. into the world’s most powerful country. The U.S. is a nation that, by seeking to satisfy its own interests, also satisfies the interests of others along the way. The key to the U.S.’s success is not its altruism nor its selfishness, but rather its interest in self-advancement. Thus, the meaning of the term “hegemony” in the U.S. is starkly different from its meaning in China. Military might and diplomatic ambition are not necessarily bad, so long they can benefit others along the way. Other nations cannot match the U.S.’s power, in the author’s estimation. Europe and India are indeed ambitious, but they lack military strength. Japan spends its days hidden in the U.S.’s shadow. China and Russia are still considered developing countries; they look out for only their own interests.
Who will come out on top in the future world order? The author of “The Cassandra Complex” argues that the U.S. will continue to dominate. It’s impossible to tell at this point if this is true. The author argues that dominance arises through military might. As for how a powerful country arrives at being powerful, he offers just a few limited conditions. The country must be willing and able to provide for the public well-being. In this regard, China merits study. Nations are not merely self-interested. They also must provide for the spiritual and moral well-being of their people. A nation is a community of mutual interests, but it is also an emotional community. Strong bonds arise when a nation can accommodate both types of communities. It is the same on the international level. Without morality, a nation that pursues only its own interests will have difficulty winning other nations’ respect and approval, and, as a result, will have trouble securing its interests.
China has a long-standing tradition of participating in the international community. In imperial times, the first Ming emperor, Hongwu, proclaimed the Korean peninsula, Japan, small islands, ancient Vietnam, Cambodia, Siam, Sumatra, Java, India and other regions to be friendly tributaries of China. The empire used its own national powers to preserve the safety and security of the entire East Asian region. After the mid-19th century, China became an oppressed nation and participated in international politics within that role. In the 20th century, China’s support for nations in Africa and Latin America won favorable approval in the Third World. This history reminds China not only to seek strength and mingle with the powerful, but also to remember the troubles of the weak. China now has so many different influences in different regions and global politics are in flux. There are shortages of many necessary goods. China must use its strength carefully to establish global order and encourage global equality. We cannot turn away from this problem.
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