Born Yesterday

For two decades, while Washington has squandered resources in its war on terror, China has expanded using both hands, as its propaganda says.

Twenty years after 9/11, voices in the United States such as that of James Dobbins, first diplomat in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, recognize that they have lost a generation in foreign policy. Their greatest opportunity cost has been not to see China coming, which has seen improvements in development, influence and dialogue across the world without having to jump through the West’s hoops. When the terrorists demolished the twin towers, Beijing had not even joined the World Trade Organization; it was tying off loose ends. For two decades, while Washington has squandered resources in its war on terror, China has expanded using both hands, as its propaganda says: the visible (the market) and the invisible (the government). At the same time that it was constructing infrastructures to connect its cities and develop the countryside, it was weaving a net to control the population via technology.

The United States was convinced that, as it grew rich, China would toe the line. Since Ronald Reagan, all presidents have maintained that, once it freed up its economy, Beijing would not only accept the import of foreign products, but also democratic values. They were talking into their own echo chambers. The Chinese Communist Party blames American arrogance for this view. It has been silently acquiring resources on five continents and in the Arctic, and buying strategic businesses whenever the law has allowed it. It can afford to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund without applying its prescriptions. And it has spread out in the Asia-Pacific region, taking advantage of the fact that Washington was focused on the Middle East.

We are entering a new era of international relationships; the most important thing to note is that it seems that the West was born yesterday. We already know that the Communist Party is not a monolith because many political currents are stirring within it. It is moving, but not in the direction that the U.S. and Brussels would like. There are those who believe that, to stay in power, it will increasingly become the puppet of liberal capitalism, but it is not clear. In any case, it presents itself as glue holding together the collective idea of China and is profoundly nationalistic. It wants to change international institutions to accommodate its values and interests.

Beijing’s self-importance is not as obvious as that of the United States, and thanks to that it has gained loyalty from a wide portion of the public: those who reject the liberal order, those who need investment and those who, like Germany, have their value chains fully established in the Asian country. It has happened at full speed, like when we look at the countryside through the window of a moving train. Suddenly, Beijing is betting like never before on the fight against climate change. It has exceeded all economic predictions of Western governments and organizations ahead of time. But this does not mean a more open or, of course, more democratic system.

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About Elizabeth Gardiner 28 Articles
I'm a native English speaker with a degree in German and Spanish Linguistic Studies from the University of Southampton. Though I have experience translating medical and pharmaceutical texts, I love the challenge of dealing with opinion pieces, so am very happy to be part of Watching America to continue developing that interest! Aside from languages my passions include salsa dancing and volunteering for Girlguiding.

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