If democracy is to become durable again in the 21st Century, its citizens will need some set of ideals to work towards. The work of Chinese sci-fi author Cixin Liu is rich with the sense of civilization and purpose that is lacking in the culture in open democracies today.
“Whoever understands that environment and its opportunities best will have the upper hand in this information confrontation. The US, as in many areas of competition with China – space, cyber, technology policy, supply chains – appears to have been caught flat-footed by Beijing’s shift in strategy.”
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Russia’s options are narrowing. Putin is not stupid but the strong-man tactics will only gain the country so much leverage with his neighbors such as Ukraine. The economy of Russia is smaller than Britain’s, and the basis of Russia’s economic power is weakening.
Even diplomatically, a series of hardline actions towards protesters (Greenpeace, Pussy Riot) have paradoxically hurt Russia by making it look unduly repressive and authoritarian. It’s a shame. The losses suffered by Russia during WWII make it difficult for the outside world to understand the motivations of the country. It’s as if Russia tends to read too many events as threats (gay rights, a desire for reform in Ukraine). Nonetheless, in recent years, this trend of seeing the world through a prism of coercion has led Putin to being unnecessary coercive.
No one disputes that China is in a stronger position than Russia. Even if the economy is wildly unbalanced, the rapidly development of its economy, and the expansion of its trade ties outpaces anything Russia can achieve. But it’s not certain China will achieve actual superpower status, given the amount of disorder and factionalism masked by its system. Outsiders ascribe grand strategies to China’s actions in geopolitics (East China Sea) for example, but it’s possible its military hardened its stance toward the US and Japan precisely because of internal pressures. Likewise, a modern country wouldn’t want to suppress foreign media – and yet again internal sensitivities that go straight to the legitimacy of the ruling elite, are likely behind the crackdown on foreign media. This trend is more in line with a large developing country, rather than an emerging superpower. In a model where the Communist Party stays in power and tries to enforce its rule on a more modern and restive population, China could emerge as a super-economy, rather than super-power. Besides, capable countries don’t link genetic code theft from the US to state visits by their leaders.
It’s been a chaotic decade for the US. After the post-9/11 hysteria helped usher in the War on Iraq, the brains behind the war for Middle East oil conquest must be asking themselves if was worth it, given the impact of the fracking revolution today. For many years the US will be coping with the bad PR generated by that War of Adventure. It was the clearest sign of a superpower out of control. The diplomatic effect of the Snowden disclosures should help to further isolate the country, giving all allies reason to question the pros and cons of the American-way and American-leadership. Finally, the ideological battles and gridlock between the parties have hurt the country in the global public’s eyes, generating appetite for a counterbalance like China.
If the US succeeds in emerging from the domestic chaos that arguably began with the Monica Lewinsky scandal – or better yet, the result of the 2000 election (both of which undermined its credibility) the US will have an altered role in world politics. Soon it may no longer be the biggest economy. But the sense of a political realignment within the US may mimic a geopolitical realignment. There may once again be space for the US near the center, as a counterbalance to China and Russia, among other things. But it depends if the US can successfully make the transition.
One last thing
…And recall, China’s ascent has occurred during a period of US decline. Should the US reverse that, China may find a much different trade and diplomatic party to contend with. Russia, for now, will be man in the middle.
Although the timing behind the decision remains unclear, a top US intelligence adviser has had to step down because of his association with China’s telecommunication giant Huawei.
Theodore Moran has resigned as an adviser to US Director of National Intelligence, after pressure from Republican congressman Frank Wolf – the man behind the restriction on NASA’s bilateral contact with China’s space agencies.
“It is inconceivable how someone serving on Huawei’s board would also be allowed to advise the intelligence community on foreign investments in the US,” Wolf wrote to US Director Of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Moran claims he has been transparent and the information was known for some time. It may be that the ground has shifted beneath his feet. The view of Huawei as another telecommunication company has been eclipsed by the view of Huawei as the long arm of the People’s Liberation Army. And this pivot of views on matters Chinese has traveled to other areas as well: space technology, East Asian diplomacy.
In the case of Huawei, the chorus of US voices singling it out as a national security threat have been growing, even as the US has refused to provide details. One snippet in the Australian Financial Review gives a clue:
“The Australian Secret Intelligence Service allegedly had an asset who was working with Huawei executives in Yemen in or around 2011. He reported consistent ‘irregularities’ in the behavior of its Chinese engineers. Following discussions with the CIA about the matter, the agency informed ASIS that one of the Chinese engineers was actually an active PLA officer.”
But the broader trend between China and US is in place. On issues like trade and business, the goods and services keep flowing. But increasingly issues at the margins like Hauwei, or like cyber-security, or the East China Sea, or media freedom in China, the two powers have grown more negative.
For a long time, the US had every reason to trade with China. Now the US needs to lift its wages and so the mantra of cheap goods doesn’t even have the same luster. Further, if China’s military is on an aggressive footing with the US, what incentive does the US have to make China richer through trade? The only thing missing is a way for the US to slip out from economic dependence on China.
But for now, it’s like the polarity of a magnetic field reversing – the force is invisible and yet its effect is clear and measurable and felt everywhere at once.