Another view of globalization dying

A sweeping piece on the risks of viewing the current arrangement in the global order as a stable, inevitable arrangement. The article by Charles Emmerson at Chatham House mentions the risk of a war starting in the South China Sea, although the situation in the East China Sea holds the same risks. The interesting point of this essay is the role of technology in creating the delusion that this period of history is different. There is a folly to this notion that an interconnected world makes full-scale war impossible. Think of the online lynch mobs, or trial by media, then apply it to whole nations. We just haven’t tried war with this technology yet. Social media is just a new way for those angry crowds to form. As a Pakistani friend once told me about the Internet: “It spreads poison.”

Emmerson writes:

You think that globalization is destined to continue forever, that interstate war is impossible, and that the onward march of democracy is ineluctable? Hang on a second; isn’t that what people thought in 1913?

He notes that risks of a conflict are higher now than 10 years ago, while the future of globalization is unsure. But the period of unbridled economic globalization is already ending, I’d say. The Japanese and Chinese governments don’t want to spoil their trade relationship. But can they put the genie back in the bottle now?

Emmerson writes:

There is nothing inevitable about future conflict between the great powers and there is nothing foretold about the collapse of global trade — though I would argue that both are substantially more likely now than 10 years ago. But looking at the world of 1913 reminds us that there is nothing immutable about the continuity of globalization either, and certainly nothing immutable about the Western-oriented globalization of the last few decades….

He notes that the chance of a collapse in global trade is higher now than a decade ago. 

…over the last few years, the world has witnessed a rise in trade protection, a breakdown in global trade negotiations, totally inadequate progress on global climate discussions, and moves to fragment the Internet. There is a corrosive and self-fulfilling sense that the dominance of the West — as the world’s rule-maker and pace-setter — is over.

The fearful perception that the West is in decline while an empowered nation in East Asia may desire to “have a crack” at some sort of dominance, if even just regional, are huge macro-risks. A risk on top of that is the passing from the scene of the veterans of World War II, the men and women who in their bones could not allow it to happen again. That said, so far there hasn’t been a surge in trade protectionism. Until the recent Japan-China island spat, most of what we have seen is protectionism was at the margins, with only a marginal increase of trade disputes. We all just survived the Mayan Apocalypse, possibly we’ll survive this 1913-redux scare too. The prospect of a simmering multi-polar Cold War, which is probably already happening, remains preferable to WWIII.

A Japanese war apology…revisited

What could possibly go wrong with this? My feeling is that no matter what the Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s wording, it will make things worse. 

Newly installed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was quoted Monday saying that he would revisit a 1995 apology made by his nation’s government for suffering caused in World War II. 

Although other Japanese officials have suggested retracting apologies for wartime horrors, the words coming from Abe himself are bound to inflame anti-Japanese sentiment in China and the Korean peninsula and put the new government off to a bad start with its neighbors.

A thing about that China-Japan war call

 

 

 

 

Although Australian National University professor of strategic studies Hugh White has gotten a stir (online at least) with his prediction of a possible war in 2013 between China and Japan, it is important to remember White could be wrong about a lot.

 

In August his colleague and fellow professor of strategic studies Paul Dibb said as much.

But that was before the Japanese government “bought” the Senkaku Islands, giving the Chinese the excuse to throw an extended fit that has not ended after months.

 

However, the spectrum of analysis on the subject highlights the fact that Hugh White’s ideas are “sexy” by media standards. They provide a hard edge. A snappy headline. A well-formed talking point that travels well from editor, to reader, to blogger. And so there is plenty of appetite for White’s views in the editorial pages of newspapers and talk shows and think tanks around the world.

Less dire, more complex readings of the China-Japan situation may actually be more accurate, even if they are less favored by the media.

 

The risk of course, is that the pat little picture of imminent war painted by White becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

The other risk is that White, who has plenty of dissenters in the ranks of strategic analysts and researchers, is unpopular because he is so right. I ask myself the same question, when I get irked by what White writes.

 

Do White’s analyses bother me because they are overly simplistic and zero-sum game, black and white?

 

Or do White’s forecasts bother me because (to paraphrase the Goldwater motto): In my heart, I know he’s right?

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What worries me about China

No one doubts that a war would be bad for China and Japan.

It wouldn’t be reasonable to put the nation’s dramatic growth and development at risk by sparking a military conflict with Japan, particularly one that would get the US involved. After all, Japan has been keeping up its end of the bargain with the US since the end of WWII. There would be nothing at all reasonable about China starting a war with Japan. But history shows that when it comes to war, what’s reasonable is not always the determining factor.

Commentators have noted a victim mentality in China, even as it rises. James Fallows noted a few months back that the hatred of Japan was increasing among China’s youth. Maybe the widening gap between China’s wealth and development and its 20th Century experience triggers calls for revenge. This is unreasonable for so many political, economic, and diplomatic reasons. Ultimately, war could come, not because of the facts surrounding the Diaoyu Islands, but the uncontrollable feelings around them. And I hate to say it, but possibly part of the maturation of China, its true entry into the modern world, would be a post-war period when it really puts in place the diplomatic, political and even cultural bulwark to prevent feelings from driving foreign policy. Like Japan.