Here They Come!

Imbolc                                                                 Valentine Moon

Here’s a link to a new service by the Atlantic, a China channel.  If you follow this link and read the very sensible and wise assessment of the US/China situation by Lee Kuan Yew, the former president of Singapore, you will have a greater grasp of the politics than, apparently, do most of the members of our Congress.  Yew points out certain inevitables like:  China is already a world power and eventually will out pace the US in most if not all indices.  Our relative power in the world will decline.  This has all happened before.

(picture from the Atlantic China channel)

No, not the rise of China and the relative decline of the US, but world powers rise and fall over the course of history.  No big story there.  This gradual change just happens to be underway in our lifetime.

He says, and I agree, that China is no Soviet Union.  That is, they are not set on world domination.  What they want is their place in the world, one in accord with their size, economy and long history.  And, they will get it.

This is a key point.  With or without a sensible US policy China’s rise is certain.  What we can do is manage our reaction to it and help to guide both China and the world as a whole toward amicable relations in trade and political discourse.  Yew makes these points much better than I can.

What I want to add is this.  Even in a state of relative decline the US will still be formidable from a military, economic, innovation and educational perspective.  None of these are trivial.  And we have come to this position of prominence with a history of barely 400 years, much less if you count from our war of independence.  After less than 300 years as a nation we can stand face to face with a civilization with 4,000 years of history.  That is no mean achievement and its reality will not fade as time goes on.

We have been privileged by geography, natural resources, immigrant vigor and by a culture developed on Enlightenment principles of equality and personal freedom.  As Yew also accurately points out though, these Enlightenment principles are time and culture bound.  They are not universal.  It is no more appropriate to think that democracy and individualism should be adopted by other countries than it is to think that Christianity should be accepted as a universal religion.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to understanding between our two cultures can by symbolized by our financial systems emphasis on share holder value rated by corporate performance in quarterly increments versus China’s willingness to build their military over several decades.  We are a sound byte people, addicted to the moment and often ahistorical.  To thrive in a cultural clash with a competitor that has decades and centuries in its vision we must adopt longer term time horizons and realize that ethnocentrism, which was never appropriate as a guide for national policy, may become downright dangerous.

Should we become culturally different?  No.  Should we recognize that others, like the Chinese, might feel the same way?  Yes.





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