China moves to the center of the world. America moves to the edge

American tend to see ourselves as white knights.  Selflessly defending nations like the EU and Japan that will not defend themselves.  A force for morality — banning bribery, pushing feminism and other western values (which we call “human rights).  Meanwhile we beg for lower oil prices and borrow like an tramp on a street corner.

Much of the world finds this a pain in the ass, but until now has had no alternative leader.   Someone to provide leadership — political and economic coordination, loans and aid, military protection — without America’s moralizing, without America’s erratic behavior.  Just business.

There was no alternative leader.  Until now.  And the shift of leadership has already begun.  In the daylight.  In the news papers.  Today’s reading is from the Financial Times.  As usual it accurately reports events but remains clueless about the deeper causes.

America is losing the free world“, Financial Times, 4 January 2010 — Excerpt:

Ever since 1945, the US has regarded itself as the leader of the “free world”. But the Obama administration is facing an unexpected and unwelcome development in global politics. Four of the biggest and most strategically important democracies in the developing world – Brazil, India, South Africa and Turkey – are increasingly at odds with American foreign policy. Rather than siding with the US on the big international issues, they are just as likely to line up with authoritarian powers such as China and Iran. The US has been slow to pick up on this development, perhaps because it seems so surprising and unnatural.

… The latest example came during the Copenhagen climate summit. On the last day of the talks, the Americans tried to fix up one-to-one meetings between Mr Obama and the leaders of South Africa, Brazil and India – but failed each time. The Indians even said that their prime minister, Manmohan Singh, had already left for the airport.

So Mr Obama must have felt something of a chump when he arrived for a last-minute meeting with Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, only to find him already deep in negotiations with the leaders of none other than Brazil, South Africa and India. Symbolically, the leaders had to squeeze up to make space for the American president around the table.

There was more than symbolism at work. In Copenhagen, Brazil, South Africa and India decided that their status as developing nations was more important than their status as democracies. Like the Chinese, they argued that it is fundamentally unjust to cap the greenhouse gas emissions of poor countries at a lower level than the emissions of the US or the European Union; all the more so since the industrialised west is responsible for the great bulk of the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.

Revealingly, both Brazilian and Chinese leaders have made the same pointed joke – likening the US to a rich man who, after gorging himself at a banquet, then invites the neighbours in for coffee and asks them to split the bill.

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Posts about China:

  1. Power shifts from West to East: the end of the post-WWII regime in the news, 20 December 2007
  2. What you probably do not know about China’s food crisis, 21 April 2008
  3. China becomes a super-power (geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering), 9 July 2008
  4. Words to fear in the 21st century: Lǎo hǔ, lǎo hǔ, Lǎo hǔ, 14 July 2008
  5. A different perspective on the US and China, seen by an American living in Russia, 23 March 2009
  6. China – the mysterious other pole of the world economy, 22 July 2009
  7. Another big step for China on its road to becoming a great power, 27 July 2009
  8. Will China collapse?, 5 August 2009
  9. A revolution is not a dinner party. Thoughts about the future of China, 19 August 2009


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11 thoughts on “China moves to the center of the world. America moves to the edge”

  1. A good post on the geopolitics equation and balance. Super powers need to transform themselves in the wake of emerging trends that nobody can stop. Leadrship is not just acting like ‘big brother’. The US must act fast, keeping in view the emerging trend and world order.

  2. After a decade of hearing about imperial overstretch, it seems that DC is finally waking up to it. Too bad O will get blamed for it. It would have happened no matter who is in there. I wonder if there will be that one event that pushes us over the edge or will it be just a gradual oozing downhill? I keep hearing a lot of reports about dollar hegemony being replaced. Maybe that will be what does it.

  3. The Financial Times article implies that Obama’s “last minute meeting” in Copenhagen was planned, when in fact he had to crash the meeting, which makes him come off as even more of a chump and further underscores the display of China’s rise and America’s decline in global influence: “President Obama’s dramatic climate meet“, Politico, 18 December 2009.

  4. With the rise of China, the question arises: Are America’s problems the result of bad feng shui?
    FM reply: Perhaps making a State of Hawaii or Alaska damaged our feng shu? Would acuiring Canada fix it?

  5. “Too bad O will get blamed for it.”

    Agree,as things stand now and absent future improvements the guy is going to go down as a sellout at best and a traitor as worst in most political circles.

    I sometimes wonder if there is a chanche ,albeit small of course, that whoever comes after him and a large chunk of the public opinion might contemplate the still extremely powerful military, the coming decline and fall back upon the age old “kill them and take away their stuff”. It would be bloody stupid of course but it is exactly the sort of stupidity that gets traction in these sort of circumstances. In light of the relative moderation shown by the Bush administration one would think not but…

  6. Another point: “Bolivia leader calls alternative climate meeting< AP, 5 January 2010:

    Bolivian President Evo Morales said Tuesday he’s inviting activists, scientists and government officials from around the world to an alternative climate conference following the failure of a summit in Copenhagen to produce binding agreements.

    It is not as if other countries are sitting around, waiving their hands, waiting for the United States, China, or somebody else to guide them to the promised land.

  7. FM: “Perhaps making a State of Hawaii or Alaska damaged our feng shu?
    methinks it’s most probably acquirin’ Olde England, israel, i-rak & afghanistan as the 51st-54th States that’s havin’ a detrimental effect on the overall chi. & owin’ the Japs & Chinese some major sums givin’ the U.S. severe bad karma.

    Re: Harmonious society? Since f***in’ when? The Chinese have been squabblin’ amongst ’emselves for centuries. Civilization with the most godawful civil wars.

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