[Project syndicate/윤영관/Oct. 1, 2013] Filling the Global Leadership Vacuum
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Filling the Global Leadership Vacuum
Project-Syndicate Oct. 1, 2013
SEOUL – Has the world entered a new era of chaos? America’s vacillating policy toward
Syria certainly suggests so. Indeed, the bitter legacy of the invasions of Iraq and
Afghanistan, followed by the 2008 financial crisis, has made the United States not only
reluctant to use its military might, even when “red lines” are crossed, but also
seemingly unwilling to bear any serious burden to maintain its global leadership
position. But, if America is no longer willing to lead, who will take its place?
This illustration is by Paul Lachine and comes from <a href="http://www.newsart.com">NewsArt.com</a>, and is the property of the NewsArt organization and of its artist. Reproducing this image is a violation of copyright law.
Illustration by Paul Lachine
China’s leaders have demonstrated their lack of interest in active global leadership
by openly rejecting calls to become a “responsible stakeholder” in the international
political and economic systems. Meanwhile, though Russia may wish to maintain the hope
that it is a global power, it lately seems interested primarily in thwarting America
whenever possible – even when doing so is not in its own long-term interests. And Europe
faces too many internal problems to assume any significant leadership role in global
Unsurprisingly, this dearth of leadership has seriously undermined the effectiveness of
international institutions, exemplified by the United Nations Security Council’s
ineffectual response to the Syria crisis and the failure of the current round of World
Trade Organization (WTO) trade negotiations. This situation resembles the 1930’s –
a decade when, as the economic historian Charles P. Kindleberger argued, a leadership
vacuum led to the under-production of global public goods, deepening the Great Depression.
In these circumstances, the US and China – the only viable candidates for global
leadership – must achieve a grand compromise that reconciles their fundamental
interests, in turn enabling them to act in concert to provide and protect global public
goods. Only by stabilizing the bilateral Sino-American relationship can a global
system that supports peace and shared prosperity be achieved.
Such a compromise should begin with a concerted effort by the US to enhance China’s
role in international economic institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the
World Bank, and the WTO. While the appointment of the Chinese central banker Zhu Min as
IMF Deputy Managing Director was a positive step, it has not been followed by other
appointments or steps that would increase China’s influence.
Moreover, China should be included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership – the pan-Asian
free-trade area that the US is now negotiating with Australia, Brunei Darussalam,
Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Dividing the Asia-Pacific
region into two economic blocs – one centered around China and the other around
the US – will increase mistrust and encourage economic friction.
In fact, as former US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski argued at the World
Peace Forum in Beijing in June, what the world really needs is a comprehensive economic
partnership between the US and China. But such cooperation will be impossible unless
the US recognizes China as an equal partner – and not just rhetorically.
Given that the US retains a significant military advantage over China, America could
support such a partnership without incurring significant security risks. The irony is
that military superiority could weaken US leaders’ willingness to make the kinds of
concessions, particularly with regard to security matters, that an equal partnership
would require. But, even then, the needed adjustments could be made without
compromising US security interests.
Consider US arms sales to Taiwan. Given the degree of China-Taiwan cooperation nowadays,
reducing such sales would be unlikely to endanger Taiwan, and doing so would
contribute substantially to confidence-building between the US and China. The question
is whether any US president, Republican or Democrat, would be willing to risk alienating
those who still view Taiwan through the lens of its conflict with the People’s Republic.
The quid pro quo for these changes to US policy would be a commitment by China to
respect and defend a set of international norms, principles, and institutions that was
created largely without its involvement. Given that China’s rapid GDP growth since
1979 would have been impossible without America’s efforts to create an open world order,
Chinese leaders should not consider this too difficult a pill to swallow.
To be sure, China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy since 2009 could indicate
that, despite the universal advantages that Sino-American leadership cooperation would
bring, its leaders will remain unwilling to commit to enforcing the existing global
order. But the growing sense that this new assertiveness has backfired, increasing
anxiety among China’s neighbors and compelling the US to ramp up its strategic
involvement in Asia, means that China could probably be convinced to reset its
relationship with the US. The major test here will be whether China is willing to
accept the status quo in the East and South China Seas.
Doomsayers frequently cite the wars that followed Imperial Germany’s rise as a
historical parallel to the Sino-American relationship today. But a better example
– in which a global hegemon accommodates an emerging power – might be the United
Kingdom’s acceptance of America’s rise. As China’s leaders define the country’s
global role, they should bear in mind the success of the UK’s approach – as well as
the failure of Imperial Germany’s arrogant diplomacy.