How Much do we Really Know About Our Future with China?

In yesterday’s (July 28, 2013) New York Times Sunday Review (page 5), an article by Richard Rosecrance of Harvard posits that China must come to grips with a “unified West”,  Europe and America, because of that aggregate’s absolute economic size.  Not only would such an economic union create extraordinary incremental wealth for it’s participants, it would draw China (and other countries) toward it thru its economic gravitational pull.  China needs the markets of the West for its exports and it needs raw materials imports, especially hydrocarbons and technology, to drive its internal engine.  With that economic gravity would come, Rosecrance argues, an eventually more liberal and democratic political apparatus within China.

This perspective both argues strongly for a more closely economically unified “West” and offers a counterpoint to the fairly common view these days that China’s economic ascendancy is both inevitable and largely unreliant on the existing, Western economic powers.  That view is expressed, with something of a shudder, by Heriberto Araujo and Pablo Cardenal in the June 2, 2013 Sunday Review.  There, they express the fear that China is determined to spread a form of “state capitalism”, citing the huge investments China is making in natural resources and infrastructure around the world, but especially in the non-West geography of Africa and the Asian periphery.  At the end, however, they come to the same conclusion…but, I think, with less hope for success…that China must adapt to the world, not the other way around.  To do that, they would clearly agree with the fundamental Rosecrance premise, that it is “essential that Western governments stick to what has been the core of Western prosperity:  the rule of law, political freedom, and fair competition”.

In a neighboring piece in that June 2 edition, two voices that I respect enormously, Ian Bremmer and Jon Hunstman (Ambassador to China, 2009-2011, and once, and I hope future, Presidential candidate),  argue that China and the US are locked in 21st Century form of MAD…mutually assured destruction…but this time of the economic variety.  Both countries are entitled to a sense of “exceptionalism”…a right to make the rules, not just accept those laid down by others.  The course they recommend, therefore, is perhaps the obvious one of tireless dialogue and some attempt at compromise, recognizing that both sides have limits to what they canimpose on the other.

I would add another, hopeful, perspective: time.  The West is typically in a hurry, China understands it operates on a much longer scale of events.  Still, the imperatives of human nature, the freedom and prosperity that each individual (or family, or local community, or region) naturally desires probably outweighs the benefits of stability and harmony over time.  Given enough time, the outcomes seem almost certain to me.  But careful understanding, respect, and cooperation along the way will probably make that result occur sooner and with less risk.

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