Weekend Roundup: China Is Now the Only Major Power With a Global Outlook

President-elect Donald Trump’s “America First” policy marks an historic withdrawal from the world the United States has largely made. His administration can’t stop globalization, only diminish America’s role in governing it. For better or worse, that leaves China, the world’s second-largest economy, as the only major power with a global outlook.

In a YouTube video this week Trump rejected the Trans-Pacific Partnership that was the core of President Obama’s pivot to Asia. Economist Ed Dolan shows in charts how rejecting trade will not help, but hurt, America. He argues that the lower-skilled, less-educated and older workers who voted most heavily for Trump would almost certainly be among the losers of Trump’s trade plans. Matt Sheehan, The WorldPost’s former China correspondent, examines how Trump’s war on trade could inadvertently hurt American public higher education, which has come to rely on international students as public funding has dwindled. 

Trump also announced an energy policy focusing on boosting fossil fuels, effectively signaling a withdrawal from the globally-agreed Paris accord on climate change. And, throughout the election campaign, he has sown deep doubts about America’s commitment to its worldwide web of security alliances. 

An increasingly nationalistic European public, contemptuous of the European Union bureaucrats in Brussels, mired in flat growth and reeling from the crisis of a massive refugee influx, has also turned inward. Polls show that many oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Russia is absorbed in reasserting influence in the neighborhood of its historical sphere of influence.

China, meanwhile, has a decades-long strategy of opening out to the world. When the Berggruen Institute’s 21st Century Council met with President Xi Jinping in Beijing in 2013, he declared, “The more developed China becomes, the more open it will be. It is impossible for China to shut the door that has already been opened.” To that end China has put forward the “One Belt, One Road” strategy to revive the old Silk Road trading routes stretching from Beijing to Istanbul. It has established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to fund development across the region. In the wake of the TPP’s demise, China is pressing forward with its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to further lower tariffs among 16 nations in the Asia-Pacific region. And, as Alvin Lin and Barbara Finamore  write, China is now the defacto world leader on fighting climate change as America under Trump retreats from the battle and embraces fossil fuels. 

Writing from Beijing, Shi Yinhong recognizes the strategic opportunities the American retreat present to China, which he believes will embolden Xi’s foreign policy. But he also worries about the troubles China will face from a more protectionist America and Europe. Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden see the likely neglect of Africa by the Trump administration further boosting China’s influence on that continent. 

Shahed Ghoreishi thinks Iran can learn something from China’s path toward prosperity. “China has been able to move forward from its revolutionary rhetoric to develop a self-image that is relevant to its population,” he writes, “Iran has yet to do so.”

Former United Nations arms inspector Scott Ritter suggests that, as a foreign policy establishment outsider, Trump could well break the logjam on nuclear disarmament, recalling how another outsider, Ronald Reagan and his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, met in Reykjavik, Iceland and “flirted with the total elimination of nuclear weapons, out of a mutual recognition by both leaders that nuclear war was unwinnable.”

Turning to the American domestic scene, I argue in a short essay that the “Great Reaction” against the political correctness of ethnic and gender politics signified by Trump’s election has been long in the making, noting that as long ago as 1991 the liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. argued, “The ethnic upsurge began as a gesture of protest against the Anglo-centric culture, but today it threatens to become a counter-revolution against the original theory of America as one people, a common culture, a single nation.” If Schlesinger were alive today,” I write, “he would surely be horrified that a charlatan like Donald Trump could rise to power through divisive invective against Muslims, Mexicans and women, threatening to destroy the American republic from the reverse side of political correctness.”

Eliot Nelson warns that the “alt-right” movement that Trump has emboldened is a hate movement pure and simple, replete with Nazi-like “Hail Trump” salutes. And even President Obama, who seems more tame to Trump, has encountered some failures in his role as commander-in-chief. One agenda item Obama was not able to fulfill is closing Guantanamo Bay. Anne Richardson traces the story of one man who was wrongly imprisoned there for years. 

Alex Kaufman reports that Tesla is showing what it can do by powering an entire Pacific island with renewable energy. Finally, in our Singularity series this week, we look at how we can save our history one smartphone at a time. 

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