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Whenever a new great power emerges, throughout history you see, as a great power emerges, rising levels of tension and rising danger of conflict.  But China is emerging in a massive way without creating any tremors.  Now that requires enormous geopolitical dexterity.

And one of the most brilliant moves that the Chinese government made -- because they knew that at some point in time the United States might try to contain China (I mean, you don't have to be a genius to anticipate that) -- so what did the Chinese do?  They launch a pre-emptive strike.  And what is their pre-emptive strike?  They export their peace and prosperity to all their neighbors.

And this explains why the fastest growing trade flows in the world are not in Europe, not across the Atlantic, not in North America, not across the Pacific, but between China and its neighbors.  And this represents a major geopolitical decision, whether it's within China and Japan, China and India.

And I can tell you that one of the most brilliant moves that the Chinese did was to propose a free trade agreement with South-East Asia.  You know, South-East Asia you might call the "soft underbelly" of China, right?  Five-hundred million people who in the past had been used by the United States to contain China in the Cold War.  So what does China do?  Propose a free trade agreement.  And not only did they propose a free trade agreement, they concluded it record time.  And even before they concluded it, they gave the ASEAN countries (the Association of South-East Asian Nations) an early harvest by giving them unilateral concessions to the Chinese market.

Conversations with History - Kishore Mahbubani (18'45"- 20'32")

(Is it oversimplistic to suggest that this approach -- to let other countries become rich and grow strong by feeding at the trough of one's huge domestic markets [consumer or labor] -- is similar to the U.S.'s economic policy after World War II?)

Despite the hysterical nationalistic passion of Chinese (mostly youthful) demonstrators on display around the world over the past month, China's leaders are doing their best to ease that country's rise onto the world stage like grown-ups who are not interested in conflict or violence.  Unfortunately, they always have to keep an eye on the prickly, burly kid across the street, the high school football superstar who has a hard time realizing that his adolescent athletic prowess won't guarantee continued success into adulthood but who bitterly resists learning new skills and attitudes and keeps trying to resolve his problems and frustrations the only way he knows how: by using his overdeveloped brute physique, which now has become so much muscle mass replaced by fat from too many hours guzzling beer and playing Call of Duty.

Any calm, reasonable grown-up knows that war with China would be the most foolish, suicidal notion the U.S. could entertain.  But unfortunately, there are still too few signs that the U.S. has grown beyond memories of its adolescent glory days.  (Or if this a midlife crisis we're talking about, then pray we get some serious counseling and don't again splurge on the geopolitical equivalent of a red Ferrari.)

A language is a dialect with an army and navy.

by marco on Sun Apr 27th, 2008 at 05:47:09 PM EST

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