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PRC Catastrophism Collides with Trump Catastrophism
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I don’t share the US FP handwringing over Trump’s retreat from overarching multilateral initiatives in favor of bilateral engagements in Asia.

The point of the complex multi-lateral arrangements—the pivot, rebalance, whatever you want to call it, and TPP—were intended to position the United States as the “indispensable nation” in Asia, the glue that was needed to hold these various rickety structures together.

I considered these regimes to be weak, unsustainable in the long term, and excessively costly in the short term.

As an example, under the pivot it would be necessary to think seriously about some kind of regime modification in the Philippines to neutralize Rodrigo Duterte’s hostility to the US military and sustain the fiction of a military and diplomatic united front against the PRC.

Trump can either accommodate Duterte or overthrow him depending on the bilateral advantages he sees in the relationship. And Duterte can bargain for the US alliance while keeping a door open to China.

I guess the terms of art are “independent foreign policies” for the Asian countries, “offshore rebalancing” for the US. Maybe. Apparently, the rise of Trump, otherwise lamented by respectable FP practitioners, is causing a certain amount of heavy breathing in the Walt-Mearsheimer quadrant.

The Trump shock helped reveal the mindset and strategies of US globalists who had assigned the United States the role of indispensable nation in the “principled international order”.

In my most recent Asia Times piece, Atlas Stumbled, I wrote about an interesting interview Paul Krugman gave to VOA, in which he opines that one consequence of the deterioration of the globalist financial regime under Trump & Brexit is that “China will be too big to save” once its chickens of massive indebtedness and faltering economic reform come home to roost.

Krugman’s bitter Cassandra-ism offers an interesting perspective on what I think was an important but shaky pillar of the pivot, the assertion that “the United States is 6000 miles away but will always be in Asia; the PRC/CCP regime is near the center of Asia but will vanish within a decade or two.”

The message that the United States discreetly whispered in Asia’s ear was Chinese power is corrupt and fleeting; America’s power is pure and eternal, so place your bets with the pivot-enhanced Uncle Sam as the enduring Asian power, in other words.

Welp, as they say on the Internet.

I think the theoretical underpinnings of this approach is what I choose to call “Shambaughism”.

David Shambaugh was an original proponent of the “responsible stakeholder” strategy, by which the PRC would be allowed to enter the international order and in return it would ineluctably liberalize its politics and economics and a friendly partner of the United States.

Well, that didn’t happen for a number of reasons, one of which I suspect was the geopolitical hollowing out of the US thanks to its orgy of debt finance that nourished the PRC export machine, and the 2008-9 Great Recession. Anyway, today’s PRC/CCP is not too liberal and not too friendly.

Shambaugh naturally preferred to question the PRC/CCP’s wisdom instead of the wisdom of his own theory, so he began promoting the concept of the coming PRC/CCP crackup.

During the administration of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, China collapsism became intellectually respectable (i.e. more than a Gordon Chang obsession) and was a ready-made and critical theoretical premise for the pivot which, in an environment of declining US relative power, offered a narrow but plausible path to the objective of PRC rollback (and a broad, endless highway to enrichment and influence for pivot-oriented think tanks and the US military).

To raid the metaphor chest, the King Canute in the advancing tide scenario was not the United States confronting the inevitable erosion of its power and influence as its relative strength in Asia declined; the vulnerable monarch on the throne was the CCP, vainly trying to wish away the inexorable advance of globalized liberal values.

My personal conclusion is that everybody’s wrong! nobody knows anything! and Asia will reveal itself as a welter of relatively high-functioning states that will find a way to muddle through without the guiding genius of the United States and without submitting themselves to CCP bondage.

Hope so, anyway.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, Donald Trump, East Asia 
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  1. If China is doing so incredibly well, why are so many Chinese so eager to put their money anywhere but China-when they’re not sending their children abroad with that cash.

    and something I hadn’t heard of before:

    Here’s the latest place for Chinese to send their money-of course its not in China:

    Sure the place will probably turn into a fiasco, but at least Malaysia isn’t run by the CPC so there’s some hope.

    • Replies: @5371
  2. Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

    Benjamin: Yes, sir.

    Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

    Benjamin: Yes, I am.

    Mr. McGuire: Batteries.

    Benjamin: That’s it? Batteries?

    Mr. McGuire: Okay, you asked for it–batteries, revolutionary new kinds of batteries, batteries and buses, batteries and solar power, batteries and submarines. Flying batteries, sailing batteries, robot batteries, outerspace batteries….

    Benjamin: Enough already–batteries, batteries, batteries….an assault of batteries.

    Mr. McGuire: Now you are thinking, boy.

  3. Jason Liu says:

    Even if the PRC does collapse, a new government will rise to take its place. Even if the economy crashes, it will rise again. These cycles have been going on throughout history, why worry now?

    The arc of history shows that China (and to a lesser extent, India) as a world power is both undeniable and inevitable. Even during its greatest slump, China only slipped from world prominence for a few centuries, whereas American power has only flourished for about one century.

    So the rhetoric of a “fleeting” China is either based on short-sightedness, or intentional dishonesty. America is attempting to dupe Asian countries into believing that their power is more legitimate because of its moral and political system, not because of geopolitical realities. And even then, that moral superiority only rests on outdated western social beliefs. In my view, nation states are defined by ethnic nationalism and a strong sense of hierarchy, both within the nation and when dealing with outsiders.

    This means that America’s democracy, equality, and pluralism makes it a morally illegitimate state. It is not so much a country, as it is a commune, deserving no loyalty because it does not sufficiently anchor its identity by privileging a single group of people. Even the empires of old tried to center its power around its founding demographic. America’s attempt to make itself, and the world into one large community center is not only unworthy of respect, it is also morally reprehensible.

    • Replies: @AaronB
  4. 5371 says:

    If you got your money by questionably legal means, wouldn’t your first priority be to move some of it beyond the reach of the laws you might have broken?
    Or is this reasoning too difficult for you?

    • Replies: @anony-mouse
  5. mtn cur says:

    The sooner these states are allowed to muddle through without the guiding genius of the USA, then the sooner they will have to start blaming their own royal imbeciles instead of ours for the mess they are inevitably going to be, right along with us.

  6. @5371

    Are there that many crooks in China-enough to raise the prices of property throughout the Pacific rim areas and elsewhere?

    Shouldn’t the Chinese authorities check out these real estate promotion trips? Apparently they don’t-or the investors don’t care.

    And what does that have to do with sending their kids abroad, too-and not just temporarily. Are the kids crooks, too?

  7. AaronB says:
    @Jason Liu

    China was never really a “world power” in the Western sense, in the sense that, say, Britain was. China never projected power outside its periphery – much less the world! – and even here much of this power was illusory and ceremonial.

    China had no neighbors really – just the small South East Asian states to the south, and Japan, and Chinese cultural influence was strongest in a very small number of places. Indian culture competed successfully with Chinese culture in most of the region, dominating SEA and being hugely significant imports in Japan, Korea, Tibet, and China itself.

    I don’t think a Western term like “world power” can really describe the kind of thing China was for most of its history.

    While China was a hugely important country in the region, the idea that if China were to gain some kind of global superpower status it would merely be a return to type for China is ridiculous – it would in fact be a a huge departure for China and would signal the final collapse of its own character and remaking in the image of the West. It would, in fact, be the final victory of the West over China, indeed the passing on of the baton of the West to China. Irony of ironies.

    Since I think the West is a mistake, this would be a tragedy of huge proportions for all of humanity if just as the West fades away the virus gets transmitted.

  8. “the vulnerable monarch on the throne was the CCP, vainly trying to wish away the inexorable advance of globalized liberal values”

    I think Mr Fingleton of this parish has a counter-thesis.

    “Two bets are on the table. One has been placed by the Washington establishment, the other by the Chinese Communist Party.

    Analyzing China’s prospects in terms of fashionable globalist ideology, Washington is betting that a rich China will be a free one. The theory is that the only way China can continue to grow is by embracing Western democracy and capitalism. Moreover, the very process of China’s enrichment is supposedly undermining the Beijing government’s authoritarianism. More wealth means more freedom means more wealth…

    The Washington view has become so widely accepted that almost no one has noticed that there is second bet on the table–that of the Chinese leadership. It has been placed on a disturbingly different outcome: that a future China can be both rich and authoritarian.

    If Washington is right, the future is unclouded… but what if China’s leaders turn out to understand the Chinese character better than anyone in Washington? What if in 2025 or 2030 the United States finds itself facing off against a China so rich that it has surpassed all other nations in military technology yet remains resolutely opposed to Western values? The implications are hard to exaggerate.

    In the great debate over China’s future, Chinese leaders’ jobs, if not their heads, are on the line. It is reasonable to conclude that they have considered their options carefully. Moreover, they enjoy the advantage of local knowledge. They have studied their nation’s history and know its mind.”

    They also have (relative) lack of ethnic diversity (92% Han), high IQ and a work ethic, while the ethnic group which created the superpower US is declining in both population percentage terms and in influence. Interesting times.

  9. I agree with Michael Pettis who argues that China’s export-based prosperity is coming to an end (within in a few years), but he opines the course from there is not predictable. The choices for the CCP are pretty plain, either financial and social repression or spreading the prosperity to the masses at the expense of powerful.

    Repression is easiest to accomplish if the people feel some reason to strengthen the bonds between them and collectively bear the burden. History shows that this is most often done by identifying enemies, usually external, but not always. China is not alone in facing problems generated by the orgy of debt we have seen for several decades, nor will they take whatever path they choose alone.

    Taking wealth from the powerful and spreading it among the people requires a lot of faith, wisdom, courage, and power on the part of a central government. I am skeptical of the ability of the CCP to pull it off, especially since it is their money to be spread among the people. We in the US have not been doing so well in this regard.

    The historical course is for nations in repression is to strengthen ties where they have advantages and weaken them where others have been taking advantage. Pretty hard to see how this does not lead to war.

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