[Viewpoint] Be ready for the clash of civilizations

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[Viewpoint] Be ready for the clash of civilizations

China has its eye on the oil fields of the South China Sea and declares its sovereignty there. Upon being invaded, Vietnam asks for support from the United States. As the U.S. deploys aircraft carriers around the South China Sea, China embarks on an air raid of the United States. Meanwhile, India attacks Pakistan and Middle Eastern nations strike Israel. Japan, which had remained neutral, is leaning toward China and engages the U.S. forces. Russia joins the anti-China front and advances onto Siberia. China deploys nuclear missiles in Bosnia and Algeria and demands Europe remain neutral. As race riots spread again in Southeastern Europe and Algerian missiles strike France, the world is entering a nuclear war.

This scenario is the apocalypse of the 21st century depicted by Samuel Huntington in his 1996 book “The Clash of Civilizations.”

The theory proposed by the internationally acclaimed political scientist cannot be dismissed as nonsense. While Huntington himself said that it would be fortunate if the scenario was ludicrous, there still is a considerable probability.

The main culprit of the war is China.

Huntington predicted that China would exert tremendous pressure on international stability in the early 21st century. China’s emergence as a hegemonic power goes directly against the national interests of the United States.

Huntington’s book certainly projects antagonism against China. However, the most notable moment in the scenario is the timing of the beginning of the world war. Huntington imagined that the war would break out this year.

As if the prophecy is coming true, the United States has clashed with China in a variety of fields all at the same time starting at the beginning of the year.

Washington imposed an anti-dumping tariff on Chinese steel products while approving weapons sales to Taiwan.

In protest, China conducted a missile interception test. Washington has stopped being silent on human rights issues and is demanding China release activists who have been sentenced to prison terms. The latest hot potato of the Google dispute boils down to human rights concerns as well.

It started when an e-mail account that belonged to a human rights activist was hacked. When Google rejected Beijing’s demand to make its source code public for censorship purposes, it spread into a dispute between the two governments.

The U.S. secretary of state openly condemned China and said that online freedom should be respected.

Last week, Harvard University Professor Dani Rodrik wrote in a column, “If China … does eventually become the world’s predominant economic power …democracy and human rights will then likely lose their luster as global norms.”

This year, the most threatening risk factor is likely to be discord between the United States and China.

While there are ominous signs, it is obvious that it is not the time for Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” to happen. Each country still needs the cooperation of the other desperately, at least in an economic sense.

China has already made an “all-in” bet on the United States. Most of China’s over $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves are in U.S. dollars. China also holds a whopping 12 percent of U.S. Treasury bonds.

Beijing knows too well that if the United States is shaken, China will be in jeopardy.

Moreover, China has grown tremendously in size, but strictly speaking, that growth does not deserve high praise.

Most of its exports are from a sort of processing - importing parts and materials from other countries and exporting manufactured goods made from them.

The United States also desperately needs China’s cooperation. If China begins to sell U.S. dollars and treasury bonds, it means a disaster for the United States. A dollar crisis and a financial crisis will come about at the same time.

Nevertheless, cooperation based on selfish interests is always temporary. When the interest dynamic changes even slightly, the cooperation is destroyed.

Just like in the Great Depression of the 1930s, if the United States is hit by a double dip a few years from now, the fateful day will come.

When the value of the U.S. dollar plummets, China will sell U.S. dollars and U.S. Treasury bonds. The world will be faced with an even greater shock, and Huntington’s apocalypse might come true.

The Marxist prediction of a double dip recession in 2012 is still valid. Moreover, some mainstream economists still stand by their theory that the double dip will begin with a banking or financial crisis.

You might think I am too pessimistic. However, if there is even the slightest chance, we need to keep in mind the worst case scenario and prepare for it.

Even a world-class scholar like Huntington considered the possibility of an apocalypse.

Yet the Korean government is praising itself, saying that hosting the G-20 Summit will make Korea a main economic player in the world, and the entire country is consumed with unproductive debates over Sejong City, the four rivers project and various court rulings.

It is pathetic that Korea has not moved on a bit from 100 years ago.


*The author is a senior economic news reporter and editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-wook

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