The new world orderThe view over the global horizon does not look good. It suggests a new cold war may be brewing between waning and rising superpowers - the United States and China - two decades after the end of the ideological warfare between the United States and Russia, which bisected the postwar global map into West versus East.
The conflict zone this time plays out not in Europe but on the Asian continent with skirmishes over territorial claims and clashes over historical awareness based on deeply ingrained antipathies. Strife in the Asia-Pacific, a strategic and economic focal point in the 21st century, darkens the prospects for a new role for the region as well as the global order. We need to coolly assess the dynamics of the new threats to come up with sensible solutions.
We must understand that these new dangers are ghosts of the colonial, imperialistic past come back to haunt the interwoven, globalized world in daunting forms. A large continental state blessed with geographic resources and economic advantages innately bears imperialistic traits.
The U.S., which maintained its superpower status as a victor of the cold war, now faces a formidable challenge from China, which has stunningly transformed itself into a powerful economic and political entity, barely recognizable as a lump of a colony under constant threat and exploitation from Western and Japanese imperial powers.
The rest of the world is now at the mercy of the old, rising powers bearing an imperialistic tradition, and its future will be defined by how that works out. That is why the international focus is on whether the U.S. and China will choose a path of hostile rivalry or cooperation. Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, critical of Washington’s “pivot” strategy toward Asia, especially its military posture, warns that Sino-U.S. hostilities may run long and threaten regional and global stability if the U.S. pursues a containment campaign against China.
The build-up and repositioning of U.S. naval power in the Pacific, including a base for marines in Darwin and another for unmanned spying operations on the Cocos Islands in Australia can only be understood as a plan to contain China by military means. He warns that Washington’s “provocative” containment policies against a rapidly rising China cannot succeed and will only jeopardize regional and global peace and stability.
Fraser shares concerns and suspicions of critics who suspect Washington is trying to defend its national pride and global leadership by playing hardball against China as the U.S. fades, now known as the epicenter of a financial meltdown and for its failures in military campaigns in the Middle East and South Asia.
But it is not the U.S. that holds the key to the direction of future bilateral ties as well as the global order. China does. Regardless of any containment attempt, if China is sincere and intent on advancing its economic system based on openness and not just for its own population, but for the broader Asian community, it can play a leading part in a new chapter in world history based on co-prosperity.
But that outlook has been strained by renewed territorial claims and disagreements over historical perspectives among Asian countries. Nationalism breeding on the remnants of imperialism is fanning tension and confusion in the region.
Because it failed to clear out the ghosts of imperialistic days, China cannot show its leadership in the region with confidence and gain the support of neighboring countries. Asian countries cannot understand why China, as the only nuclear weapons state in the region (other than North Korea), does not work aggressively against proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, Japan is fanning old nationalistic flames and colonial delusions to annoy neighbors Korea and China. Korea is still divided, a legacy of the colonial and cold war days, and cannot accept nationalistic sentiments in such a twisted international and regional context.
Whether they are geopolitical or ideological challenges, each state should read the historical current with accuracy in order not to fall astray. We can only have faith in ourselves and our neighbors to come around with the wise conclusion that joining forces is better than rivalry in trying to slog one’s way through uncertain times.
* The author is a former prime minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hong-koo