Easternization is the defining trend of our agethe growing wealth of Asian nations is transforming the international balance of power. This shift to the East is shaping the lives of people all over the world, the fate of nations, and the great questions of war and peace.
A troubled but rising China is now challenging American supremacy; the ambitions of Japan, North Korea, India, and Pakistan have the potential to shake the whole world. Meanwhile the West is struggling with economic malaise and political populism, the Arab world is in turmoil, and Russia longs to reclaim its status as a great power. Donald Trump's accession to the presidency has significantly increased the likelihood of conflict between the United States and China, with confrontation looming over trade, Taiwan, and the South China Sea. The long-feared prospect of a war between China and America has become a real possibility.
As the West's historic power and dominance recede, Gideon Rachman offers a road map to the turbulent process that will define the international politics of the twenty-first century.
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Asia's Rise and America's Decline
By Gideon Rachman
Other PressCopyright © 2016 Gideon Rachman
All rights reserved.
FROM WESTERNIZATION TO EASTERNIZATION
THE IDEA that the era of Westernization is coming to a close seems self-evident when viewed from a dynamic Asian city such as Shanghai or Singapore. It is not just that the evidence of growth and change is all around us. It is also that the Chinese, in particular, perceive the past as naturally cyclical. With a continuous history that extends across thousands of years, the Chinese are accustomed to the rise and fall of dynasties — with periods of prosperity and progress being followed by periods of chaos and regression. By contrast, the United States, whose history as a nation goes back only to the Declaration of Independence of 1776, has a more linear view: The history of the American republic has moved only one way, toward greater prosperity and global power. The notion of national decline — or even of cyclical rises and falls in power — seems much stranger and more alien to Americans than to the Chinese.
America's period as the dominant global power represents the extension of a period of Western dominance of global affairs that began in the late 1400s, with the beginning of Europe's imperial age. The voyages of discovery from Portugal and Spain that began in the 1480s opened up Asia and the Americas to European exploration and, in the process, transformed the relationship between Europe and the rest of the world.
European traders, colonists, and soldiers were able to reach Asia relatively swiftly by this time because of their technological lead in oceangoing ships. This was an area of human endeavor in which the Chinese had once led the world. In 1405, the Chinese admiral Zheng He led a fleet of nearly three hundred vessels and twenty-seven thousand sailors from Nanjing to Sri Lanka. In other voyages, Zheng He reached the Strait of Malacca, East Africa, and Java. The contrast between the size of the Chinese admiral's expeditions and the early voyages of Christopher Columbus is striking. When Columbus set sail from Cádiz in 1492, "he led just ninety men in three ships."
But China's emperors seem to have seen more threats than opportunities in the expansion of global trade. Some thirty years after Zheng He reached Sri Lanka, China's rulers banned oceanic exploration — probably on the grounds that it was a waste of resources. By contrast, Europe's warring kingdoms and empires competed to develop new and better ships and to expand their trading opportunities around the globe. Portugal's ability to explore first Africa and then Asia and the Americas was spurred by naval innovations sponsored by Prince Henry the Navigator in the 1400s. These led Vasco da Gama to lay the foundations for the European imperial conquest of Asia, when he discovered the sea route from Europe to India in 1498.
The first European colonies in Asia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, established by the Portuguese and then the Dutch, British, and French, were essentially trading posts. But the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century inspired technological advances and a drive for new markets that moved European imperialism in Asia into a new and more expansionist phase. Again Europe benefited from the fact that it had established a technological lead in a field in which Asia had once led the world. It was, famously, the Chinese who invented gunpowder, and the first guns seem to have appeared in China in the 1100s. It was in war-torn Europe, however, that firearms were developed most rapidly. As a result, when European and Asian armies clashed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Asians were easily outgunned.
The collision between the industrial and military might of the West and the ruling classes of Asia was a mismatch. Britain's East India Company was founded in 1600 and remained a largely commercial enterprise for its first 150 years. In 1756, however, when a local ruler expelled the company from its trading post in Calcutta, the company reacted by sending a naval force to retake the city. In 1757, East India Company forces defeated the nawab of Bengal and his French allies at the Battle of Plassey. Over the following century, the company used its military might to extend British rule across the Indian subcontinent, often in conjunction with local allies. It was not until 1858 that the British Raj was formally established in India, displacing indirect rule by the East India Company.
By the mid-nineteenth century, India had become the launch pad for an assault on the Chinese markets. Britain's desire to sell opium produced in India to Chinese consumers led to the notorious First Opium War of 1839–1842. When the Chinese authorities attempted to stop the opium trade in 1839 and expelled the British official delegated to supervise the commerce, there was an outcry in Britain at this violation of trade agreements. The British dispatched the Royal Navy to China. Its new all-iron steamers ensured an unequal fight. It was no accident that the anthem "Rule, Britannia," exulted that "Britannia rules the waves."
After Britain's destruction of the Chinese fleet, invading forces temporarily occupied Canton and Shanghai. In 1842, what the Chinese called the "unequal" Treaty of Nanjing was signed, forcing the Chinese to cede Hong Kong island to Britain in perpetuity (it was returned in 1997) and to open five "treaty ports" to European trade. In the 1850s, the Europeans returned to the offensive — in pursuit of further trade privileges. In one notorious incident, in i860, British and French armies burned the Chinese emperor's Summer Palace outside Beijing.
As the Anglo-French destruction of the Summer Palace illustrated, it was not only the British who demanded trading privileges at the point of a gun. By the end of the nineteenth century, the French, the Germans, the Russians, and the Americans had all been granted trading concessions in ports up and down the Chinese coast.
This pattern of the forcible opening of Asian markets by Western powers was replicated in Japan. In this case, it was American gunboat diplomacy that led the way. Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States and his fleet of black ships arrived in Japan in 1853, on a mission to compel Japan to open its ports to international trade. The Japanese were well aware of the military humiliations suffered by China. Rather than risk a comprehensive defeat, Japan signed a treaty in 1854, granting the main Western powers trading rights similar to those they already enjoyed in China.
In Japan's case, however, confrontation with the West and the internal political turmoil that it set off inspired a successful domestic reform movement. The reign of the emperor Meiji from 1868 to 1912 led to administrative and economic reforms based on the Western model, which equipped the country with a formidable industrial and military capacity. In i905, when Japan clashed with Russia over their rival claims in China and Korea, the Japanese navy was sufficiently powerful to defeat the Russians in a major naval battle. In the same year, the Japanese army defeated the Russians at the Battle of Mukden in Manchuria.
The vision of an Asian nation defeating a European power inspired Asian intellectuals as diverse as Kemal Atatürk and Jawaharlal Nehru, both of whom were to go on to lead their nations. Nehru heard the news of Japan's victory when still a schoolboy studying in England, and it set off daydreams of his future role in securing "Indian freedom and Asiatic freedom from the thralldom of Europe."
But Japan's success in defeating a European nation in a major war was an isolated example in the early twentieth century. At the outbreak of the First World War, European nations and their offshoots still dominated the world. In 1914, however, Europe's great powers turned on one another. The First World War marked the beginning of the end of European dominance of the world. Even Britain and France, whose colonial possessions expanded as a result of the postwar settlement, emerged from the conflict as gravely weakened powers.
It took the Second World War, however, to end European colonialism in Asia. Japan's role in defeating British, Dutch, and French armies in the first phases of the war is the basis for Japanese nationalists' claim to have "liberated" Asia. In fact, the Japanese had themselves colonized Korea and Manchuria and were responsible for notorious war crimes, such as the "rape of Nanjing" in China in 1937, thus making Japan's claim to have played a liberating role in Asia controversial — to put it mildly. Nonetheless, it is clear that the Second World War was a decisive moment in weakening the West's political domination of Asia, creating the conditions for the process of Easternization that is currently unfolding. As the historian John Darwin puts it, "The end of British rule in India in 1947 and the withdrawal two years later of Europe's navies from China marked the end of the 'Vasco da Gama epoch' in Asian history."
The fact that decolonization in Asia had laid the basis for a shift of global political power to Asia was disguised for decades by two crucial developments. The first was that the United States had succeeded European powers as the dominant political and military power in Asia and the Pacific. The United States occupied Japan until the 1950s and still keeps more than fifty thousand troops there. It also fought wars in Korea and Vietnam in the 1950s and 1960s that demonstrated its determination to remain dominant in the region. The second critical development was that Asia's two giants — China and India — turned inward in the 1940s and pursued economic policies that thwarted their economic potential. The consequences were more extreme in China, where Mao's policies caused famine during the Great Leap Forward and political chaos and isolation during the Cultural Revolution. But even India, during the 1970s, was a byword for hunger and humiliating poverty.
The economic transformations that first laid bare the potential of Asia took place instead in Japan, South Korea, and Southeast Asia — countries that pursued capitalist policies under the shelter of the American military umbrella. It was not until China and India began to pursue similar policies of export-led growth, in the 1980s and the 1990s, that the true economic potential of Asia was unleashed.
These days, Shanghai and Mumbai — the commercial capitals of China and India — are also two of the most important business cities in the world. Yet the symbols of these great Asian centers of commerce are both legacies of Western imperialism.
The Gateway of India — the arch that stands on the waterfront in Mumbai — bears an inscription that records that it was built to celebrate the royal visit of Edward VII to India in 1910, a period that marked the height of the British Empire. The arch still serves as a landmark and a symbolic entry point to the city.
Shanghai now gleams with modernist skyscrapers. But a postcard of the city's most famous view is still likely to feature the domes and cupolas of the Bund — the row of riverside commercial buildings built in the early twentieth century, when Shanghai was a semicolonial city. Although China was never formally colonized, its rulers were forced to hand over large areas of Shanghai and other coastal cities as commercial "concessions" to the major Western imperial powers. In these areas, white Europeans lived under their own laws and the native Chinese were second-class citizens.
The psychological and political impact of these reminders of empire is enormous. Imagine how New Yorkers would feel if, every time they glanced up at the Empire State Building, they knew that it had been built by Chinese imperialists — who had lived there, less than a hundred years ago, under their own laws, while Americans worked as their servants. Or imagine how the British would feel if Buckingham Palace had been built by the Indians — and had, in living memory, been the base for an Indian viceroy, governing the United Kingdom.
Most Europeans and Americans are incapable of making this psychological leap, partly because they are remarkably ignorant of their own imperial history. Many Americans bridle at the very idea that their nation — which was founded in revolution against the British Empire — went on to play an imperial role in Asia. Even the British, who are supposedly obsessed by their lost imperial glory, are often strikingly vague about the history of the British Empire. Tony Blair records in his memoirs that in 1997, at the ceremony in which Britain handed control of Hong Kong back to China, the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, had suggested that Britain and China could now put history behind them. Blair confesses, "I had, at that time, only a fairly dim and sketchy understanding of what that past was. I thought it was all just politeness in any case. But actually, he meant it. They meant it."
Of course, they meant it! The humiliations inflicted on China by Britain and other imperial powers may be barely remembered in the UK, but Chinese leaders and intellectuals are intensely conscious of the idea that they are now righting historic wrongs — from the First Opium War of 1839-1842, to the burning of the Summer Palace. Other rising Asian nations have their own memories of battles with Western power — whether it is India and the British, Indonesia and the Dutch, or Vietnam and the French, followed by the Americans.
Pankaj Mishra, an Indian intellectual who has written a history of Asia's "revolt against the West," argues that "it is no exaggeration to say that millions, probably hundreds of millions of people in societies that have grown up with a history of subjection to Europe and America — the Chinese software engineer and the Turkish tycoon, as well as the unemployed Egyptian graduate — derive profound gratification from the prospect of humiliating their former masters and overlords."
That is probably true — but it still leaves hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, who have a more complicated attitude. One complication in the notion of a generalized Asian "revolt against the West" is that one of the most brutal imperial powers in Asia was another Asian nation — Japan. There is no doubt that in South Korea and even China, the popular and intellectual animus toward Japan is currently stronger than any rivalry with the West.
While there are doubtless educated (and not-so-educated) Asians who do yearn to humiliate "their former masters and overlords," many have a much more nuanced conception of the West. At a dinner one evening in 2013, at a smart restaurant on the Bund in Shanghai, I gingerly broached the subject of the West's colonial history with a young Chinese graduate student. Did she resent the role that Europeans had once played as the city's overlords? The answer surprised me. "Not at all," replied my companion. The Shanghainese, she argued, knew very well that the city's glory days had been in the 1920s and the 1930s — and that Shanghai had gone into a steep decline after the Communist revolution of 1949. Her generation, she argued, associated the West with prosperity and dynamism rather than humiliation.
Attitudes to the West are often a marker of where Chinese citizens stand on the spectrum between nationalism and liberalism. Nationalists are inclined to dismiss Western pressure on human rights in China or territorial disputes as pure hypocrisy, given the West's own imperial history in Asia. Chinese liberals, who take a much more skeptical view of their own government's talking points, are more willing to accept that the legacy of Western imperialism is, in some respects, positive. This attitude is most visible in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy demonstrators, opposed to Beijing, are struggling to preserve some of the legacies of the British colonial period, such as the independence of the courts and the freedom of the press.
There are similarly nuanced debates in other former colonies. Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, is often described as a "Hindu nationalist," and he has even argued that Britain should pay reparations, in compensation for imperialism. But his party's cultural assertiveness is mainly aimed at India's Muslim heritage, rather than at the long-departed British. Some Indian intellectuals argue that it is a sign of their nation's growing self-confidence that "we can at last acknowledge, without shame or guilt, the good the British did for us." There is a similar pattern of thought in that temple of modernity, Singapore. A fierce local pride in the city-state's transformation from an imperial outpost into one of the great global cities is balanced by an equally fierce determination to protect some of the legacies of British imperial rule — whether that is the architecture of the Raffles Hotel or, more important, a tradition of a highly professional civil service and commercial courts system.
Excerpted from Easternization by Gideon Rachman. Copyright © 2016 Gideon Rachman. Excerpted by permission of Other Press.
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Table of Contents
Part I Easternization in Asia
1 From Westernization to Easternization 23
2 The Risk of War 35
3 China-An End to Hide and Bide 49
4 America Reacts 71
5 The Japanese and Korean Dilemmas 85
6 The Battle for Southeast Asia 101
7 India-The Second Asian Superpower 121
Part II Easternization beyond Asia
8 The Question of American Power 141
9 The Middle East-The Crumbling of the Western Order 155
10 Europe and Its Well-Sealed Windows 175
11 Russia Turns East 191
12 Borderlands 207
13 Africa and the Americas-China Beyond Its Backyard 223
14 The West's Institutional Advantage 237
Conclusion Beyond East and West 259