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Time to Organize the G-2?


Kurt Campbell, who served as the very able Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs during President Obama’s first term, is one of the strongest advocates in the US for the “pivot to Asia” and unapologetically asserts that with the failures of the EU and post-Soviet Russia to organize for the challenges of the 21st century, there are really only two global powers today. Deepening cooperation between the US and China and finding ways for these two countries to work together on the big issues, says Campbell in a piece for the FT, may be the most important diplomatic task facing the world today.

This idea will generate a lot of heartburn around the world. Not just in Brussels and Moscow, but in Asian capitals like Tokyo and New Delhi, the idea of the US and China meeting together and developing a common agenda for important world problems sets off alarm bells.

Yet Campbell’s core point is surely inescapable: it is vital for the peace of the world that the US and China understand one another as effectively as possible, and work to deepen and develop their dialog on a range of security, economic and other vital issues.

For the US, there’s no way to deepen the discussion with China without also building deeper understanding and trust with other interested parties; the US will gain little from discussions with China that are perceived to be over the heads or against the interests of our key partners and allies around the world. That isn’t impossible; other countries, especially in Asia, would on balance rather see the US and China have a good working relationship than a bad one.

Worries about a G-2 dominating the world are overstated. As economic and social development spreads, the world is becoming a much more complicated place and no single country or two-country clique can impose its will on the international system as a whole. Rather than worrying about an excess of power in one or two countries, the world should worry about failures of coordination and cooperation that make peace and prosperity harder to ensure. The US and China won’t agree on everything, but where we do agree, we should work together, and both sides should work to manage our disagreements as thoughtfully and carefully as possible.

[Photo of John Kerry and Xi Jinping courtesy of Getty Images.]

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  • I think the US still needs Europe (and Japan) to have enough economic muscle to force China to behave. For this brief moment in history the great industrial democracies still hold the balance of power.

  • Scott Morgan

    I know this is irrelevant to what I view as an interesting post but does anyone else think the photo looks as though John Kerry’s face has been Photoshopped onto someone else’s head?

    Maybe I need to focus on the topic more.

  • J R Yankovic

    “As economic and social development spreads, the world is becoming a much more complicated place and no single country or two-country clique can impose its will on the international system as a whole.”

    Exactly. And I can easily imagine the world continuing down that wholesome path of greater complexity. Or at least so long as a couple of self-important behemoths don’t OVER-combine to the point of splitting the global difference, either to the neglect of the needs of more like-minded partners and allies (in our case), or at the expense of both their own environment and consumer economy AND their neighbors’ goodwill (in the case of China).

    But perhaps I’m being alarmist. Now that I think about it, I am being alarmist. Any country that achieves

    (1) record-breaking growth at record-breakneck speed,

    (2) the 2-generations-or-less recovery of its global dignity and respect, and after 100 years of the most degrading humiliation at the hands of the most unspeakable barbarians (think of it – ONE HUNDRED years! out of a civilization’s 2-millennium-plus history),

    and all, mind you, at the minor costs of barely-breathable air in its major cities, conditions approaching slave labor in not a few of its factories, and the antagonism of nearly every one of its immediate neighbors, is clearly a nation that deserves my closest partnership on all sorts of global issues. Which, as I (mis?)understand it, is pretty much what we Yanks had been guaranteeing the Anti-people’s Republic right up till just a few years ago. With the results – exemplary PRC humility, patience and restraint in both global and local disputes – being apparent for all to see.

    OTOH I can’t help wondering: Suppose that China’s “second global power” place had been occupied instead by – try not to laugh too hard – yes, Russia. A Russia no less intent on making its own people pay the FULL price of growth and development, while ensuring comparably favorable terms to foreign investors. And all the while seeking a regional/global military role more fully commensurate with its true stature. Would we have spent the better part of two decades falling all over ourselves and our allies, trying to find the right diplomatic-economic-military fit? Or rather would we at once have got busy cobbling together a reprise of the Ultimate Grand Alliance (c. 1981), complete with allies of every stripe? Including some more than a little tainted by the, let us say, more troubling colors and shades of Islam (“They love God and hate Russians – can’t be all bad, right?”)?

    It just seems to me that our conventional “elite” wisdom finds it a little too convenient to believe – and to see confirmed? – the worst about Russian “character”: Its ineducability, incorrigibility, innate barbarism. Whereas, for the longest time, it seemed there were far too many of us ready to ask ourselves a reverse set of questions about the mainland Chinese: How far are we willing to accept THEIR education, correction, redefinition of the terms and parameters of growth, etc?

    I guess there’s just no arguing with a certain kind of success. After all, nobody ever said even the most demanding Russkies could ever hold a candle to those clever, self-assured (to say nothing of self-entitled) Chinese. In case, however, anyone still has doubts about the wisdom of the most unreserved engagement of Beijing, remember: This is a system prepared to inflict – and on its urban wealth-creators, no less! – the sort of air quality that makes LA smell and taste like Yosemite. And this upon a relatively quiescent and co-operative population. Just think what they might fancy doing to us unco-operative barbarians . . .

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