New World-Order Paradigm: The Best of the West Agrees Itís Moving East

New World-Order Paradigm: The Best of the West Agrees Itís Moving East

Tom Plate

NEW YORK -- It would be churlish to accuse the East Coast foreign-policy establishment of ignoring Asia.

That would be unfair. For the astonishing escape of China from the imbecility of Maoism, the evident economic re-charge and possible remilitarization of Japan, the tragic turmoil in ordinarily brilliant South Korea, the budding of democracy in Islamic Indonesia, the slow but steady turn toward globalization in heretofore tradition-bound India, the testing travails of tortured Taiwan, the potential implosion of Muslim Pakistan, the effort at public-policy innovation and leadership in prosperous Singapore -- all of these phenomenally interesting events and many others are of course wholly familiar to the principle figures of the U.S. establishment that scoot and shuttle up and down the corridors of power from Boston to Washington.

And Asia has certainly not fallen below the radar screen of "Foreign Affairs," the New York-based establishment journal which has a status in American international policy circles almost as regal as "LíOsservatore Romano" in the Vatican. Even so, from the perspective of the Atlantic coast, Asia still seems a very, very long plane ride and several colossal conceptual leaps away, whereas Europe is but just a half dozen or so time zones distant and for some reason thoroughly less complicated. The inevitable result is that Asia has played second fiddle to Europe in the American foreign-policy mind for as long as anyone can recall.

No more, asserts "Foreign Affairs" editor James Hoge. Americaís East Coast is getting over its Euro-centrism. Hoge, one of Americaís most prominent journalists, agrees that the center of global gravity is irrevocably and dramatically moving from the West to the East. "Economic power, political power, military power is moving to Asia," says Hoge, "and the old order will have to make adjustments with India and China coming down the road at a fairly fast clip. Why, even the smaller surging nations of Asia are bigger than the bigger ones in Europe."

Hoge, after three decades of newspaper journalism, became editor of "Foreign Affairs" in 1992. He plans to lay out his perspective on the coming paradigm shift in an address later this month (21 April) at a notable pillar of the East Coast foreign-policy Vatican: The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Jim (an old friend) offered an advance peak at his speech during a chat in his book-lined office at the plush Council of Foreign Relations headquarters on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan.

Central to his thinking is that the historic shift to the East may well prove very bumpy. Geopolitical paradigm shifts, he warns, "seldom occur peacefully." The rise of Germany and Japan in the early 20th century was resisted by the imperial order of the time, triggering colossal military catastrophe. "The transformation now underway is bigger, more complex and more unfamiliar," he warns.

Chinaís economy, he notes, will probably surpass Germanyís in less than ten years and overtake Japanís in less than twenty. Suppose a new generation of leadership in both giants was to bury the historic hatchet and combine in alliance against the West? On the other hand, he also notes, Asia has not recently witnessed a fully enabled China and Japan cohabiting together on the same Asian continent at the same time. Suppose the two giants were to choose to have it out militarily at some point? This would devastate Asia politically -- and the world economically.

And thatís not even the full enormity of the new Asian paradigm. Crack geopolitical strategists like Singaporeís Kishore Mahbubani and George Yeo have likened the new emerging order to a solar system that now features two powerful suns -- China and the United States. But Hoge envisions a third: India moving slowly but surely into the picture as a global solar superpower. In his speech he will cite a Goldman Sachs prediction of a possible Indian economic eclipse of China in the next half century.

Already the major nations of Asia account for most of the worldís foreign exchange reserves, he points out, and thus finance most of the U.S. current account deficit, which is now gigantic: "The bottom line is that we face an enormous transformation of power, attended by unavoidable dislocations." he says.

To date, the U.S. response to the new reality seem more old-style -- mainly with military moves -- than new-age global. A key element appears to be an emerging policy of "soft containment" for growing China. Our bases in Central Asia look awfully large and unnecessary, unless the point is to deter China; the new missile-shield commitment from Japan (at Washingtonís intense behest) looks awfully expensive and unnecessary, unless the point is China (and, of course, North Korea); and the intensified U.S. military cooperation with India would seem awfully sudden and unnecessary, unless it is fashioned to seal off the Indian Ocean and the Malacca Straits from Chinese influence. "If you were a Chinese strategist," he says, "what would you think?"

It is possible to quarrel and quibble with Hogeís hunches here and there. India, with its huge internal Muslim population, surely has to come to a stable settlement with neighboring Pakistan before it can even begin to think of an alliance with the United States against China -- or, for that matter, with China against the United States. Japanís economic recovery could stall and the Koizumi governmentís Iraq involvement could still blow up in Tokyoís face (as the recent hostage psychodrama suggests), throwing the Japanese back into its pacifist protectionist shell. And any sentient recollection of Chinese history should serve to fill us all with extreme humility about making any predictions about China, which retains, it seems to me, a genetic ability to self-destruct internally at any time.

Even so, Hoge, as a certified foreign policy intellectual -- and skillful gatekeeper of our leading international journal -- is trying to make a serious contribution to reorienting American foreign policy in the direction of what used to be called the Orient. His effort could prove helpful and timely for an America that seems lately to have made some very bad calls and shockingly misconceived policy turns.

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Tom Plate is a professor of Communication and policy Studies at UCLA. He is a regular columnist for the The Straits Times -- and is syndicated through UCLA's MEDIA CENTER to papers througout the world, including The Honolulu Advertiser, The Japan Times, The Seattle Times, the San Diego Business Journal, the Korea Times and the Orlando Sentinel. He has been a participant member of the World Economic Forum at Davos, and is a member of the Pacific Council on International policy. The author of five books, he has worked at TIME, the Los Angeles Times and the Daily Mail of London. He established the Asia Pacific Media Network in 1998 and was its director until 2003. He is now founder and director of UCLA's MEDIA CENTER.

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The views expressed above are those of the author and are not necessarily those of AsiaMedia or the UCLA Asia Institute.