Thursday, July 6, 2017

Easternization: Asia's Rise and America's Decline by Gideon Rachman

Hardcover, 320 pages (Orig pub Bodley Head, London August 2016) Pub April 4th 2017 by Other Press (NY) ISBN13: 9781590518519; due out in paperback by Vintage Sept 2017 Literary Awards: Orwell Prize Nominee for Longlist (2017)

Easternization turns out to be one very interesting book. I doubt Gideon Rachman, Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent for London’s Financial Times, expected Donald Trump to win the American presidential election in November 2016, but he doesn’t miss a beat. This book, published at the end of 2016/beginning of 2017 adds a Preface which addresses the expected focus and personality of a Trump presidency and addresses Trump’s impact on American influence in the world. Rachman looks at the world through a reducing glass and illustrates how much of what has happened and will happen over the near term in world relations has been “baked in.”

There are various measures used to illustrate China’s rising strength, but Rachman believes the balance has already shifted east. American and European military influence is definitely contracting as China increases its spending and the centrality of the needs of its billion people in Asia is drawing other economies into its orbit, creating spheres of influence. However, the population in China, as a result of the one-child policy, is aging. China will be dealing with this legacy well into the next thirty years when it is expected India will become the world’s largest economy. India’s population in 2015 was 65 percent under the age of thirty.

For the most part, countries in Southeast Asia have been unable to resist the temptation of China’s development aid and trade. One exception has been Vietnam. Encroachments from the sea by China testing coastal boundaries has so alarmed Vietnam that they apparently asked the United States if they wanted to establish a base at their old wartime location in Cam Ranh Bay.
"For the Vietnamese…the offer made perfect sense. In its thousands of years of history, Vietnam has found only one war against the United States—but seventeen against the Chinese."
China decided in the 1990s that it would pivot to Africa, and since has become Africa’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade exceeding $200 billion in 2010. Apparently India, watching China make great gains in Africa, stepped up its own investment there, where it is historically positioned to be at home. Africa, like India, has a large proportion of its population under the age of thirty, and some development specialists suggest that the Indian Ocean will become the next growth center of trade and development, when the Pacific Rim economies and growth has slowed.

China recently began purchasing Russia’s gas reserves in a win-win for both countries, though Rachman believes the Russians suffered a very difficult negotiation. Many Chinese have been moving northward, legally and illegally, to set up business distribution networks in the less populated regions of eastern Russia. China watchers wonder if China will eventually move to take the east back from a too-large-to-govern Russia. There are also signs of cooperation, if not alliance: On July 4, 2017 Russia and China together signed an agreement to sanction North Korea after their successful ballistic missile launch, and to warn the U.S. and South Korea of the provocativeness of joint exercises. The closeness of any relationship between these two goliaths is a new feature American and the Europeans have not had to consider for many years.

Latin and South America, both in America’s backyard, in the new millennium suddenly discovered it had options, and in 2011 Brazil’s largest trading partner was…China…who imported twice as much soy, sugar, meat, iron, and copper as did the United States. Japan, watching China, stepped up its aid and investment as well, creating life-giving competition in Mexico and Colombia. The formerly ignored BRICS alliance (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) may become a economic fulcrum to edge any power discrepancies into the Asian sphere.

One aspect of Obama’s pivot to Asia was intended to engage and contain China’s influence in Southeast Asia, though the pivot started to come undone almost as soon as it began. Events in the Middle East and his own intransigent government effectively kept Obama from erecting anything on the pillars of doctrine he might want to call his own. What we noticed instead was a gradual drawing away from involvement or intervention in the Middle East except in where others are willing to come in with us or in cases and places where surgical strikes might achieve an outcome without loss of life or treasure.

The West is still struggling to adapt to low growth and unemployment as a result of China’s low cost production, but Europe and America are still the desired destination of the world’s migrant peoples, make no mistake. China is able to make great investment of human resources into Africa’s infrastructure development because their own level of development is not so distant from what they find in Africa. The technologies used in both align.

Rachman makes clear that the West still holds the institutional advantage: many of the key institutions that allow smooth communication, banking, and trade were created by and situated in the West. Sanctions are suffocatingly effective on excluded countries, cutting them off from many life-giving international exchanges. Until changes are made to the centrality of these internationally-recognized bodies, and challenges are on the horizon, the West is still central to the aspirations of the world.

There is a huge amount of fascinating discussion and no-fat detail in this worthwhile read and Rachman has gotten a good deal of attention: check out the WSJ review, those of you with subscriptions, as well as the following links NPR interviewed Rachman, The Atlantic’s Uri Freidman interviewed Rachman, and the NYT published in April an article by Rachman about his premise. This is a marvelously readable ‘catch-up’ volume for those of us who took our eyes off the ball occasionally in the past ten years, but those who have been watching with undivided attention will be grateful for his overview and his discussion of where it is leading us. Highly recommended.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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