A conversation with the editor of Shaper Nations: Strategies for a Changing World
What particularly interesting insights on China’s national strategy did the author of the chapter on China provide for the book?
Men Honghua highlights the way that China’s peaceful rise and its strategy of development was changing China itself, that it had raised issues of a new identity for China. No longer the old Communist Party, it now is searching for what its new identity is — a new socialist power, a new great power? It’s interesting that he highlighted, in talking about the process of foreign policy-making, that more constituencies are now involved in China’s foreign policy making: various political officials, think tanks, academics, and even Chinese officials are paying attention to netizens and their expression of views. So you see a country that’s thinking more broadly, and more people are involved in its foreign policy, even as the central government, of course, sets strategy. That dialogue of what strategy should be, what type of country China should become, was noticeable for me.
Would you say that the author has a positive view of where China is heading?
Yes, he thinks that China is on a good track. It basically is focused on its own development but recognizes that you also need to look after your security issues, and acknowledges that there’s a dilemma with China’s own development and growth. This growth by its very presence sometimes makes others wary or uncertain about what China might do, and therefore, it was important to reinforce the notion of its peaceful rise and interest in economic development over other objectives.
In Shaper Nations, you describe a world in which multi-polarity rises as U.S. hegemony fades. Could you describe what kind of new global order this might create?
Maybe not so much a coherent global order as the one we’ve seen since World War II, and certainly since the end of the Cold War, where there was a kind of clear set of rules and there were clear global organizations. I think the issue with the relative decline of the U.S., not that the U.S. is declining but that others are rising, so power is more equally distributed, is that these countries — the shaper nations that are going to be more influential in the future — are more focused on their regions.
I believe the development of regional orders is where you’ll see the most progress. Most of these countries are hesitant to get involved in shaping overall global order. It’s too large; it would absorb too many of their resources. So the grand global projects are likely to be more difficult unless they come out of cooperation among regional orders that build up to something a little bit bigger. So I think you’ll see a trend toward focusing on regional order over the big deals like the WTO or a big UN transformation.
With what is happening in the South China Sea, do you think there is a risk for confrontation between China and other countries?
Right now, the states involved still have an overwhelming incentive to concentrate on economic development and to pursue cooperation that advances that development. Ultimately their power is as much and probably more dependent on economic prosperity as it is on the protection of peripheral areas on the boundary. The area for flashpoints are where you have the shaper nations in the same region competing for regional influence that they see is increasingly important to their welfare. So the mutual desire for influence in the same region can lead to competing claims.
China finds itself in a region of shaper nations: India on one border and Japan, a shaper nation as well, and a country that is underperforming in terms of influence in international relations relative to its power. Another flashpoint. So you see these types of tensions on the borders. But the incentives to move to a wide scale conflict are hard to find, because no one sees conflict as getting the goals they seek. They don’t see physical expansion as the means to their ends. Those situations are possible, conflict is possible, especially at times where there is incentive to spur nationalism for whatever immediate political reason. But in terms of strategies, economic development and peaceful means of development is still, I think, the priority of all the powers in the region.
In January, there will be a new administration in the White House. What consequences might a Trump presidency have on global affairs?
We know there’s going to be consequences, but what exactly will they be? It’s hard to say at this point, because a lot of things were said in the campaign. I think some themes that are likely to emerge, from people who have looked at this closely over the years and who have followed Trump closely over the years, fall into a couple of different areas:
First, in the security realm, it is clear that he has focused most on the threat from ISIS and terrorism. That would probably be the number one security issue. Second is widespread complaint over trade and the free trade system. Trump has mentioned this over the years, and it’s likely that he is going to do something, but what exactly, we’ll have to wait and see. He prides himself on being a negotiator, and perhaps he wants to negotiate a better bargain for the U.S., rather than deconstruct the globalized economy, which of course would have important implications for the U.S. itself.
He has for years written about the unfair deal with allies and who pays for the alliances — where U.S. troops are in Western Europe and Japan, alliances with South Korea and close partnerships with Saudi Arabia. He believes those countries should be carrying more of the burden. I expect something will happen in that realm, but it’s difficult to see the big changes that could happen that wouldn’t rupture those relationships, given that people in those countries widely believe that they are already carrying the vast burden of the load in that relationship. So those are the areas I believe will be most likely to see action in foreign policy.
Maybe the final one is, he’s been talking fairly consistently about stronger defense. So maybe we’ll see a little bit more significant defense building. But again internally his emphasis is on infrastructure and building U.S. infrastructure. That takes money, defense spending takes money, and maybe you see those things as the same thing, but obviously there are different consequences.
Trump has suggested pulling troops from Japan and Korea. Do you see this as an opportunity for China to assert a bigger leadership role if the U.S. were to withdraw more from the global stage?
I think China would want to tread very lightly there. To step up would be to confirm fears of people in the region about China really wanting hegemony in the region. I also don’t think Donald Trump is about leaving the Pacific. He’s about a different deal with allies in the region, but he’s been pretty clear that the U.S. needs to be there, maybe with a more enhanced naval presence in the Pacific. I don’t think you’re going to see the U.S. departing from the Pacific, even if there are some adjustments in its alliances. I believe the U.S. will remain very engaged, both in terms of security and in terms of economic affairs and trade.
With the TPP all but dead, might there be something to replace that with?
The TPP, as called the TPP, is dead. It’s not politically viable. Does that mean some sort of trade agreement in the future is not viable? No. I think what you’re going to see is a tough line from the president-elect in relations with China in the first 12 to 18 months of his presidency. Then you’re going to see willingness or openness to explore new kinds of trade arrangements, perhaps not only with China but with the array of countries in Asia. They may look a little different. Perhaps they will have different provisions for workers and others who might be hurt by those free trade agreements, but I think the nature of the global economy and the pressures on the President to produce economic welfare argue in favor of continued agreements. And what you’ll see that is different is perhaps new U.S. government policies to offset those who may lose from those agreements.