Beijing could be the better of two evils for Washington. Since the United States is not willing to share power with "junior players" such as Russia in a multipolar world, it might be prepared to share world hegemony with China. But upon closer analysis, a U.S.-Chinese hegemony has little chance of ever panning out.
Of course, Washington is flattering China with talk about the greatness of the Celestial Empire. But the Chinese are wise enough to avoid stooping so low as to get involved in some form of pointless adventure. But even if Beijing did yield to temptation, nothing would result from the U.S. project anyway.
In the first place, the United States and China are more rivals than they are partners. The two countries have opposing positions on almost every global issue, including Kosovo, NATO expansion, missile defense, the Middle East conflict, Iran, Central Asia and a host of other issues. It is a rare occasion when they vote in unison at the United Nations Security Council.
But the sharpest rivalry between Washington and Beijing is playing out in the Asian-Pacific region, and the balance is shifting in favour of Beijing. China is exerting increasing economic and political influence on neighboring states. Washington's two most important allies in the Far East, Japan and South Korea, already have larger trade volumes with China than they do with the United States. In fact, a Thai diplomat recently told me, "Our prime minister used to start his day by reading The New York Times. Now, he is first briefed on the contents of China's Zhenmin Zhibao newspaper." Beijing is firm in support of its "one-China" position regarding Taiwan and against the buildup of the Japanese military. Meanwhile, China is modernising its own military, buying advanced military equipment from Russia and shipping arms to countries Washington considers undesirable.
Washington views Beijing's activity as a challenge to its own military, political and economic hegemony in the Asian-Pacific region. As a result, the White House has adopted a policy of both deterrence and coercion. This is one reason why U.S. actions in the region - such as supporting and selling arms to Taiwan, placing limits on the import of Chinese goods to the U.S. market and opposing China's arms sales to other countries - create so many obstacles to building a stronger U.S.-Chinese alliance.
Chinese authorities are particularly opposed to U.S. efforts to interfere with China's internal affairs. They believe that separatists in Tibet and Xinjiang are finding support not only from individual Hollywood actors, but also from the CIA, White House and U.S. State Department. Chinese diplomats and political analysts cite this as evidence that U.S. actions in China are aimed at undermining the existing political system. They argue that Washington helped cause the collapse of its archrival, the Soviet Union, and that now they are bent on bringing down its only remaining rival, China.
The other problem in building a Washington-Beijing axis is that China is in no condition to shoulder the burden of acting as co-ruler of the planet. China is dealing with a host of daunting domestic problems that include an extremely low per capita income, a huge gap between the rich and poor, high unemployment, corruption, a shortage of natural resources and ethnic conflicts in the regions. Beijing has its hands full with these problems, and it can ill afford the luxury of pursuing global hegemony.
Moreover, China cannot offer an ideology that would capture the hearts and minds of the rest of the world. It is highly unlikely that Germany, Argentina, Nigeria or India would adopt Chinese socialism or Confucianism. In addition, China does not have sufficient might to establish military hegemony. Neither is it a leader in the fields of mass communication, popular culture, education or science. Although China's is well on its way to becoming the largest economy in the world, no Chinese brand has yet appeared on a par with Toyota, Olivetti, Omega, Christian Dior, Microsoft or Mercedes-Benz. The sooner Washington recognises that the world is destined to be multipolar, the better. And this will have a direct positive impact on improving U.S.-Russian relations as well.The world is not easy to live in, difficult to organise and next to impossible to rule. But that's the type of world we live in, and there is no other option but to adapt to reality.
Yevgeny Bazhanov is the provost for science and international relations at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Academy in Moscow.
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