The Bo Xilai scandal--the way it is unfolding and the power struggle that it reflects--is a reminder of how wrong the West's business and financial leaders and fawning media outlets were regarding China's political development. Contrary to their rosy predictions, China's astonishing economic transformation has not led to political democratization--certainly not at level of the national government, which controls national security and foreign policy.
The foolish conflating of economics and politics--the former is about wealth; the latter, power--recalls the forecasts of the period between the two world wars. The Nobel laureate Norman Angell, for example, argued in his popular nonfiction book, The Great Illusion, that the "economies of European countries had grown to such a degree that war between them would be entirely futile, making militarism obsolete." We all know how that turned out.
Which is not to say that China and the United States are destined to fight each other. On the contrary; although the potential for a future armed conflict between the countries clearly exists, it can and must be prevented.
The key to peace preservation is diplomacy. More specifically, avoiding a potentially catastrophic adversarial relationship will require a long-overdue revival of a concept that the "democracy promotion" and "humanitarian intervention" zealots have branded as obsolete--spheres of influence (as the term was used during the Cold War, of course, and not during the age of imperialism, when the industrialized European nations forced their way into China).
Notwithstanding its historic defense and security ties to Japan, which must remain strong for decades to come, the U.S. will have to recognize East Asia as China's sphere; and China will have to recognize Latin America and the Caribbean as America's sphere. Additionally, both nations will have to agree on what constitutes acceptable levels and forms of competition outside their spheres--for example, in Africa, where China has developed controversial political relationships in its relentless pursuit of energy and raw materials, or in the Middle East, where China's thirst for oil and interest in countering U.S. power and influence has (a) emboldened a nuclear-arming, clerical fascist regime that is bent on destroying Israel and driving the U.S. from the region, and (b) bolstered the Islamist regime's secular ally, which is waging war on its own people.
The urgent need for mutual understandings about spheres of influence and rules of competition between Washington and Beijing … and Washington and Moscow … is increasingly obvious and inexplicably ignored by the mainstream media, including liberal and conservative outlets.
Endnote: Ironically, the post-Cold War tendency of both Republican and Democratic U.S. administrations to treat the entire world as a U.S. sphere of influence has coincided with China's alarming Caribbean encroachment. Click here to read a column that indicates it could be too late to stop China from gaining potential military advantages in America's own backyard.
Copyright © 2012 Foreign Confidential™