The Role Of Nationalism And Strongman Diplomacy In Asia

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Chinese President Xi Jinping (center) at the closing meeting of the Fifth Session of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People on March 15, 2017 in Beijing, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Chinese President Xi Jinping (center) at the closing meeting of the Fifth Session of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People on March 15, 2017 in Beijing, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Author Gideon Rachman says Eastern power is on the rise. According to the International Monetary Fund, three of the top four economies are based in Asia, with China leading the U.S., and India and Japan ranking third and fourth in terms of purchasing power. And while the U.S. military is considered the strongest in the world, China and Russia are its closest rivals.

In part two of our conversation about the rise of Asia, Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson speaks with Rachman (@gideonrachman), chief foreign affairs commentator for the Financial Times, about the role of nationalism and international diplomacy, highlighted in his new book "Easternization: Asia's Rise and America's Decline From Obama to Trump and Beyond."

Interview Highlights

On nationalism and emulation in world politics

"I think it's one of the trends in world politics that does worry me, that there is a resurgence of nationalism, which is slightly surprising in a way. Because 10 years ago it was the heyday of globalization, 'The world is flat,' all of that, and everyone was saying nations are gonna become less and less relevant in an orderless world. And, politically that just doesn't seem to be happening. So that you have resurgent nationalism in the East, in the West — in other words in Asia and the West — you also have it in democracies and non-democracies. So you have Trump saying, 'Make America great again.' But you have Xi Jinping in China talking about the 'great rejuvenation of the Chinese people.' What is Vladimir Putin about? Well, 'Make Russia great again.' He's also doing that. I mean, in Britain, our decision taken to leave the E.U. is a form of nationalism. We're saying, 'We don't like this super-national EU organization. We want to go back to being Great Britain.'

"Politics goes in fashions. I think there is a degree of emulation happening. So I think that it's quite interesting, the cult of Vladimir Putin around the world. You know, he's not particularly popular in the U.K. or the U.S., but, among certain forms of nationalist leaders, you know, there are lots of books about Putin selling very well in China because he's seen as a guy who stuck it to the U.S., to be honest. The far right in Europe are very keen on Putin. [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan in Turkey has built up a special relationship with him. And actually, you know, when I met Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel for this book, he also made the point that he got on pretty well with Putin. So, there is a kind of admiration thing going on because he's seen as reviving this model of strongman leadership. And particularly when Obama was around, the contrast between the slight swagger of Putin and the more deliberative style of Obama, and indeed of Angela Merkel in Germany, was very striking.

"But I wonder whether the nationalism revival has other things to it. It might be a reaction against globalization, a reaction to big migratory flows, build a wall by Trump to keep the Mexicans out, build a wall in Hungary to keep the Syrians out. But it's not something that I think people would have predicted 10 years ago. But it's very hard to deny it's happening now."

"You're not going to be able to go back to the era in which America dominated both the global economy and dominated the global political scene."

Gideon Rachman

On authoritarianism

"There is, certainly in China — put it this way: In 1989, which was not just the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was also the year of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, when people like me thought, 'OK, look, there's no way the the Chinese Communist Party can last,' because you would have had a demand for freedoms and so on. But actually, although there is repression in China, no doubt about it, there is also, I think, a kind of legitimacy created by very powerful economic growth and, increasingly, by a very deliberately cultivated nationalism saying, you know, that 'China's back, China's standing up to the West,' all of that. Now does that sell around the world? I think to an extent, because the idea that the era in which the whole world was basically shaped, first by the Europeans and then by the U.S., is coming to a close. That's quite a powerful idea, say not just in China, but say in Turkey, where you kind of have a Erdoğan pushing a nationalist sentiment, saying that Turks can stand up. They no longer need to be pushed around by the West. They no longer need to aspire just to be like the U.S. or Europe, they can have their own cultural models.

"Now not everybody in those societies accepts that at all, but there's no doubt in my mind there's a constituency for it."

On the relationship between India and China

"You said the Chinese are worried by the Indians, and they are a bit, but I think the Indians are even more worried about the Chinese, because they're that much further behind and they, as they've grown, have come to aspire, naturally enough, to be a much bigger global player. But they feel that China is both a direct and an indirect threat to them. A direct threat because there is a territorial dispute between China and India. The two countries fought a war in 1962, and there's a large chunk of India that China actually claims and occasionally Chinese troops cross the border and go backwards and forwards on Chinese passports. And the Indians feel that the Chinese are trying to contain them partly by supporting their old adversary Pakistan. Which is a frightening thing because India and Pakistan have fought three wars. They're both nuclear powers. It's pretty certain that the Pakistani nuclear program got some aid from China. And actually China has a certain vulnerability because a lot of its oil comes to the Middle East, has to come a long way around. The Chinese have basically sponsored the building of a very large port in Pakistan, which gives them a much shorter route to get the oil from the [Persian] Gulf to this Pakistani port, and then they can move it across land to China. So this big infrastructure route is being built right across Pakistan to China.

"And then there's the other question whether, as you remarked, China's also building up other alliances. It's got very close to Sri Lanka, which is the island nation at the bottom of India. It's built ports there. It's built ports in Burma, so, again, if you kind of took a geo-strategic look at the map, you would think, if you were Indian, hmm, there's almost what they call a string of pearls being built around us, that they might one day tighten around our neck."

On the importance of transportation routes and sea travel in the Middle East

"One of the paradoxes of world affairs now is that the Straits of Hormuz, through which all of this oil passes, are kept open by the U.S. navy. And both sides think that's a bit peculiar. The Americans are thinking, 'Why are we basically providing China security for it?' And the answer to that, of course, as I spoke to Americans about this and they thought, 'Well, we have thought maybe we could pull out, but then how would we feel if actually the Chinese navy was patrolling the Persian gulf?' And I think the Chinese, on the one hand, think it's great that they don't have to have this commitment in the Gulf, which comes with all sorts of complications to it. On the other hand, it makes them feel a bit vulnerable because they think, 'Well actually the American navy is all along the route that our oil comes through.' It's in the Gulf where the oil starts coming through, but then it's also by the Malacca Straits where it has to continue, which is this very narrow strait of water, the busiest waterways in the world, between Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. And again, the U.S. navy is based in Singapore, or rather operates out of Singapore. So the Chinese have what they call a Malacca Strait dilemma. They think, 'Look, if there was ever a conflict, we could be in real trouble there.'"

On his advice for the Trump administration regarding Easternization

"I would say you can't stop it. You're not going to be able to go back to the era in which America dominated both the global economy and dominated the global political scene. But that needn't be a disaster if you can, through a kind of judicious mix of policies, accept the inevitability of the rise of China, but then try to manage it so that you set some rules, both for the global economy, and you keep your alliances firm in Asia, but not so firm that you actually slide into a confrontation with China. Now that's not an easy balance to strike, but it is the one that I think successive administrations in different ways have ended up with. It's sort of what the Bush administration was doing. It's what the Obama administration was doing. And I think any administration, even one whose rhetoric is quite as radical as that of Donald Trump's, when they look at the set of choices facing America, will probably end up, if they're sensible, with something similar, which tries to emphasize cooperation where you can, but sets some guidelines and some lines for China on the use of force and how it treats its neighbors. It's a fine balance to strike, but I don't think it's impossible."

This article was originally published on April 05, 2017.

This segment aired on April 5, 2017.



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