China has been actively working to increase its global political hegemony but will find it hard to dislodge the United States as the de facto global leader, Geoff Dyer, Financial Times foreign policy correspondent, told the audience at Dodds Auditorium on Thursday.
The vulnerability of American capitalism indicated by the 2008 financial crisis in particular suggested to the Chinese political and academic elite that a more hawkish approach to the competition between the United States and China might be in order, Dyer explained. The 2008 Olympics, the huge parade commemorating the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China and more recent anti-Japanese protests signify a heightened tendency toward nationalism on the part of China and its people, he said.
Moreover, some Chinese academics and elites view Congress’s gridlock and the relative inability of the American executive to effect change as symptoms of American decline.
While China’s military spending averages over 10 percent of its GDP per year simply because it has the resources to do so, China’s foreign relations push has often occurred out of economic necessity, Dyer said, citing relations with Sudan, an oil producer, and Indonesia, a coal producer.
Soft power is also an integral part of China’s quest for hegemony, Dyer explained, noting the emphasis China places on the success of its media firms in the global marketplace. For example, one of the four advertisements in Times Square visible from the corner of 47th Street and Broadway is for China’s flagship news agency Xinhua, Dyer said.
However, it would be a mistake to think of the international competition between China and the United States as a re-run of the Cold War, he said. China and the United States are not completely polarized politically or economically and behave more like the European powers in the 19th century, in that they maintain significant links while testing each other’s limits, he said.
China has compounded the negative effects of ambiguous international policy by alienating some of its neighbors, Dyer said. Most Asian countries want the things the United States seems to have and desire a well-defined dispute resolution process instead of the exercise of arbitrary political power, he explained, adding that many countries thus fear what an Asia with China not counterbalanced by the United States would look like.
Despite some level of anti-American sentiment in countries like South Korea, the Philippines and Japan, their leaders in the past four to five years have increasingly sought ties with the United States to counterbalance China’s surging nationalism, he explained, adding that the president of the Philippines recently compared China to a fascist regime.
The United States faces a complicated test of wills with China over military matters in the waters surrounding China, and the Obama administration has not yet found the appropriate balance between firm counteraction and aggressive confrontation. However, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did an exemplary job convincing Asian countries that the U.S. thought the region to be very important, often attending even the most mundane conferences there to draw attention to the U.S.’s interest in Asian affairs, Dyer explained. However, with the situations in the Middle East and Russia, Asian affairs have been left on the backburner since Clinton's retirement, he noted.
Ultimately, China and the rest of Asia are going to continue to play increasingly central roles in United States economic life, and American policymakers need to convince the public of the benefits of working with China economically and politically, Dyer said, adding that President Obama and Mitt Romney’s characterization of the Chinese as economic “cheaters” in 2012 was highly counterproductive. The United States is also going to have to form closer ties with other Asian countries beyond supplying them with military assistance, he said.