The US should lead change with China: Robert ZoellickRobert B. Zoellick
By Robert Zoellick
(Financial Review) – China’s growth since the reforms of Deng Xiaoping has been incredible. Yet the internal challenges of the transformation remain tremendous, as President Xi Jinping’s new structural reforms and push to revitalise the Communist Party have highlighted.
The United States and Australia should support China’s economic reformers. The failure of the reformers would be destabilising – or even cataclysmic, for China and the world economy.
The reformers’ success would create opportunities – but challenges, too. Just as former premier Zhu Rongji leveraged China’s WTO accession in the late 1990s to push his internal economic reforms, we could assist China’s reformers today through negotiations for bilateral investment treaties, the WTO Service Sector negotiations, and a staged inclusion in the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) as China opens its capital account.
The United States should be taking the initiative to adapt the international economy instead of resisting change as we tried to do with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Yet China’s amazing growth is also altering China’s view of its external interests, regionally and globally. Last year, President Xi stated that the security of Asia should be handled by the people of Asia.
This view clashes with the modern history of the Asia-Pacific, in which the United States and Australia have played momentous and constructive roles. At the turn of the 20th Century, when the late Qing dynasty was in its last throes, US Commodore George Dewey sunk a Spanish fleet in Manila Bay and the United States began its rise as a Pacific power.
We have been around for well over a century. To paraphrase Napoleon, the borders of a nation’s interests are marked by the graves of its soldiers. Australians and Americans appreciate these interests in the Asia-Pacific – and have paid a high price to secure them.
OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH
The Cold War in Europe was very hot in the Asia-Pacific. The US-led security order in the Asia-Pacific, which relied on the pillar of the Australian-US alliance, created an opportunity for the greatest surge of economic growth that the world has ever seen.
The Australian-American protection of core principles, such as freedom of navigation and flight over open seas, has served Asian, Australian, American and global interests.
Many other countries in the region – Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, ASEAN partners – have appreciated the benefits of this Asia-Pacific order. India, another Asian power, is comfortable with this Asia-Pacific system too, and is likely to deepen its interconnections in years to come.
Therefore, China faces a strategic choice. China’s development has benefited from the security stability and economic opportunity offered by the United States and Australia – in concert with allies and partners.
If China pursues a new Asian security order that seeks to exclude the United States, China will face resistance and could reawaken old geopolitical rivalries. If China’s concept of world order is based on tributary relations – as Henry Kissinger suggests is China’s traditional practice – there will be tensions with the American-led security framework in the Asia-Pacific.
As one Chinese scholar told me, some Chinese feel that they cannot just accept the international architecture designed by the Americans – but the Chinese also are not confident that they know what a successor system should look like.
These topics should be part of senior strategic dialogues that the United States and Australia conduct with China. China is discovering that even first moves toward possible “Asian hegemony” will create problems that will plague the region and China.
The expanding shadow cast by a rising China has increased worries in Japan. Today’s Japan is a very different place from imperial Nippon, although I know that past Japanese aggression has left deep wounds.
Japanese democracy has reached great heights economically and technologically. But an ageing Japan is losing about 250,000 people a year. The primary aim of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic reforms is to enable Japan to maintain influence in decades to come.
Japan will value allies and partners who can help secure a peaceful order in the Asia-Pacific. The new US-Japan defense guidelines should be viewed in this context.
To sustain the US commitment to protect Japan – an assurance that has been a cornerstone of the post-World War II order – Japan needs to be able to help counter possible attacks on US forces.
The United States’ and Australia’s aim is to deter conflict, preserve the peace and build prosperity. The United States must remain the insurer of security in the Asia-Pacific, in close partnership with Australia and other allies.
The 21st century security order needs a partnership of mutual defence – a threat to none, but a reassurance to all. The United States, for its part, should work with partners to preserve the successful international architecture of the past 70 years, while adapting to economic, security, and political shifts.
Some strategists, analogising from history, assert the United States is a status quo power that must adapt to a rising power. This view fails to understand US history and nature. The United States, it is true, is now the established power in the Asia-Pacific and around the world. But the US is not a status quo power.
The United States is comfortable with a dynamic system. Our ethos as a country is to look ahead, to reinvent, and to seek a better world. We seek security, but we also prize liberty and value the potential of the common man to achieve uncommon dreams.
Robert Zoellick is a former US trade representative and a president of the World Bank. This is an extract from a speech delivered on Thursday at a US Studies Centre conference in Sydney.