Samuel Marshall writes from Washington: Chimerica,or China and America, is the new dominant arrangement in world politics. If the 19th was Europe’s century, the 20th was America’s, the present century belongs to the two great Pacific powers. The American establishment is gradually withdrawing from Europe and the Middle East and focusing on East Asia. The European Union is a declining power and will be mired in economic problems for years to come. America is expected to be energy self-sufficient within a decade. So no need to prop up dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The US is not the only power disengaging from Europe. Russia is moving eastwards and sees its key future relationships involving China, Japan and South Korea.
The US is the main military power on the planet. China is catching up but is still a long way behind. It is building its own aircraft carrier but there are doubts about its ability to engineer thousands of moving parts to ensure a smooth operation. Tales of collapsing bridges, floors of apartment blocks dropping and train accidents reveal the level of corruption which is blighting the economy. So much money is being creamed off contracts that the end product becomes unsafe. China will become the largest economy in the world by 2020 but what does that mean? What percentage of annual output will not be fit for purpose? The new communist leadership in Beijing has a mammoth task to curb corruption. This is now so embedded in the genes of the system that it is impossible to excise it. The only hope is to halt its inexorable rise and then contain it. Scandals involving Party and government officials are now commonplace. They only problem is that they undermine the legitimacy of the Communist Party. Soon some blogger will call it the party of thieves and robbers.
Beijing is cracking down on the internet. Everyone is now to use their own names as user names. Censorship will become stricter. Since there is software which can circumvent the censors, this is like King Canute ordering the tide to recede. What does this new edit reveal about the Communist Party? It is increasingly scared of the people of China. This applies especially to the younger generation.
If China has problems so has America. Capitalism is in crisis and the fabled ‘can do’ society appears to be descending into the ‘can’t do’ society. However China and America are now in a symbiotic relationship: one cannot live without the other. The US is living beyond its means but China lends Washington the money to pay for Chinese goods. Without the US market the Chinese economy would descend into crisis. The ruling establishments in both countries are happy with the present situation. They have both become immensely rich over the last two decades and want to hang on to their wealth.
The Pentagon is always looking for the next war to ensure its budget keeps on growing. Defence spending will be cut but a new enemy has appeared: China. Expect the military to keep talking about the Chinese threat (in reality there is none) so as to boost spending. The new word is pivot. This is now east Asia down to Australia. The navy is building new bases and moving a lot of hardware there.
The Sino-American relationship is like a marriage. Both partners sparring for dominance and accusing the other of not respecting its interests and wishes from time to time. However they cannot get along without one another. They just have to find a solution to every little niggle which appears. That is their fate.