It is not for the likes of me, a rank amateur outsider with minimal knowledge, to be too specific in my views of international affairs – but I do, so there! I suppose my only defence is that I usually ‘fess up to my guesswork and at least you lot do not have to buy me pints of beer in the Saloon Bar as I honk out my opinions. But all that said, I have muttered, many a time and oft’, that American statecraft needs to be exceedingly subtle and intelligent as it faces up to its next big ‘21st century championship contest’, this time with China. So far, the auguries are not good!
In The Telegraph Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (A E-P) points an accusatory finger at ‘ugly American’ diplomacy used in a futile attempt to thwart Chinese plans to set up an international bank (AIIB) in competition to the IMF and the World Bank, both of which are, in effect, American satraps:
Under the Bretton Woods carve-up over the last seventy years, World Bank chiefs are always American by droit de seigneur, and all IMF chiefs are European. The US clings steadfastly to its IMF veto. Capitol Hill has yet to ratify a reform of the IMF quota system that currently gives the US four times as much power as China, or approve a badly-needed expansion of IMF funding.
It is precisely the American policy of refusing to budge an inch against growing Chinese pressure that is likely to cause increasing tensions in the future. The fact, as plain as a boil on your nose, is that China is, like Topsy, growing and growing. It is madness to oppose each and every example of its very natural tendency to flex its muscles. It is double madness to force your allies into choosing between you and China as it does so. Thus, as A E-P points out, hissy-fits in Washington as they tried – and failed! - to stop allies from joining the AIIB merely result in the USA looking both foolish and feeble. It reminds him of earlier American mistakes with China:
One is left breathless at the historical folly of such a view in any case. As Henry Kissinger told Caixin magazine this week, the greater danger is that the US fails to accommodate the rise of China in an enlightened fashion, repeating errors made by the status quo powers faced with a prickly Germany before the First World War.
There are echoes of the Korean War in this Atlantic spat, though thankfully the stakes are less violent today. Britain tried to restrain General Douglas MacArthur and Washington's hawks as they sent US forces charging through North Korea to the Yalu River and the Manchurian border in 1950, warning that it would force China to respond.
MacArthur's contemptuous riposte was to liken British reflexes to the betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich, of "desiring to appease the Chinese Communists by giving them a strip of Northern Korea." The British experts were right. China threw four armies across the Yalu. America had arrogantly stumbled into a shooting war with the Chinese revolution, a cataclysmic mistake.
It is fair to say that the late Gen. MacArthur actually makes Obama look slightly intelligent – but only just! By all means, Mr. President, pick a fight with the likes of ISIS if you really, really must but do not think twice before having a go at China – THINK SEVERAL TIMES OVER – and then think again! And whatever you do, handle your allies with care, you may need them one day.
I should add in order to be clear that I do not believe in Chinese invincibility and super intelligence. They are human and as prone to error as all of us. In a way, of course, that makes them potentially twice as dangerous. I suspect that they, too, require a greater number of cool, analytical minds in their policy-making circles lest arrogance overtakes patient craft.