Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 13:12 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 13:12 | SYDNEY

On China: Zakaria, Kagan, Fukuyama and Brooks


Sam Roggeveen


5 August 2008 12:27

The fault lines in one of the most important foreign policy debates of our time — how to deal with a rising China — are readily apparent in recent contributions from four big guns of the American political and foreign policy commentariat.

We've conducted this debate pretty thoroughly on The Interpreter too (read almost any of Hugh White's recent posts to find the thread of this discussion), and it is both reassuring and a little worrying to see the debate put in such familiar terms by these senior commentators. 'Reassuring' because it suggests we haven't missed too much, but 'worrying' because it implies nobody has a better idea of how to meet the challenge of China. Put crudely, the discussion remains one of engagement vs. containment. Almost everyone recommends a mix of the two, with the realists generally leaning more on containment, and idealists the other way.

Some will bridle at the word 'containment', but as Robert Kagan says in this webcam chat with Francis Fukuyama, the preferred phrase, 'hedging', is really just a euphemism for containment. Speaking of euphemisms, 'chat' is also a polite phrase for what becomes a rather heated exchange between Kagan and Fukuyama. If you're in a hurry, forward the recording to about the 25 minute mark, where Fukuyama compares China to Germany a century ago. There is then a spirited debate about whether the established powers at that time could have prevented World War I by accommodating a rising Germany. This will sound familiar to Hugh White, who has warned darkly about the consequences if we do not find a way to accommodate China.

Fareed Zakaria and David Brooks, meanwhile, each find reason to worry about the rise of China. Brooks thinks the ability of rising powers to veto collective action will stifle efforts to address global problems, and he seems to yearn for a simpler time when American leadership was unquestioned. Zakaria starts is also concerned about how to manage a multipolar world, but argues the US has done too little to prepare the diplomatic ground for this new balance of power.

It's all rich stuff, and a pretty good indicator of the kind of advice the next president is going to be presented with on China.

UPDATE: Thomas Barnett thinks David Brooks is talking out of his hat.