The current edition of Foreign Affairs contains an excellent little essay by Robert C. Altman on “Globalization in Retreat”. There is much to commend in the analysis of the argument – it gives a good overview of the recent progress of globalisation. Where I start to differ with Mr Altman is in the conclusions that he draws from this analysis.
In many respects, the conclusions drawn are highly influenced by his values. One of the values that Mr Altman appears to hold is that:
“It is increasingly clear that the U.S.-Chinese relationship will emerge as the most important bilateral one in the world. The two nations have similar geopolitical interests.”
I’m afraid that it isn’t that clear to me at all. I can see that the US will increasingly see the relationship with China as of critical importance, but it is by no means clear that China will think likewise. China is an important trading partner for the US, an important supplier of credit to the US financial system, and a key influencer over North Korea.
On the other hand, China trades about the same with the EU as it does with the US, is looking to diversify its foreign currency holdings away from the US dollar, and increasingly finds US criticism of its human rights record both inconsistent and hypocritical. If we view the world from Beijing, then there is much to argue that the important relationship for China will be that with India and Russia, particularly once the First Island Chain is secured.
Taking a long term perspective, there is much to ponder on how important the US will be to China.