Saturday, January 12, 2008

Grasping the Mandate...

Gentle readers, forgive my prolonged absence from this journal; my travels in the East have preoccupied my attentions, but since I could never forgive myself if the pale flowers of your blossoming intellects were to wither, deprived of the light of my insightful commentary, I must once again lay electronic pen to virtual paper and illuminate your worldview with the following observations.

Wake up, Americans, and other denizens of the Western world. A new Empire arises in the East.

It is a testament to human frailty that most people live and think (and I use the expression in the loosest possible sense) in the present; worse yet, government in general and the military in particular are often guilty of thinking in the past.

Thus it is that we are much focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, one the breadbasket of the Middle East, the other a desolate realm of savage tribesmen and opium poppies.

These environs are only notable in that the world's sole superpower has entangled itself in a pair of guerrilla wars, pouring 450 billion dollars into Iraq alone, to accomplish what? Of small note is that world hunger could be eradicated at a cost of 13 billion dollars, eliminating much of the impetus for hungry, desperate men to take up arms, but I digress.

Was the irony of my previous paragraph lost on you, good Sir or Madam? World's sole superpower? Not anymore. The Bear grumbles in the North, but it is the Dragon who rises in the new millenium.

Consider the dynastic cycle, which for 6 millenia has formed the basis for Chinese political thought.

1. A corrupt regime plunges the nation into famine and instability.
2. The rulers lose the "Mandate of Heaven." Civil war ensues.
3. A new ruler comes to power over the bodies of his enemies.
4. Draconian rules quell the anarchy inherent in civil wars.
5. The population pulls together under their new yoke.
6. The rule of law prevails, fortunes rise, and restrictions are eased.
7. The "Mandate of Heaven" is restored. China enters a "Golden Age"
8. Generations of prosperity lead to indolence and corruption in the Empire.
9. The cycle repeats itself.

Since 1950, we have seen the first 5 phases of the dynastic cycle. Now, the Chinese leaders are prepared to grasp the "Mandate of Heaven" and usher in a Golden Age...

Previous dynasties, looking out upon the world, found it peopled with hairy savages whose wretched industries were a source of merriment in the court - "these people (speaking of the English) wish to trade with us, but what do they have that we want?" said one official of the early attempts by Westerners to exchange merchandise.

And so the Middle Kingdom closed its borders and turned its focus inward. That mistake will not be repeated this time. China will grow in this century, and will become a maritime power to reckon with.

For over a century, American warships have been tasked with two major assignments; keeping the sea lanes open to American merchant ships, and "power projection" - in short, showing the force of the Fleet, not in war games, but simply in port calls at distant places. Like Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Philippines. A quiet reminder to the Dragon and Tigers that like it or not, the Eagle can float an armada right up to your doorstep, 4.5 acres of sovereign American territory, packing more firepower than most of the worlds smaller countries.

Within a decade, we will be obliged to deal with the reality that a Chinese carrier task force may be making a port call in a distant harbor, such as Honolulu, or San Francisco. Or, that we may not be able to pull our carrier strike group into Singapore on the day we would like to, because the Chinese have already booked the piers and wharves for that day.

We may also learn to our dismay that in fact, we can't ever pull into Singapore, because a Chinese conglomerate has bought the port facilities for a few billion dollars, while we were busy frittering away our men and treasure on a fool's errand in the sand.

The world is changing, my friends, and we are not changing with it; instead, we are busy fighting yesterday's war today, with little thought to where we'll be tomorrow.

Cest'la guerre.

1 comment:

Charli Carpenter said...

Interesting argument. I'm not sure it's true that Washington is oblivious to China's rise. There is a lot of interest in this regard but your point is probably that the US is overconfident in thinking it can adequately balance against China's looming regional hegemony while spreading itself Rthin in stability and support operations.

Still, China's GDP is only 1/5 of the US's, and the US defense budget is between four and eight times larger than China's depending on how you measure it. Rajan Menon writers in the latest National Interest that the PLA's armaments lag significantly behind their US counterparts. So, I'm not so convinced the US has such reason to worry at this point.

The bigger flaw in your argument, I think, is that the Chinese "Mandate of Heaven" myth is necessarily an accurate way to make historical predicitions. This narrative is a means the Chinese use to interpret history, but it doesn't necessarily follow that history will always unfold in this way.

Signficantly, the cycle as passed down through millenia of Chinese imperial rule is primarily an inward-looking doctrine governing the relationship between China and its subjects.

The question in the 21st century is how the Chinese political system can be made to fit between its masses and the globalized world beyond China's borders.

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