We Westerners are a self-centred lot. So is everyone else, of course – but at least they don’t pretend otherwise. Even when we deign to acknowledge the rise of Asia we still find a way of bringing the story back to ourselves, with some variation on the theme of ‘East versus West’. It doesn’t occur to us that the story that really matters is ‘East versus East’.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is a rare exception – a Western journalist who doesn’t specialise in Asia, but sees the full significance of the growing tensions between rival Asian powers. Here, in the Telegraph, he focuses on the increasingly fraught relationship between China and Japan:
“What we are dealing with is a great power collision of epochal proportions.
“The Asian arms race is young, but clearly under way already. China has launched its first stealth drone, known as Sharp Sword. It developing indigenous aircraft carriers. Its ‘Two-Ocean-Strategy’ implies a fleet of five or six carrier battle groups.
“Japan is already rearming. It is building a de facto marine force. It has launched its largest warship since WW2, an 800-foot long DDH-class helicopter carrier, an aircraft carrier in all but name. Tokyo is developing its own version of the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency. Spending on warships and aircraft will jump by 23pc this year.”
An ongoing Asian arms race would have global economic implications:
“…an Asian arms race would almost certainly tackle some of the underlying causes of the long malaise in the Western economies. It would soak up much of the Asian ‘savings glut’ and the excess industrial capacity in China, and would help to narrow the perennial East-West trade gap.
“This would be an answer of sorts to the West’s ‘secular stagnation’ – to use the term of former US treasury secretary Larry Summers – or the liquidity trap as others call it.”
Evans-Pritchard emphasises the upside of this economic knock-on effect, but Western governments that continue to rely on Asian capital to fund their deficits will be in for a rude shock.
Then there’s an even greater risk – the danger of a Cold War in the Far East that turns hot:
“I was shown detailed maps tracing movements of Chinese DDG warships and Yuan-class submarines that left me deeply alarmed over where this is going. Japanese officials said Chinese naval officers on patrol were not responding to normal signals.
“‘What we don’t know is whether Chinese officers follow any international code of conduct? Do they understand what is banned and not banned? Does the Communist Party control their own military?’ said one defence planner.”
This is scary stuff – and it gets scarier:
“There is no red telephone between Tokyo and Beijing to defuse a crisis if it erupts, nothing comparable to the Washington-Moscow ‘hotline’ during the Cold War.
“While the US and China were able to calm the waters after an American military jet collided with a Chinese fighter in 2002 – killing the Chinese pilot – it is unlikely that any such mishap between China and Japan could be contained at this stage.”
The relationship between China and Japan is only one source of potential danger. There’s also Taiwan, India, south east Asia and the Korean peninsula to factor in (and let’s not forget Russia, which borders on both China and North Korea).
There are those who think that the rise of Asia means that America will decline in global significance; but while we can expect an end to the unipolar world that has existed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, America – as the only plausible peace keeper – will become more important than ever.