Martin Jacques is the author of ‘When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order’ (Penguin, 2012), and a senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University.
To all intents and purposes, Europe – including the UK – is more or less frozen. It is still living in the dark shadow cast by the financial crisis. This is the era of stagnation, and it may last for another decade or more. So we can expect that not too much will happen in 2015 – except, of course, in terms of the political fallout from such a condition. While the US is clearly more dynamic, this is overshadowed by its tumultuous decline as a global power. Which brings us to China.
The preoccupation of the western media and financial analysts with China’s reduced economic growth rate has served, once more, to divert attention from the continuing enormity of the changes taking place in China: from the anti-corruption drive and judicial reforms, to the Shanghai free-trade zone and the rise of consumption. However, as 2014 drew to a close, what began to capture global attention was China’s growing dominance in east Asia.
We have heard much of the US ‘pivot’ towards Asia, but its objective of containing and constraining China’s rise in east Asia was always destined to fail. In typical American fashion, the strategy was heavily weighted towards the country’s military alliances and the military containment of China. Yet the reasons for China’s rise are overwhelmingly economic, and few of them military. Similarly, what is undercutting America’s position in east Asia is its rapidly diminishing economic position in the region. In short, the pivot was, and is, profoundly misconceived.
In 2015 we should expect the eclipse of America’s ambitions in the world’s most important region to accelerate. The recent launch, on China’s initiative, of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) – the founding members of which include all the Asean countries bar Indonesia, and a majority of south Asian countries including India – went ahead despite intense efforts by the US to persuade countries to desist from joining; it is surely only a matter of time before South Korea and Indonesia also sign up. It will also be worth bearing in mind China’s deepening economic relationships with the nations of central Asia, as it continues its efforts to open up western China to trade and develop the Silk Road. The AIIB and the new Brics Development Bank are set to dominate lending to the developing world, further marginalising both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank backed by the US and Japan. Meanwhile, it looks as though China’s trade initiative with Asean – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – will achieve lift-off before the American-inspired Trans-Pacific Partnership reaches fruition.
China’s growing dominance in East Asia, and the US’s increasingly subordinate position, will have huge global ramifications in 2015 and beyond.