Is China ready to rule the world? Not quite yet, argues Simon S.C. Tay. Both Asia and America need to be realistic about their limitations (and both sides now have more than a few of those) and concede that the future is not a zero-sum game. If both sides are interested in prosperity, the relationship will have to be more about cooperation than competition. And if our time is in indeed witnessing the long handoff of global power from one empire to another, the smoother the transition, the better.

Buzz Rating Hum Tay is a pretty connected guy, so members of the elite like Tommy Koh, an “ambassador-at-large” for Singapore, have been talking up the book. The Financial Times also covered it.

One-Breath Author Bio Simon Tay is an international-law professor at the University of Singapore, a former member of Parliament there, and he’s also spent considerable time in the States, teaching at Harvard and Yale

The Book, in His Own Words “The United States appears to be facing a relative decline in its powers, and its political will to engage with Asia and its influence also seem to be waning. At the same time, Asia is rising and developing a stronger sense of regionalism, with the result that the region can and will be more ready to take its own path. These trends are accelerating in the crisis – more quickly than either the Americans or Asians recognize and are ready for” (page vii).

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1. The divide is a long time coming. For more than a decade, Asian countries have been developing their own trade organizations, like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and “in place of American arrogance and demands, there is – to some observers, perhaps in increasing numbers – Chinese charm and largesse,” writes Tay. Commerce between the countries has unquestionably spiked. Intra-Asian trade now makes up more than half of trade in the region, up from just 37 percent 30 years ago …

What’s the Big Deal? For more than a decade, the U.S. and Asia have been growing more economically interdependent but simultaneously more antagonistic. Worryingly, in Tay’s estimation, the global financial crisis deepened the fault lines, and many in Asia are arguing that the time has come to assert a newfound independence. In this postcrisis era, “the two may end up more divided than united,” Tay writes, “and the poorer as a result.”

3. But not so fast. “The United States remains the final market for as much as 60 percent of Asian production,” says Tay – a staggering number, no doubt. And Asia still needs American power. Military rivalries between Asian nations (a slow-building arms race has long been under way across the region) are mixing with rising nationalism, and at the same time, someone will have to manage the emerging “cold war” bewteen the region’s two titans, China and India. There’s simply no one else on the planet with the might to do that other than the U.S.

2. … and then came the recent financial crisis. This sense of Asian self-reliance was reinforced by the global meltdown. Tay argues that there is a postcrisis sense among the elites throughout Asia that a fundamental rupture has debased American power. Hence, many believe their firms, countries, and the region as a whole ought to reshift its focus, develop a stronger consumer class, and zoom away from the U.S. without looking back. Tay says that “numbers in China and other larger Asian markets, especially from the second half of 2009 and into 2010,” show that the possibility could easily become reality. After all, consider the news from August that China surpassed Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy.

Swipe This Critique Tay’s book is contemplative and reasoned, which is welcome in light of the fierce debate raging over the rise of China (think Martin Jacques’s When China Rules the World or Susan Shirk’s China: A Fragile Superpower), which can stray into polemics rather than distill the complexities of the geopolitical moment. The book’s not without its flaws, however. Tay, who hails from Singapore (he was a former member of Parliament there) and has taught at Harvard and Yale, veers too often into jingoism (he says that globalization is now becoming “Global-as-Asian”), and his discussion about Asian-Americans leading the charge to improve U.S.-Asian relations is out of touch.