Easternisation. War and Peace in the Asia Century by Gideon Rachman
The author, Gideon Rachman, is the chief foreign affairs columnist of the Financial Times. This book was published in 2016, the title is simply and eloquently “Easternisation”, by which the author means that the global power centre is shifting from the West to the East. The starting point of this change was the global economic crisis, which meant a decline for the West and a strengthening for the East. Rachman considers that the strongest power is China, which may become the new global power centre, and he explores the fact of the West-East shift accordingly, from the point of view of America, Latin-America, Europe, Russia, Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, Southeast Asia and Australia, too. Rachman highlights correlations and significant facts regarding regions and countries that support the presumption of “Easternisation”.
Author: Alexandra Zoltai
The author starts the book with a short historical overview, in which he examines the past years from the point of view of China. He moves from western imperialism up to 2014, when the IMF announced that, measured in terms of purchasing power, China was the world’s largest economy. Then he deals with those causes and conflicts that in his opinion resulted in the weakening of the Western world. Finally, Rachman explains the notion of “divided East” from the aspect of emerging powers and Western allies. The book is organised in two parts. In the first part, we can read about the Asian situation in relation with “Easternisation”; in the second part, he explores the phenomenon, process and impacts of the shift to the East.
FROM WEST TO EAST
Rachman reckons that one of the reasons of the end of Western-centredness lies in the quickly developing Asian cities like Shanghai and Singapore. He also supports his views with the cycles that can be observed in Chinese history, when dynasties rose and declined. The author compares it to American history that shows much more linearity. He puts the beginning of the West’s domination to the end of the 1400s, when the period of European colonisation started, the process of which is discussed through several pages stressing that Japan was the only colonist in Asia.
According to Rachman, the processes after the world wars laid the foundations for shifting the balance of power to Asia, and he emphasises two significant aspects. The first is that America became a global power and a dominant political and military power in the Pacific area of Asia, took Japan under its control and participated in the Korean and Vietnam wars. He considers that the second aspect was that China and India started to concentrate on their home affairs and that a dynamic economic development started.
The USA became the biggest economic power in the world in 1871, it kept this status until 2014, when China took this place. This raises questions about how long the USA can maintain its political hegemony.
RISK OF WAR
Since World War II, the situation has been constantly escalating in the East Asian region, to such an extent that by 2015 the American, Japanese and Chinese naval and air forces pose a constant challenge for each other in the fields of navigation and aviation in the debated areas (East and South Chinese Sea). The author treats the states in the region and their relations with China one after another considering that each can become a source of conflict, but the big question is as to what the real plans of China are. May it be preparing for war with its neighbours or even with the Unites States? What does it exactly mean to be an emerging superpower in the 21st century?
AN END TO HIDE AND BIDE
The title of the chapter refers to the 24-character foreign policy directive that reminds Chinese leadership to hide their capabilities and wait for the right time. But the author thinks this era ended with the coming to power of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The chapter deals with the segments of the President’s “Chinese dream” foreign policy announced in 2012, which envisages a growingly confident China acting as a global power. At the same time, the author remembers to mention the internal problems of China, like corruption and the slow-down of economic growth. which endanger the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party, and mentions the “colour” revolutions in several countries, which also can pose possible dangers for the Chinese leaders.
The Pivot to Asia policy announced during Barack Obama’s presidency and Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, was the most important reaction from the USA. This means a retreat from the Middle East and a turn to East Asia and emerging China. This step, however, was widely criticised, because the military aspect became more emphatic and American legislation failed to take the fact into consideration that China threatened American power mainly in economic terms, which was clearly proven by the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2015. America and its allies announced in reply the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The Obama administration intended to assign a major role to Japan, one of the most important allies in East Asia, which also has a very important balancing role against China.
JAPANESE AND KOREAN DILEMMAS
The relationships between Japan, the two Koreas and China are troubled with conflicts. Japan’s colonisation endeavours shadow its relations with the other countries even today. This chapter focusses mainly on Japan and its prime minister, Shinzo Abe, his person and the ambivalent approaches towards him, and also the evolution of his relationship with South Korea. The author also highlights the role of China in relation with North Korea, and points out that South Korea under Park Geun-hye’s presidency developed an increasingly close relationship with China, which raised concerns in Tokyo and Washington alike.
The most significant danger for America and Japan is posed by the growingly confident China’s policy that tries and gains more influence in East Asia, where conflicts might arise among the countries as a result.
BATTLE FOR SOUTHEAST ASIA
Rachman starts presenting the significance of Southeast Asia by introducing the Strait of Malacca, which has great strategic importance, because the raw materials feeding Chinese industry arrive to the country through it, so in case of a Chinese conflict, America could close the Strait creating a first mover advantage. This is why Singapore is maintaining a balancing policy between the West and the East, which could easily lead to offending one side.
Then he goes on to discuss the relationship between ASEAN and China and points out Chinese territorial claims and building artificial islands. At the end of the chapter the author places Australia in the East-West context. Although the country has western values, still begins to gradually come under the influence of China, because it has a fairly significant economic role. Therefore, it struggles with the serious dilemma whether to orientate towards the East or to the West.
INDIA, THE SECOND ASIAN SUPERPOWER
The author starts the chapter with the comparison of India and China, then adds that although there are differences, India’s role still depends on how the country can position itself and become a leading power under Modi’s presidency. The question of the increasing Hindu nationalism that is gaining ground, and the Indian-Pakistani relations are also covered. This leads to India’s relationship with China, because China is on good terms with Pakistan. The border disputes between India and China, that burdens their relations, should neither be left out of consideration. Rachman also makes the point that all three countries are nuclear powers, which implies significant danger in the case of a conflict.
He explores India’s relationships with countries in East Asia and South Asia, its influence in Africa, and highlights relations with America and Japan. Finally, he comes to the conclusion that China’s growing influence will encourage India, Japan and America to cooperate more closely in order to create a counter-weight axis.
QUESTION OF AMERICAN POWER
After the first part, the author moves away from Asia and continues examining the question of the shift to the East from the points of view of other regions and countries. First, he analyses the situation of the USA, the other most important actor in this question beside Asia. He gives account on the country’s role and influence in the world. The author talks about the Obama administration with criticism and considers its leadership weak. Several times Obama did not want to cross that certain “red line”, which—in Rachman’s opinion—lead to the decline of American hegemony. This is partly the cause of the change in foreign policy that we usually refer to as the Pivot to Asia. It aims to take on the role of balancer in the Asian Pacific region in order to contain China’s increasing influence.
The author also examines the structure of the NATO, America’s position within it and the changes that it wants to implement. As a summary, he shares his opinion that the number of countries questioning the USA’s ambitions to act for the leading position is growing all around the world, which is clearly caused by the USA’s unwillingness to engage in full military intervention in the Middle East, which, as a result, has sunk into violent anarchy.
MIDDLE EAST – THE CRUMBLING OF THE WESTERN ORDER
Rachman discusses US and Russian interventions in the Middle East countries, the significance and role of those countries in the region. He gives extra emphasis on the importance of the personality of Khadhafi and Assad in the region, and also sheds light on past events and current conflicts.
At the end of the chapter, the question of Israel is discussed with more emphasis. The author considers Israel a little island of the western world in the Middle East, because it maintains significant relationships with the USA, while China plays an increasingly important role in its foreign policy at the same time. In Rachman’s opinion, the Middle East has played a major role in the current Eastward shift in power, and the decline of America, Europe and the Western world.
EUROPE AND ITS WELL-SEALED WINDOWS
In this chapter the author gives an overview of recessions in Europe (Italy, Greece), and highlights the leading power of France and Germany at the beginning. Later he observes that as a result of the global economic crisis the European power has definitively moved to Berlin, and that after the Euro crisis everybody considers Germany the leader of Europe. The crisis in the Middle East generated a protracted problem that Europe has to face, namely migration.
According to Rachman, the biggest problem is the erosion of European armies, which led to fully entrusting the NATO with Europe’s security and protection. He considers this policy unsustainable. Partly this is why Europe has to face the Russian threat.
RUSSIA TURNS EAST
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Europe regarded Russia as an entity that had lost its global power and had no other option that to turn west and take western models to rely on. But the plan of the Eurasian Union failed when Ukraine opened up towards the European Union, then the conflict between the two countries over the Crimean Peninsula caused again a situation resembling the cold war era. Thus, Putin had to come up with his own turn toward Asia approach, because western countries introduced severe sanctions against Russia, and the attempt to join the western world and blend in with it proved to be a failure after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
In 2014 Putin visited China and agreed on a closer cooperation between the two countries, which appears to be a “win-win” relationship, because Russia helps feed China’s appetite for energy, and that is profitable for the Russian economy. The improving relationships of the two countries pose a new strategic, economic and ideological challenge for the world lead by America.
This chapter gives details about Ukraine, Turkey, and Hungary, and the leaders of these countries. Rachman talks about Ukraine’s bitterness about being squeezed between western and eastern interest spheres, in the shadow of corruption and revolutions, and facing the increasing Russian aggression. Turkey fights similar dilemmas with the western and eastern world. But the country is gradually moving away from the West since Erdogan came to power. He would like to restore the past mightiness of the Ottoman Empire and give back the country its Muslim heritage.
In the author’s opinion, Hungary during the period of Viktor Orbán as prime minister is taking an authoritarian turn, and its new constitution limits the freedom of the media, due to which the relationship between Budapest and Brussels became considerably tense. The fence built to stop the refugee flow was sharply criticised by liberals, but the European nationalistic and conservative political powers regard it as a model to be followed.
Although different in nature, the processes going on in Hungary, Turkey and Ukraine clearly signal the declining strength of the European Union, the main pillar of westernisation.
AFRICA AND SOUTH AMERICA
Rachman thinks that Obama’s personality gave an excellent opportunity for America to build good relationships with Africa, but he considers that it is a completely different question what has been realised from that. Where America and the Western world saw no hope, China discovers hidden opportunity. Since China’s industry is rapidly growing, it needs raw materials that Africa is abundant in; Africa needs infrastructure investments that are being sought by Chinese companies. This two-way trade with Africa grew twenty-fold between 2000 and 2010, and China became the largest economic partner for the black continent.
The Latin American countries have always felt that they live in the shadow of the US economy, but now they have discovered that they also have opportunity, which they have found in China.
As a result, Japan has taken steps to increase its influence in two regions, and a competition with China has started. Nevertheless, for the countries of the region the Chinese non-intervention policy is much more acceptable. The author also deals with the BRICS founded by China, which includes the two most influential countries of Latin America and Africa: Brazil and the South African Republic.
THE WEST’S INSTITUTIONS
This chapter examines why the world still thinks that certain Western institutions are determinant for the global economic and political order. These include, among others, the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, and some smaller profile organisations like Swift, ICANN and FIFA. Although these organisations have less political influence, their international control and management still became significant measurements for prestige and power. Therefore, the author attributes a major role to the economic and political institutions, which can be considered inherent in power. Consequently, the main question is when these institutions will be born in or moved to Asia.
In his book, Gideon Rachman formulates the statement that Western dominance and power is shifting East and to Asia. He regards China to be most likely to take over the American hegemony, so he mainly focuses on this country. Rachman attempts to support and explain these statements in his excellent and well-structured book, which gives a masterly account on the currently ongoing transformations in the international balance of power.
He considers the 2008 global economic crisis the major turning point, but also highlights deeper causes, like America’s non-intervention in the Middle East and the weakness of the Obama administration. He explores his thesis starting from Asia, through the most significant countries, with special focus on China and its two largest rivals: Japan and India. Then gradually takes a more distant view, and observes the question of “easternisation” from a global perspective while dealing with Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the United States. In each of his accounts he highlights that the majority of countries have disappointed in western power led by the USA and turn to the East as an alternative, which China is attempting to take advantage of.
RACHMAN, Gideon: Easternisation. War and Peace in the Asian Century. London, The Bodley Head London, 2016.
Number of pages: 336
Publishing company: Other Press Published: 4th April 2017