PRESIDENT Benigno S. Aquino III was probably too self-absorbed and removed (noynoying?) to notice what was happening in the world. For his part, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, never daunted by the new and fascinated by pagbabago (change), is eager to discern the writing on the wall. He will try to surf the new wave.
At this time when popular movies generate sequels and also prequels, I figure that I will be performing a useful service for my reader—and readers of the Manila Times—if I preview the international release today, April 4, 2017, of a new book with a big theme: the easternization of the world in the 21st century.
The book is Easternization: Asia’s Rise and America’s Decline from Obama to Trump and Beyond, by Gideon Rachman (Bodley Head, London, 2017).
Rachman is chief foreign affairs columnist of the Financial Times. He is the winner of the 2016 Orwell Prize and the European Press Prize for Commentator of the Year, which is known as the European Pulitzer.
Behind the march of events
I am fascinated by books that strive to describe the super-story that is happening above or underneath the march of events in the world. New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman did that service when he wrote about globalization in his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NewYork, 1999).
Friedman wrote that what has happened in the late 20th century is a profound change in the international system—the shift from the Cold War system which had reigned since the end of World War II, to a new international system called globalization, which came to the fore in the late 1980s and reigns today. Globalization, simply defined, means the inexorable integration of markets, transportation systems, and communications systems to a degree never known before.
I can cite other books that perform this service, like Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message (Mentor, New York, 1964), which opened the world of mass communications and the electronic age to my young mind in the 1970s; and perhaps the most ambitious output of an egghead: Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press, New York, 1992), which contended that the triumph of Western liberal democracy and the collapse of the Soviet Union, signal the end of history.
For now, let us focus on Gideon Rachman’s Easternization. It has an important story to tell.
That story says the center of gravity of the world is shifting from West to East. Filipinos better take note, because we are living in the East.
Easternization will be a shock to Filipinos, most of whom got used to the Westernization of their country and their culture over the course of generations. Living with the reverse could be traumatic for some of us. Learning Mandarin will be daunting.
I should disclose that I am still days away from getting my copy of Easternization (I have ordered it through the usual channels, which take a few days to give birth). For now, I am blurting out my interest in the book based on several notices that I have read in social media, notably the following:
1.A long article in the Atlantic magazine (March 29, 2017), entitled “What a World Led by China Might Look Like,” by Uri Friedman. It includes an interview of Gideon Rachman, with explanations in his own words of what he means by “Easternization”.
2.A positive review of Easternization in the Guardian of London (February 6, 2017), which gives Rachman and his analysis high praise.
From these preview articles, I can already tell that the book will not be swallowed in one sitting or one gulp.
It’s probably premature for me to attempt this column, but my modest aim here is only to alert readers about the book. And I want to call attention to Rachman’s book, because it might help Filipinos understand the worldview of their President and his keen interest in forging good relations with China and Russia as well.
What is easternization?
In Easternization, Rachman views Donald Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again” as a promise to reverse the process of Easternization.
In his Atlantic interview, Rachman explained to Uri Friedman what he means by the concept. He said:
“What I mean by Easternization is the shift of economic power to Asia and, with that, the shift of political power to the East. And I think that Trump and the many Americans who voted for him, and maybe even some who didn’t, are unsettled by that process. Certainly, Trump doesn’t accept it in any way as natural or inevitable that America’s position as the dominant economic and political power would erode. There was definitely a backward-looking nostalgic element to the ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan—back to the period when America was the dominant power, the dominant economy, when the world respected American power. Probably the peak of that was the 1950s.
“Sometimes Trump explicitly links this to the rise of Asia, as when he says that China has been ‘raping’ the United States.
“Trumpism, insofar as it’s a coherent ideology, is very much based on the premise that Americans made a big mistake encouraging the rise of Asia economically.”
To the Guardian reviewer, Martin Jacques. other analysts saw the rise of China and the power shift ahead of Rachman. Jacques wrote:
“His theme is not new; indeed, the book is something of a latecomer in this argument. But he pursues this fundamental truth with an impressive single-mindedness and explores its ramifications from Southeast Asia and Russia to Europe and the Middle East in an insightful manner, often providing little nuggets of revealing and unexpected information. Since the financial crisis, the West’s decline and China’s rise have accelerated, though many could be forgiven for thinking the opposite was the case given the constant refrains about China’s economic ‘difficulties’. Rachman, rightly, will have none of it. And he demonstrates how, by the year, the world is being redrawn in the most profound ways by this shift in power.”
US politicians in denial
To Rachman, the US resistance to the power shift is denial of the blatantly obvious.
Beneath the radar, Obama tacitly accepted the reality but could not admit it because no major US politician can, it is too dangerous for their reputation.
Europe, on the other hand, has acquiesced to the new reality.
President Xi’s visit to the US
President Xi Jinping visits the US this week, and he will have his first meeting with Donald Trump.
Relations between China and the US have deteriorated since 2010 as America came to see China as a threat to its global primacy and China has begun to seek an enhanced role in East Asia.
Like the rest of the world, Rachman is concerned that this conflict could result in a catastrophic war.
For the greater part of his book, Rachman suggests that the shift in power from West to East is inevitable and that everyone, including the US, must get used to it. Trump will squirm.
But in his conclusion, Rachman offers a seeming contradiction. He argues that the US should resist China’s rise for as long as it can, or at least until China has a different kind of governance system, but which many experts think is unlikely.
Finally, the process of Easternization may actually be accelerating under Trump, according to Rachman.
He wrote: “That is the paradoxical result of an America that looks much less reliable. Allies don’t know whether they can trust Trump. Some allies, like Japan, who have absolutely no alternative to America, have rushed to embrace him…”
The rest of the world will have their fingers crossed while Xi is talking with Trump in Palm Beach.