Asia is Building Its Own World Order

CNN/ Newswire | 8/8/2017, 9:41 a.m.
Much has been made recently of how the policies of the Trump administration clash with the global conventional wisdom -- ...
Chinese premier Xi Jinping

Parag Khanna

(CNN) -- Much has been made recently of how the policies of the Trump administration clash with the global conventional wisdom -- and how these contrast with the new spirit of global leadership emanating from China.

As Trump touted protectionism and "America First," Chinese premier Xi Jinping defended globalization at Davos. While Trump was bashing the stinginess of the US' NATO on defense, China convened the "One Belt, One Road" summit of dozens of Eurasian nations to ratify the largest coordinated cross-border infrastructure spending initiative in human history.

And no sooner had Trump pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement than China and the EU signed a raft of new partnerships around clean energy.

With or without Trump, it is undeniable that a deep and broad strain in American society and leadership is skeptical about trade liberalization, multilateralism and binding global norms. Whereas once America was the missionary driver of all three, right now it formally rejects them.

This gap between America's preferred approaches and other stakeholders extends very strongly into the geopolitical arena as well.

Consider the latest developments in the standoff with North Korea. After it demonstrated long-range ballistic missile capability and the potential to send nuclear warheads on a much further trajectory than previously estimated, Asian neighbors are ever more vocal that diplomacy with Pyongyang -- even recognition of the regime in exchange for a moratorium on further nuclear tests -- is the obvious path forward.

Yet still, America's national security adviser H.R. McMaster and UN ambassador Nikki Haley continue to insist that military options are on the table, including pre-emptive strikes.

Then there is Russia. Germany's liberal FDP party leader Christian Lindner caused a stir last week by stating what was already on most Germans' minds: Antagonistic relations with Russia are not in Europe's interest, and reconciling may require accepting its 2014 seizure of Crimea.

Indeed, the German government is irate about new US sanctions that are as much about promoting American LNG exports to Europe as they are about punishing Russia.

And with respect to Iran, new sanctions in response to the country's expanding ballistic missile program have the immediate effect of pushing Iran and Russia closer together -- with Russia eager to expand its sales of tanks, jets and surface-to-air missiles to Tehran.

Additionally, of course, not removing sanctions on Iran would only give it greater incentive to accelerate its nuclear program, since its compliance with the Joint Plan of Action will have not been rewarded.

America's allies and partners don't just disagree with Washington's policies due to differences of opinion, but because US policies are backfiring nearly everywhere. America's abdication of credible global leadership is already resulting in significant shifts in how major domains of global activity are being managed by other powers.

Consider that China is now the top trading partner of 124 countries, more than twice as many (52) for whom the US is the most significant trade relationship, according to IMF data.

The more than one decade long "supercycle" in which voracious Asian consumption fueled peak commodities prices and enabled Latin America and Africa to notch sustained high growth rates is attributable to Chinese and Indian demand, not America's open markets.