This panel was part of Carnegie Council's Global Ethics Fellows Fifth Annual Conference, "An Ethical Dialogue between Asia and the West: Philosophical Traditions, Moral Contentions, and the Future of US-Asia Relations." The Conference took place in New York City, October 20-23, 2015.
DEVIN STEWART: I'm Devin Stewart from Carnegie Council. Welcome to "American Century, Asian Century, or Nobody's Century?"
The idea of this panel today was to try to keep it in the Carnegie Council family, so to speak, and to have three Carnegie-affiliated people from very, very different perspectives tackle and take apart a question that is still on the minds of a lot of people, even though it is a question that has been around for at least a decade, maybe two decades: whether the American century is coming to a sunset—is it coming to a close and, if so, is something coming in its place? Is something taking its place?
Given the rise of China and the relative growth in East Asia and South Asia, as well as relative stability compared to the rest of the world, one might think, okay, so the Asian century is a a reasonable candidate. Our professors and the Global Ethics Fellows and the Ethics Fellows for the Future have been looking at this question all summer, as well, in a virtual online course that we put together on this very question. There are a lot of people ready to fire away on their own perspectives. If I could summarize, there is a lot of question about what "Asia" even means. Is it coherent or not?
As I have been hearing from people in this group today, this question, although it may sound like a cliché, is still on the minds of a lot of people. I think even Joseph Nye just did another piece on this fairly recently.
It is a real pleasure to have these three wonderful people on the stage. Just to introduce them very quickly, Zachary Karabell is a Carnegie Council trustee. He is president of River Twice Research. I want to kind of give you a flavor. He has described himself as an edgy optimist. It is easy to get into feeling gloomy about the future, but after Robert Thurman's lecture, we are all really optimistic now. Part of this panel is going to look at the problems and the challenges and the lack of coherence in a rising Asia. But maybe Zachary can give us a foil to that.
Jiyoung Song has come from Singapore to join us. She is a professor at Singapore Management University. She is also a Carnegie Council Global Ethics Fellow. She hosted some of our dialogues, including one with me, in Singapore. So thank you very much for that, Jiyoung. She is also a leading voice in Asia on human rights and migration. Those happen to be her areas of expertise. I think she is maybe a bit of a skeptic. We will see.
Then my friend Joshua Eisenman is professor at the University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School, as well as another Carnegie Council Global Ethics Fellow. He is an unabashed liberal, in the classic sense. His specialty is looking at China's impact and influence in the developing world. He is working on the third book on that topic, I believe. That is more meat for future events, hopefully.
DEVIN STEWART: I am going to put the first big question and ask Zachary to lead us in this exploration. Let's just cut to the chase: Are we seeing the emergence of an Asian century or are we just going to see more of the same, of an American century, or is it nobody's century? What do you see, and why do you see that?
ZACHARY KARABELL: Thanks, all.
When Henry Luce coined the term "American century" in the early 1940s, 40 percent of the century was already done. Already by the 1970s, people were talking about the end of it. So it was a pretty truncated century. If the definition of a century, which, last I checked, was relatively not disputable, is 100 years, then the American century lasted a whole lot less than that.
We have spoken about this, and it is certainly a useful way of thinking about what is the most dominant thing that is shaping any given moment in time. But I am not clear that there ever was one, to the degree that we thought. There has clearly been kind of a Western 200-year shaping of the global rules of intercourse between the state system, treaties, trade. In that sense, the entire world has become a world either shaped by 19th-century Europeans in terms of concepts of law and treaties and state relations—some of that predates, but a lot of the framework that we all function in is pretty much true everywhere in the world. Even if you are North Korea, you are, in some sense, working through or against the same set of institutions that everybody else is working through or against.
In that respect, I don't see any really immediate change in that. The fact that China sets up its own version of a development bank is different—it is a different bank; it has different charters and different funding—but it is still a development bank that kind of looks like a development bank. It doesn't look like some completely new sui generis creation to fund infrastructure projects. It is just their way of funding infrastructure projects.
I think more important is, whatever the shape of the next 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 years, right now there is no evidence of some massive shift in the way international relations, as understood as international relations, is going to be conducted, and that follows a kind of Western script. So even if it is China taking some of the lead in that script in a certain region or states competing in Asia over who is going to dominate that region, or whether or not anyone is going to dominate that region, it is going to be done through, I think, a very familiar set of institutions, all of which have their derivation in the 1940s and 1950s.
It is possible that some sort of Buddhist higher consciousness à la Robert Thurman is going to take over and become the norm of the way in which we all interact globally—and that would be revolutionary and lovely and eye-opening and extraordinary, and absolutely tectonically different than anything which we currently do—but I am not holding my breath. And I don't mean that in any disrespect. I think it would be great if we could all sit down and say, "Om mani padme hum," before we dealt with nuclear weapons, but I don't think that is happening right now.
So I don't know who is going to dominate. I don't know if anyone is going to dominate. I am not sure we ever dominated the way in which we think we dominated. It is convenient now to kind of "nostalgize," but I think anybody who has thought about these things—yes, for like 15 minutes in human existence between 1945 and maybe the mid-1950s, when the United States accounted for 50 percent of all global industrial output, because Europe was a wreck and Japan was destroyed and China was engaged in a massive internecine civil war, the United States had preponderant power and also a military that was still standing. Other than that, there has never been this easy time of America bestriding the world like a colossus, except in our own self-imagination and, to some degree, others' convenient self-imagining.
I am going to leave it at that.
DEVIN STEWART: So it sounds a little bit like nobody's?
ZACHARY KARABELL: Yes, although again with rules that are written by Westerners. I think some of the animus toward some of the challenge and some of the frustration is, you write the rules in your language with your cultural mores and you develop some embedded advantages in that. Just like the dollar being a global currency, the United States has embedded advantages that are not likely to change soon. The dollar is certainly part of that.
But I am just skeptical of whether it was ever anyone's century in the first place. I think things have always been messier than we retroactively place them.
That is kind of a non-answer to your simple challenge.
DEVIN STEWART: Very thorough. That is very fair.
Jiyoung, do you want to make more of a stand or are you going to be as skeptical?
JIYOUNG SONG: I have a clear argument. I think it is going to be an American century for the next 50 years, at least, if not for the next century, not because of the military expansion, but by their democratic values and normative power.
You introduced me as a migration expert. I have been looking at how people move, why people move around the world. There is clear evidence that the members of CPC (Communist Party of China) send their kids to the United States or to Western universities in Europe. The top elite don't send their kids to Peking or Tsinghua universities. The same with other Asian elites. They still believe the educational system is far better in the West. They don't have confidence in their own education or economic or political systems. I take the cue from where they send their kids for their education or employment opportunities.
Also America will still lead the normative power in international affairs for the next 50 years, at least.
DEVIN STEWART: They send their kids and their money here.
JIYOUNG SONG: Their money, too, yes. They have a huge investment in the West.
DEVIN STEWART: Specifically where we are standing right now—not this building, but—
JIYOUNG SONG: We also hear a lot about the ghost towns in China.
DEVIN STEWART: Run-down real estate.
JIYOUNG SONG: Yes.
DEVIN STEWART: How about you, Josh?
JOSHUA EISENMAN: Certainly there is plenty of Chinese investment in Texas. It is not just New York; it is not just Los Angeles. That suggests something.
But maybe I could start by saying that when we think of the Asian century, I think immediately, at least in my case, I tend to think of East Asia, Northeast Asia in particular. I think of the Korean experience, the Japanese experience, the Chinese experience, the Taiwanese experience. Demographically these are all very old countries. They are getting older. So their peak has, to some degree, passed them, and maybe will return, but demographically speaking, being old and, in China's case, male is not a way to promote reform. It just doesn't tend to happen.
So for this very basic demographic reason, I don't see that there will be an East Asian century, a Northeast Asian century. Now, maybe there will be in a place like Indonesia or the Philippines, which is growing, which does have a young and vibrant population. But maybe that is not what we think about in the top of our minds when we ask this question. We may have an Asian century, but it is not going to be the same Asian century that we may perceive at the beginning of the conversation.
There is a lot of information—Devin Stewart is a good friend of mine and turned me on to this idea of the gravity theory of trade. The gravity theory of trade also suggests that if trade is falling rapidly, that would suggest that the economy of China is shrinking, or at least not growing nearly as fast. So I would be very dubious of the numbers. I see a lot of money flowing out of China, in a variety of different ways. This does not suggest that the economy is very healthy and that people have confidence in it.
So I think that we would be fools to suggest that the last 30 years of Chinese economic growth are going to reflect the next 30 years. And these new realities are going to alter whether or not China can indeed be the leader of an Asian century, which, as the historically most important country in Asia, it has.
If we add on to that pronouncements by Xi Jinping about "Asia for the Asians"—I don't know if you have heard this term that he coined. He was talking about Asia for the Asians. And it kind of ended with a thud. The Asian countries didn't respond and say, "Great, Asia for Asians. Let's throw these U.S. SOBs out." That was not their response.
In fact, what is interesting is that if you go back to the late 1990s, you have this discussion about, when are Asians going to throw the United States out of Asia? When is our time going to come to an end? In fact, I would say Xi Jinping's policies over the last few years—nobody is asking that question. In fact, as we heard today, delegations from Vietnam and other places are showing up in America saying, "Please don't leave. We would like to do more kind of security-oriented, more trade. We would like to keep you here." This is something that I think has changed. It does suggest, as Professor Song rightfully said, that the American presence is going to be there for the long haul.
I would say these three reasons suggest that we definitely won't see a Northeast Asian century, but we may see different points of leadership in Asia, but probably not in Northeast Asia.
JIYOUNG SONG: May I make a point? An American century is not automatically guaranteed. It is only if Americans stick to their own fundamental values, like liberal values and human rights and democracy, equal opportunity, respect for human values as an individual. If you don't stick to it—you can see the changes in the public discourses in international affairs. When American delegations go to Asian states, they don't always include human rights issues in their agendas when they are talking to the heads of states, partly because of 9/11. We talked about this earlier today. There is a—maybe "demise" is an exaggeration, but there is a declining mention and focus on liberal values in international relations put forward by the United States and other Western states.
JOSHUA EISENMAN: I want to associate myself with those comments. I think that she is right on, exactly correct. I think the way that the United States can lead is by leading, as you have said, Devin, as an exemplar, by not abandoning our values, but by defending them vigorously, for the reasons Professor Song has just said.
DEVIN STEWART: Any follow-up, Zachary?
ZACHARY KARABELL: I probably disagree with some of this, in that with human rights as an aspect of political dialogue, it wasn't really prominent in the United States in the way that we think about it now until the 1970s. The State Department didn't have a human rights-level secretary position until—I thought it was like the late 1980s. I am not exactly sure when—or maybe in the 1990s, when there was an assistant secretary of state for human rights. It certainly wasn't part of the dialogue in the 1950s and 1960s. It wasn't really part of anyone's dialogue. There was missionary activity, which sometimes drew in political activity, but it wasn't really part of diplomacy or interstate relations.
I am more of a skeptic in this. I think the United States is, like most countries, because of its history now, rather compromised in its ability to act as that kind of exemplar.
One of the things that I do think is unequivocally going to be true of the next 50 years is that—the past 15 years since 9/11—and not having anything to do with it; more since China joined the WTO [World Trade Organization]—have seen, as you all know, more people emerge out of agrarian poverty more rapidly than has ever happened in human history. Given that the population of the planet is likely to crest at some point in the next 20 or 30 years and probably decrease more rapidly than we think, it will probably be a singular moment. We will all be dead before we can make that statement, but it will be—this is an unusual time in that you have maybe a couple billion people entering something resembling a monetary globalized economy with consumption driving it, irrespective of ideology. Homes, apartments, caloric affluence, or at least caloric sufficiency, some degree of autonomy over their own living space and occupation—it is certainly true in China now, even with the repression. There is much more individual autonomy than there would have been at any point in the past several hundred years.
I think that is a profound driver. I am not sure what America itself can do in that equation.
The final point of this is, as you all know, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the Charter of the United Nations, devoted equal amounts of attention to economic rights and rights of personal security, material abundance, as it did to free speech and elections and all that. The Chinese government has pushed back a lot when it is challenged about human rights, saying, "Hey, wait a minute, we have raised all these people out of poverty." I am much more sympathetic to that as a "no one does everything all the time." There was a real understanding in the late 1940s that without those aspects, all the free speech in the world wasn't going to get you to the human rights equation that we thought was vital.
So, yes, it will be a question of whether or not China and a lot of other governments turn more toward what we have focused on, the political rights. But again, I find America's agency in this to be compromised by things like drone warfare. What are we going to do when the Chinese turn around and, say, launch a drone against Dar es Salaam because they don't like a group that is claiming that they want to get China out of Tibet. What moral leg are we going to invoke by saying, "Oh, you can't do that. Only we can determine who we think is a proximate threat to our security. You're not allowed to do so." And maybe we would be right. I just don't know how we are going to do it. I don't know what body and corpus of behavior we are going to rely on.
So I am more skeptical of our role in this.
JOSHUA EISENMAN: It seems to me the problem is one of degree. Nobody, I think—certainly not me — would contest the fact that the United States has done things which are unsavory in many cases—drone warfare, some cases—I am not an expert in U.S. foreign policy, but I am an American, so I can see those cases. But I think the level of the degree is different. And size matters when it comes to these types of things. China's behavior in this regard—I would say the scale is much, much larger. That needs to be considered as we discuss this question.
Just to pick a bit of a fight, add a little fireworks, at this moment in history, I would not say that individual autonomy in China is the greatest it has been in decades. I don't see that to be the case. I see that we have actually seen over the last three to four years a rollback in terms of individual autonomy that Chinese people thought they had on the Internet only a few years ago. So it seems to me that we shouldn't take for granted that China will continue along the path of increased individual autonomy.
JIYOUNG SONG: I think there is a policy question when we talk about Asia and U.S. policies or U.S. media or just a general audience. China is definitely a big pie, but China is not Asia. There are other Asian countries. A U.S. pivot to Asia is a good initiative. They later changed the name to a rebalancing of Asia, because you also need to focus on the Middle East and other parts of the world as well.
Making new friends—the United States is very good at this, distinguishing friends, allies, and enemies. Also you have to look into the fact that most Asian countries want to make friends with the United States, and you should make full use of it, not just focusing on China, but the neighboring states, states in Southeast Asia and other Northeast Asian states. The United States is a lot better positioned than China.
ZACHARY KARABELL: Absolutely. But even there, Indonesia, with 250 million people and a reformist government, but an embedded military and its own ethnic dynamics between Malay and the rest—I don't know what the United States has to contribute meaningfully in that, given our current profile in the world.
I respect the degree to which the United States has stood for something. I just think that unlike 40 or 50 years ago, like everybody, we are compromised by our own history. I am not really saying that in a condemnatory way. I am just saying that as in—the problem with these dialogues is that it is rarely country A or groups sit down with groups in country B in an official capacity and talk about their respective challenges around human rights. It is usually a dialogue of either one person criticizing the other or lecturing the other. I don't know of any conclave where we sat down and went, "You know, we've kind of messed up here, too. We've made some decisions based on our own strategic needs that may have led to this. We still believe in this stuff. What can we do to advance it?" That is the kind of thing Aaron Sorkin would write if he were writing a teleplay of idealistic future diplomatic engagement. But it doesn't work that way.
So I am not sure how we can as easily enter in the dialogue without it sounding like we are saying, "Hey, you're messing up in all these ways around ethics, and we're the ones to be telling you." I am not talking about moral equivalency. I am not saying it is just the same being here as there or anywhere. I don't think anything is fully morally equivalent. But I am just skeptical about the United States' ability, in a way that probably was less compromised 50 years ago—we didn't have as much stuff under our collective belt.
DEVIN STEWART: The panel has actually touched upon a lot of our topics today. Just to conclude my questions and turn it over to the audience to chime in, what do you see as the future of the relationship, since this conference is about American-Asian relations and its future? Is conflict inevitable or do you see a path toward peace and prosperity and the spirit of Andrew Carnegie?
Jiyoung, do you want to start?
JIYOUNG SONG: I am not a pessimistic realist. I don't believe in inevitable conflicts between Asia and the United States. Conflict can be avoided through repeated dialogues, cooperation, student exchanges, and also tourism, learning from each other, understanding each other's values and interests. I think conflict can be definitely avoided.
DEVIN STEWART: Josh?
JOSHUA EISENMAN: Soothsaying.
DEVIN STEWART: I know it is tricky.
JOSHUA EISENMAN: Let me just bring out my tea leaves and read them for you.
Let me take on Professor Song for a moment. I don't think we can all come together and sing "Kumbaya." I think there are serious ethical, ideological, political differences here.
I am with you; conflict is not inevitable. But I would say that the more that we see—and again my focus is on a Chinese regime which is getting more closed, which is engaged in purges of the party, purges of the military, cracking down on the Internet, and a variety of different behaviors, which are getting worse and not better. As long as that kind of thing is going on, I don't think conflict is inevitable, but I think that Chinese society is going to be in flux, and so it makes for the possibility of conflict. When we look at, for example, Xi Jinping consolidating power, in the short term and the medium term I would say that is probably a good thing, for stability. We know he is the guy and he can make the decisions. But come 2022, when he is supposed to step down, what happens in those circumstances?
I think there is a lot of lack of clarity right now in terms of what China is going to look like 10 years from now. The Chinese leaders themselves have suggested that this is the beginning of their economic downturn. They have been very sanguine and very honest—I think extremely frank—about the fact that they believe that this is the beginning, not the end, of the problem. Under such circumstances, where the economic situation seems to be going down, but at the same time the political situation gets more repressive, I think China's future is more uncertain now at this moment than it has been in my life.
I don't know what that means for conflict, but it means that I am more unsure about what is going to be going forward than I have been in the past.
ZACHARY KARABELL: I think clearly one thing that isn't easily in the cards is anything resembling a military conflict à la what we would have expected or what was true in the 20th century and the 19th century—and, frankly, every century back to the point where there were no centuries. That is a big change in international affairs. The United States is unusual in that it is a large country that has been engaged in nearly continuous war for the past 15 years. There is no other country that is in that camp.
Whether or not the United States continues to be a deployer of a significant number of troops at various points around the world engaged in actual conflict, I don't know. I think that is less likely, although if it continued to happen, I am not sure I would be surprised. I think the appetite for that is waning to some degree, but all it would take is some—there is a bellicosity to American culture, partly based on the fact that if you have a very large military, you tend to feel the need to use it, which is why Americans in the late 18th century didn't want to have a standing army. They thought that one of the consequences of having a large standing army is a tendency to use your large standing army.
But conflict in the sense of disagreement around all these issues and not seeing eye to eye about collective interests or individual national interests I think is going to be just rife and manifest and continuous. I am not sure that is the worst thing in the world. Silicon Valley has the term "coopetition." There are areas where you cooperate and then there are areas where you compete, and those things can be kind of fluid. Basically you cooperate where it is in your interests to do so and you compete where you want to. Sometimes you use the veil of cooperation to compete—you steal someone else's intellectual property. It is not just China and the United States doing it; it is companies doing it with each other. I think that is going to continue in a pretty strong way.
On the economic future part, there is a pretty simple question for the next 10 years: Are a billion-plus people, whether it is India, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, and, as you know, this huge swath of sub-Saharan Africa from Nigeria to Kenya to Zambia—is that group of people, in their own messy way, going to feel like they are capable of creating a better future with their own messy formula that isn't purely one dictated by the West, or not? My betting is that, being sentient souls on this planet, people will find a way to do that, with a lot of noise in the short term.
Maybe it is a bad few years in China. I would be more surprised if it is a bad few decades in China. But, look, I am just one guy with an opinion on this. None of us know. I think we are likely to see a continuation of these very powerful forces that have been unleashed, which is a lot of people feeling empowered. That is going to play out really interestingly in China. Does it lead to democracy? Does it lead to political conflict? Does it lead to some sort of sui generis system that has yet to be named but manages to solve certain needs without looking the way we are familiar with? I don't know.
DEVIN STEWART: That is a pretty honest assessment.
The Ethics Fellows for the Future, the students here, were particularly interested, I think, in the question of whether Asia is even coherent in any sense, given that, first of all, "Asia" is a Western concept, invented by the Greeks to refer to things east of Greece, and that is about it. The other thing happens to be the fact that if you go almost anywhere in Asia and ask any person that is living there whether they feel "Asian," my experience at least is that they think that Asians are the other people, not them. It is like, "Well, there's us Chinese and then there's you Asians over there," or "us Japanese and you Asians." For example, in Tokyo, Asian food is ethnic food. It is telling.
JIYOUNG SONG: Asia is not a single region. It can be a collection of sub-regions, like Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, South Asia, or West Asia, Central Asia. But there is no Asia as a single region. According to the United Nations, it is from Japan to Iran and Kazakhstan to Timor-Leste. I can't see a Korean put under the same category as an Iraqi or a Tajik in the same category as an Indonesian. They are totally different people.
JOSHUA EISENMAN: We think of Asia in terms of systems. My kind of knee-jerk reaction is to think of the developmental state, to think of export-led growth, to think of the kinds of things that made Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and China the what we would call successful economic cases.
DEVIN STEWART: The United States and Britain, too, right?
JOSHUA EISENMAN: Of course. But this scenario is not the future; it is the past. I think that, to some degree, we can pronounce the end of the developmental state in Northeast Asia, that it has run its course. I think that in China in particular, there is a kind of reaction to go back to tried and true, tested approaches, which is doubling down on large-scale investment, building infrastructure, lowering the value of the currency, export-led growth. But I think that kind of approach is kind of at the end of its value. China and other Asian countries, maybe Japan—and Devin is an expert; I am not—have yet to figure out that new formula.
So as much as we have to say that there is huge diversity in Asia, this concept of the developmental state, which comes, of course, in large part, from the Cold War—the United States willing to run massive trade deficits, willing to transfer huge amounts of technology to its allies to bolster the anti-communist world—is over. To some degree, we haven't yet really come to grips with what is now going to happen. Export-led growth is simply—environmentally, it has been a catastrophe in many places in China, and it can no longer continue.
So I think this is a real open question. It bears directly on whether or not we have an Asian century. If Asia can figure out a new developmental strategy which is effective, then there can be an Asian century. But if it cannot, if it continues to just seek future success from past performance, then I don't think there will be.
ZACHARY KARABELL: By the way—and this is clearly on the cup-half-full scenario—finding a way to clean up your environmental disasters is an amazing formula for massive economic growth. It may not be the reason you would want to do it in the first place, but to reverse massive environmental degradation requires a lot of innovation and a lot of spending on a lot of new ways of doing things. It can actually be a spur to your own internal activity. We will see if it is.
The only other way in which Asia does have some degree, arguably, of coherence is the kind of Indo-Buddhist civilization part of it. You do have Buddhism coming out of an outgrowth 2,500 years ago of whatever—I know it wasn't really Hinduism—whatever set of beliefs there was in Northern India—and then spreading throughout a lot of what we now call Asia. Whether or not that is a glue—I am sure Robert Thurman would consider that it is the raw material for something coherent.
You could push back against that and say, well, then the United States and Nigeria ought to be the same kind of civilizational unit, because Christianity is the largest—that and Islam. I don't think most people think of Nigeria and the United States as occupying the same cultural terrain, but maybe they do. So maybe you could make some argument for the Buddhist underpinnings of a set of culture, where there is a language that could be similar. I am not as persuaded by that, but you could always make the argument.
DEVIN STEWART: Maybe that is slightly more sophisticated than—I remember T. R. Reid's famous description of "chopstick-using cultures." So there is that.
QUESTION: Great panel. I appreciate all of your remarks. Evan Berry, American University. I am a Global Ethics Fellow here.
I think Josh's comment sort of segued to this. We have been flirting with this conversation on and off throughout today's panels. I am particularly interested in hearing your remarks about the development strategies, especially in the Global South, of both the United States and China. My collaborations with people who work in Latin America over the last few years—and the way that Latin Americans think about and talk about the rise of Chinese power is really different. Maybe in the last year or so, as energy and commodity prices have bottomed out, the Chinese have really drawn back on many of their development projects in Latin America and in Africa as well.
But maybe you could try to read some tea leaves about whether the alternate model of the Chinese no-strings-attached, large-scale development projects will continue to proceed or if we are maybe looking at the end of that era as well.
JIYOUNG SONG: Chinese investment in Southeast Asia, for example, is creating a lot of problems. It increased the corruption. The Chinese are building some gas pipelines in Myanmar and also extracting a lot of minerals from Thailand, and are investing a lot of money in Vietnam. But they do it in collaboration with very corrupt government officials. They have no contribution to countries' democracy or transparency or accountability that would sustain that sort of investment in economic growth. So I don't think that could be an alternative model for developing countries in Southeast Asia, for example, which is a completely different model from the United States' investment or developmental aid to the developing countries.
ZACHARY KARABELL: This is a really unanswerable but crucial question. If you have been looking at the United States as a development model in the late 19th century, by any litmus test that we currently have, you would have found a place of just massive endemic, across-the-board corruption, abuses—you name it, it would have been there, from company towns where people were held in what amounted to indentured servitude and paid their wages in chips that they could buy at a company store—a lot of abuse, a lot of violence, and certainly no concern for the environmental costs.
So then you have a reaction culturally against that. The same was true, obviously, in Europe in different ways—the whole coal-mining, the industrialization of Central Europe, the whole Midlands of England. Then you have a cultural reaction against that, a reform movement, that says, "Hey, not a good thing."
A lot of that potentially organic process, which can be very unpleasant to witness and be in the midst of, is somewhat short-circuited by a development culture that says, before anyone can organically say, "Oh, this is terrible"—the interesting thing, again, about China is that there is a lot of domestic reaction against the environmental degradation, not forced by the international community, people basically saying, "We can't do this. We can't live here. This is not tenable." We will see how it goes, but it has been the one area where all the corruption battles in the world can't silence that one basic reality of "our cities are unlivable and our kids can't breathe the air." There is only so much the government can do, other than, "You're right. We'll try to do something about that."
I am just wondering, at what point do you allow for—there is a degree of corruption, what we call corruption, that is part of a process of development, not necessarily an obstacle to it. It is an obstacle if it never changes. But how long do you allow for it?
JOSHUA EISENMAN: One of the major reasons that the issue of air quality has become so important in China is because the U.S. embassy put out a PM 2.5 reader and refused to take it down. That became a rallying cry, where Chinese officials believed more in the U.S. reader. The whole concept of PM 2.5, this particle that gets deep into your lungs, was nonexistent in the discourse in China until the United States put up its reader and started reporting its Twitter feed, and the Chinese people started to pay attention. Then the Chinese government had to respond.
So there is a role that we can play. Our mutual friend, a professor at Boise State, Jack Marr, likes to ask his students, is growth good? But what about a tumor? I can tell you, when I lived in Shanghai, we lived in a building. I remember one day they came to give us a new ramp. Three days later, they ripped it up and built a new one. That goes on GDP growth, but it is not good growth. When you go to Central China, you go to a place like Hunan province, you are going to find a lot of empty buildings there.
So we shouldn't just say growth equals good, next step. I want to kind of push back on that.
Also, when you talk about a cultural reaction, I couldn't agree more, but when there is no free press and there is no avenue to express that kind of concern, it constricts the ability of society to check such abuses. So while such abuses existed in America, you had publications criticizing slaughterhouses in Chicago and other things, which were able to bring to the public consciousness a national ethic that says, "No more," and now we have Theodore Roosevelt and the trustbusters and other things. But this is the nature of a society which at its root base has an imperfect liberal order. That is not what we see in today's China. I am speaking very specifically.
I am concerned that what we see in China is, as you say, I think correctly, reflective of the United States' previous position, but I don't know if the answers are going to look similar, or if there will be answers at all.
In terms of the question, this developmental strategy in the Global South, one of the things I like to do with my students is give them the upside-down world map. The earth is a globe. It floats in space. The map you see is a construction of old white men, who decided to make it that way. This concept of the North being above and the South being below—if you flip the map over, it is just as legitimate. When I give my students this upside-down map, they have a very strong cognitive dissonance reaction. This hurts. You split it through the Atlantic Ocean, not the Pacific. That means America looks closer to China, and it has a whole different perception in terms of how one views the world. That is just a kind of broader comment about the nature of the Global South.
But when China is doing things like the "One Belt, One Road" initiative, when it is beating Japan out for a contract to build high-speed rail in Indonesia, but it is giving away huge concessions to win those contracts, it is doing so because it has an overabundance of these resources in its society. It has people who can build high-speed rail, who can build infrastructure projects. It needs to keep these people employed, and it needs to find a way to do that. So when China goes out and gives Benin a large loan but says, "You have to hire Sinohydro," it is doing that, in part, to stimulate its own domestic growth.
The preponderance of the discourse is about how China is ravenous, going over, extracting from these countries. But I think a lot of this has to do with finding a solution to Chinese domestic problems, which are mounting and serious. We don't think of that as much as part of it, but the "One Belt, One Road" initiative has a lot to do with finding opportunities that the domestic economy is now suffering.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Julia Teebken. I am an Ethics Fellow for the Future.
I graduated from American University. I just moved back to Germany, where I am currently doing my Ph.D. studies. In the last couple of weeks, as I started my program, I constantly had to answer the question: Why is your research of relevance? As we have been talking about a century, I would like to ask you my first question, which is, why do you think the idea of a dominating century is of relevance?
The second question addresses the normative notion that has been somewhat prevalent here that the term "century" implies. You kind of mentioned targeted killing. If we think of capital punishment, and if this also implies being a dominant actor and a dominant region in this world, why is a dominating century or an American century necessarily a good thing?
The third question is if we go back to the "edgy optimist," what should determine an upcoming century in maybe more positive terms?
ZACHARY KARABELL: On the last one, I think if several billion people are finding that the arc of their lives is better, as self-defined, whether that is individual autonomy, freedom from a certain level of material want, access to a certain amount of basic health care—all the things that were pretty much in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which I think are, in fact, increasingly true for lots of people around the world, in a way that I find quite hopeful, frankly, about our century. Whatever the issues that beset human beings, that seems to be a very powerful fuel for the future.
Irrespective of China and its own bizarre government—and I do think it is a bizarre government formula—more people went to the polls, more people voted for democratically accountable governments in 2014 than ever in history. India, Indonesia, Brazil, the United States, large parts of the European Union all voted in elected officials who were demanded to attend to the first part of what I just said. Their only source of legitimacy is whether or not they can continue that evolution.
There is way too much emphasis on growth, absolutely. And there are lots of ways to achieve affluence without growth. If costs drop and opportunities expand, you have the same growth as you do with economics.
But I find that very powerful. I would much rather that be the—call it what you will—the middle-class century, the time-when-everybody-lived-okay century. I am much less interested in being an American century—I am not running for office; I am unlikely to be appointed to one, given what I just said—although I think there is a lot that America can do that is very potent and very powerful in terms of how it can aid in these processes.
But I don't think it requires anyone's leadership per se. I think it requires a lot of this happening simultaneously. For me at least, that is why I am generically in support of trade pacts and more openness, because I think that is a way of knitting these forces together constructively. Obviously, a hugely debatable issue about whether or not that is the case.
I am not necessarily in favor of it being someone's determinative century. I don't think there is any need for that per se. And I don't think it is particularly likely, on top of it.
JIYOUNG SONG: I just want to make a quick comment. A very interesting question, very philosophical, too, why a century matters. I think it is because it involves several generations. What we do now will have an impact in 50 or 100 years' time. It is important to understand who is steering the world's politics or ecosystem that will have an impact in our next generations.
Positive? Maybe I am a bit of an idealistic person. I think open borders will make our lives more positive. Years ago we were able to travel without any national borders. There was a freedom of movement. Maybe that was one possibility that can make human lives better than now.
QUESTION: Ao Kong with the United Nations.
I have been working in the area of peacekeeping and development. I think those two areas have a huge impact on a country's impact or leading power in the world. Over the past 20 years, you can see the United Kingdom and the United States and even Russia play a very important role in the Security Council, but China has been lagging behind. Then this year during the General Assembly, China made a huge donation or contribution to peacekeeping, equal to $80 billion. China is becoming the major contributing source to peacekeeping. That is also related to its role in development in the South or in Africa.
My question is, how do you see China's role in peacekeeping? How does China kind of fulfill its opportunity in this multilateral relationship in peacekeeping, and what is the implication to development and maybe relation to whose century will be the next century? Thank you.
JOSHUA EISENMAN: This is an excellent question, really. I don't say that lightly. I know everyone is prone to compliment the questioner, but it really is a good question.
China has been extremely smart about this issue, certainly better than the United States about it. Chinese peacekeepers began with mostly engineers, non-combat troops, and they now have graduated to a more robust role. I think, for a country that hasn't fought a war in a long time, it makes a lot of sense to give some good training to your troops. It makes good military sense to give them experience. It also gives them a great knowledge of the way in which such deployments are done. They don't have experience with that either—so not only for the troops themselves, but also in terms of how a massive deployment thousands of miles away from China could happen. It also gives China great contacts in militaries around the world that it can then leverage and use down the road. I think it is uncertain how to use those, but having them is certainly better than not.
So I think China has done a great job with regard to peacekeeping. I think they have done a better job than us. I haven't heard negative comments about China's efforts in a peacekeeping sense. I would be interested to hear if you all have. My sense is that this is a bright spot in China's global contribution.
QUESTION: Chris Janiec. I think it is most relevant that I identify myself as a former Carnegie intern.
I want to see if I can draw you guys out a little bit to the backend of our century time frame. I think it is natural to take the approach to kind of look at the last couple years and see what we can draw out about the capability of these two systems and what we might learn from that. But another approach might be to think about the next 100 years in terms of what the factors are that we think are going to be impacting everybody and then what approach relative to those challenges between these two systems we are looking at might be most effective.
Demographics have come up quite a bit as one of these kind of structural things we can expect to be very important, but I would add things like possibility of resource constraints, efforts to integrate Africa into the global economy, renegotiating the relationship between individuals and their governments as the trends that we can look at in today's newspaper and think, very clearly, these are things that are going to continue.
I think most of your discussion, which has been very enjoyable, has focused, at the most, on the unknowable questions in the 10- to 20-year time frame. I am curious if you guys can offer any thoughts about what those factors might be over the longer term. You just made a comment about things happening over generations. This is the kind of thing that I think is particularly valuable to hear from you guys about.
DEVIN STEWART: Thanks, Chris. That is a great way to let them also give their concluding remarks.
Josh, I am going to make you go first, since you have been sneaky in going second so far. I will put you on the spot, if that is okay. Big megatrends and concluding remarks.
JOSHUA EISENMAN: Big megatrends. It's a light lift.
I would say a megatrend that we are going to be dealing with for some time—and I don't want to say how long—in terms of long-run challenges that we would face—and again, it is difficult when we talk about these things to know how long-run they might be—I would say that the issue of pollution, especially water pollution, in China is massive, long-term. It is not going away. When Wen Jiabao, the former premier, was asked what China's biggest problem is, he said water. You can make water a private good by giving bottles to the rich. You can't do that with air. You can see the air problem. It is very visible. So I feel like the air problem has to some degree become, well, more visible to all of us, anyone who goes to Beijing.
But the water problem is severe and it is ongoing. I would say—I would agree with Wen Jiabao completely on this one—the water problem is the greatest problem China is going to face going forward.
I would also say that the economic questions—when I was in Beijing recently—officials have gotten used to the idea of a narrative of "our growth is so fast, it is so tough, we have to slow it down." That is not the narrative now. The narrative now is a new normal. To some degree, there is a discomfort with that narrative. How long will this go on? How long will these problems persist? How long will we see capital flight? I think these are all questions which we cannot put a timetable on in terms of, is this going to be a Japan slow, 20-year decline, or are we going to see a sharper drop, or are we not? I don't want to soothsay on that one, but I do think it is an issue going forward.
Then the rise of the security services—people like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping had great gravitas within the PLA [People's Liberation Army]. They didn't have to tell the PLA how great they were. They fought with them in wars. But the leadership since Jiang Zemin has done what I call "feeding the dragon." They have increased military budgets at large rapid paces over a long period of time. Now we have a situation where the people who control the Internet, the people who control the military, the people who control the secret police—the people with the guns, essentially—are not necessarily the political leaders themselves. When we see a purging of the PLA that is underway right now, that is because the party itself is deeply concerned about this trend.
What does the rise of the security services in China mean for China? What kind of China, in terms of its outward behavior, will we expect? Again, I don't want to say I exactly know the answer to that question, but I want to put my finger on these three issues and say, going forward, I am particularly interested to watch them.
ZACHARY KARABELL: I will go even broader. If you really want to look over the next 50 years, first of all, it is a really good question on the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future, which I want to acknowledge today—
JOSHUA EISENMAN: No Cubbies.
DEVIN STEWART: No Cubs, no hoverboards.
ZACHARY KARABELL: Well, the hoverboards are actually a little more real. No flying cars yet and no—
DEVIN STEWART: Self-tying shoelaces.
ZACHARY KARABELL: And no personal fusion generators that use garbage, although Elon Musk is apparently is close to perfecting that technology for the Tesla.
I think—and this is all very easy to say, because we are not coming back here in 50 years and seeing if our predictions are right—maybe we are. Maybe the singularity is now.
To be a little bit of a techno-utopian, I think a lot of what we are doing technologically is likely to go a long way towards solving a lot of the current resource and/or—issues that we talk about as being most pressing. That has certainly been the case. Malthusian fears have not come to pass, largely because technology has narrowly been able to avoid those crises. My perception of what is going on technologically is that we are likely to create a whole other series of unforeseen issues based on what our technology is capable of, but those are likely to do a remarkable job answering everything from environmental to resource issues.
If you were to look at any area of the world, if you wanted a real wild-card issue, it would be the potential for huge portions of sub-Saharan Africa, because there is no embedded 20th-century industrial infrastructure, to sort of developmentally leapfrog by their ability—and I don't mean this native ability; I just mean, by the vacuum, that new ways of doing things will have an easier time becoming the embedded ways of doing things, whether that is distributed solar, whether that is mobile financial services that are not embedded in really ineffective legacy financial institutions. Everyone in the world has those structures, including China at this point, and lots of Africa doesn't. I am not saying it will. I am just saying, if anywhere in the world could, it will be huge portions of that area of the world.
My final answer to this is purely the philosophical one and in an ethics environment. A lot of what we think about the future has entirely to do with our personal disposition and our sense of what the ratio is between hope and fear. We can look back in the past and see a past littered with human ability to do colossal harm to other humans and destroy whatever we have created. The 20th century was both the apex of human potential and the nadir of human capacity to destroy. If you think about history as like a neck-and-neck battle between our ability to cause unbelievable harm and our capacity to create unbelievable good, just in the sense of 51-49, given that we are here talking about that issue, I tend to think the ability to generate positive change has narrowly inched out our ability to destroy it.
I think this is a human century, where more people manage to live well and find a way to answer their basic needs.
Then we are going to be left with the question, okay, now what? Which is a lot of the question the developed world faces. We are not worried about pestilence. We are not worried about famine. We are not worried about imminent harm or immediate war. It leaves a lot of moral and ethical questions. What are we supposed to be doing with our time on this planet, if not that?
JOSHUA EISENMAN: If I could just add one thing on to this, this is another, if I had to add a fourth: Will the consumption-based approach to development be viable when we expand it to so many people? China is always talking about a transition—you have probably all heard this—to consumption-based growth. We have all heard this. But the question, I think, is an open one for the next couple of decades: Is that viable, to have so many people consuming at such a high level? Will the resources bear, will the systems bear?
I understand that is what they are trying to do, but I think when you have this level of increasing and rising standards of living—
ZACHARY KARABELL: It depends on what they are consuming. If it is renewable technologically and infused consumption, the answer is likely yes. If it is a lot of iron ore—well, frankly, there is probably more iron ore. We have a lot more stuff in the ground that we find a way to extract than anyone thought. We are not going to run out of stuff. We may run out of air to produce it. We are not going to run out of stuff.
So it is entirely the right question. I think the whole growth model is going to come to a screeching halt, not because it is flawed, just because in a shrinking population with lots of efficiencies created by technology, it is not clear that growth is either necessary or desirable to create affluence. If all of your costs dropped 50 percent in the next 10 years, your affluence would go up 100 percent. You don't need income growth and economic activity to increase affluence, except when you have tethered a series of economic systems normatively to that formula. But that is not the only way you could skin that particular cat.
JIYOUNG SONG: I will put the most pressing issues in three stages. The immediate challenges will be migration, especially irregular migration. We see the economic migrants coming from the African continent to Europe, refugees from Syria, the boat season soon coming from Myanmar, the Rohingya, the boat people coming to Malacca Strait and Australian offshore, human trafficking, people-smuggling. They will be the most challenging issues for the next 10 to 20 years.
Mid-term, probably 50 years' time, as the two gentlemen mentioned, food security, health security, environment, and energy security will be the pressing issues for humankind. Food will be running out. We need land to grow food. Agricultural land has been shrinking. There will be competition for food.
In 100 years' time, I would say the long-term challenges will be artificial intelligence, a direct challenge to humankind, to humanity. Many futurists predicted that low-skill jobs would be replaced by robots. That will be a very pressing issue for the whole humankind.
DEVIN STEWART: Hopefully, in 100 years, when the robots are on the panel, they will judge us favorably.
We should thank our panel. Have a nice reception. Thank you very much.