Global Hegemon-elect

I held off on mentioning the historic commercial passenger flight between China and Taiwan yesterday, because I had trouble finding the right image for what I wanted to say. This morning I found it, in part thanks to this clip of the CFR’s Richard Haass on the Colbert Reportexplaining in terms even the Colbert character can understand why the U.S. and China have a mutual interestin maintaining the stability of the global order, and in part thanks tothis post by Malcolm Cook over at the Interpreter:

Like John Howard, I thought the Bush Administration had got the balancebetween engaging with China and maintaining or enhancing relations withtraditional allies and partners just about right. However, the apparentdeath of both the Korea-U.S. FTA and meaningful Six-Party Talks haschanged my mind about the U.S. approachon the second part of thisbalance.

The commercial air link is anecdotal, but still reflects the recentimprovements in cross-Strait relations. And the nature of the dividebetween China and Taiwan, like that of East and West Germany, is suchthat rapprochement, once it gathers a certain critical mass, is likelyto progress at exponential rates. So it’s not farfetched to considerthe ways in which a stable final status agreement between China andTaiwan would change the strategic outlook in Asia.

As things stand, the entire region is caught in a waiting game, hedgingtheir bets on a still-dominant butpossibly waning power and a rising but still unproven one. The imagethat came to mind, that of the presidential transition under way, isinexact, because there is no inevitability to the U.S. decline orChina’s rise. But in the same way that the world listens to PresidentBush but watches President-elect Obama, America’s friends in the regionare measuring the U.S.’s ability to serve as regional intermediaryagainst the possibility of one day in the not-so-distant future findingthemselves face to face with China.

The challenge for American policy-makers is how to make sure whateverrebalancing that is required takes place with the same kind of cooperative(read: peaceful) effort as the presidential transition in Washington,while still finding ways to maintain American influence and advanceAmerican interests where necessary and possible. Included in thatchallenge is the question of what kind of China eventually rises, andwhether and how we can exert leverage on its evolution.

But there are already two “presidents” in the room, even if no one canbe absolutely certain which one will be taking the oath of office.

More World Politics Review