What the US has stood for, for all these decades, is coming apart. It has been difficult to imagine or even discuss with conviction, the downfall of the mighty civilization that the US had become. Mimicking the American style, in clothing, eating and speaking has been natural to be at the right side of the history. Many countries, from Vietnam to Iraq and beyond, had been torn apart because they followed values that discriminated against human rights or precisely against the democratic values upheld by the US. That the US chose to annihilate rather than restructure these states is a reflection of the other side of the US that carries out atrocities across the globe in the name of homeland security. It has been so frequent that one cannot remember when was the last time the US did not feel unsafe because of a country thousands of miles away. The mighty US was never questioned. If the United Nations refused to endorse a war contemplated by the US, the US would still take up the venture. The world stood on the sideline of all that the US undertook to obliterate countries. The awe was hard to challenge.
However, now with Trump on board, the aura is unravelling and with that the sham of democracy. By setting the tone for decadence the Trump administration is precisely doing what the US had preached against. Separating mothers from children in the name of saving the US from criminals is not only a moral descent; it is a plunge into barbarism. Years of savagery against humanity in the name of setting democratic values will have interfered with the DNA of the US citizens, making them blatant, soulless and utterly dismissive of the right to dignity for others.
When Donald Trump was voted to power, Benjamin Wittes, editor of the Lawfare blog, coined a phrase to describe the president’s first slapdash Muslims ban: “malevolence tempered by incompetence.” Reading from the enormous literature already published, the time seems right to look for an alternative global leadership role that the US has assumed all these decades. Some have already placed China in the US shoe. The question is will China resist the temptation of behaving like an empire, where rights are formed in the image of the power that be. Reality, values, and morality serve the larger than life image of the empire. The seriousness about these words has never been challenged——-the awe will always be too domineering to overcome.
Chinese leaders, including Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping have all explicitly stated that “China will never seek hegemony.” Xi has also said that China is not willing to become the so-called ‘world police,’ or to replace anyone. It could be interpreted to mean that China does not desire to replace the US’s global leadership role. Chinese draw their political and cultural values from the ancient concept of Li, which is an embodiment of five constant virtues: benevolence; righteousness; propriety; wisdom; and fidelity. The king among all these virtues is propriety. None of the qualities expounded by Li can be imbibed either by a person or a country if there is a lack of propriety. By propriety, it is meant the state or quality of being correct. Hence the saying: “man without propriety shall not stand, matters without propriety shall not succeed, and countries without propriety shall not last.” It is upon this virtue of propriety that China has adopted the policy of “give more and take less.”
The Chinese model of development is not extractive. Unlike the US, China has raised its influence not through forceful interference, by means of either regime change or dollarization. In fact, China has initiated infrastructural development—-give more——to create a space for the Chinese market within the domestic economy——take less. The US model of aid and development for less endowed countries has been designed to promote militarization rather than peace among the nation states. The US strategic partnership with any country has been hegemonic only to favour the more potent in the equation, in which case it has always been the US. Unlike France and Britain, the US preferred to influence the world using indirect colonisation through the international system——“the United Nations and its affiliates for the political and security arena; the alliance system and military base network in the military arena; the Bretton Woods system for finance, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT, which later evolved into the WTO) for trade.” This international system has been manoeuvred to facilitate the US agenda rather than making the world a better place to live in. On the face of it, this international system looks inclusive. Practically, however, it excludes the lesser mortals for an unfair treatment, either in the form of debt burdens, wars, the militarization of states like Israel or maybe by pushing allies to pump billion in a useless war like Afghanistan. In contrast to this, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative would lift millions of people from poverty and might raise the living standard of many countries to a level where they could compete with China on the various developmental scales. This inclusiveness of partnership through economic participation can easily make China the darling for the next global leadership position.
While Trump devalues the US with his self-centred economic and social policies, the world may gravitate towards China to find a solution to its problems, most of which are the result of the empire- syndrome. Democracy has failed because its proponents’ value system differed with the underlying theme of democracy——-inclusivity. Li, on the other hand, is borne of the philosophy of propriety——the attitude to be correct, straight and proper. The nation states may not seek the right to rule through the adult franchise, but they may have a system where a few heads with wisdom and fidelity could make the world less unequal.
n The writer is a freelance journalist
based in Lahore.