Wednesday 22 June 2011
The term ‘The American Century’, coined in 1941 by Henry Luce, the publisher of Time, effectively conveyed the United States’ global dominance - political, economic and cultural. Luce urged America to reject isolationism and instead adopt a role spreading democracy globally. Throughout the three previous centuries, said Luce, ‘this continent teemed with manifold projects and purposes. Above them all and weaving them all together was the triumphal purpose of freedom.’ China’s ineluctable rise suggests it may come to influence the 21st century to a similar degree.
However, Oriental and Occidental views and values differ. While the West’s conception of human rights tends to prioritise freedom, Eastern conceptions push equality to the fore. China’s renowned wealth, far from pervading its 1.3bn population, is more concentrated on its eastern seaboard and its ‘Go West’ policy to spread development across the country drives its global search for natural resources. The impact on poverty at home may be positive, but pouring billions of dollars into resource-rich but troubled countries, such as DR Congo, will do little to alleviate African poverty short term, or strengthen the rule of law that might bring hope to that continent in the longer term (see Riches and responsibility).
The impact on China of broader governance issues remains to be seen (see Asia’s wealth of secrets). But, for the emerging superpower to take responsibility for addressing the iniquities on its doorstep seems a reasonable expectation (see Burma: after the Saffron Revolution). Nevertheless, Luce, in developing the theme of The American Century, called on the US to ‘exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for… such means as we see fit.’ In killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, for example, the US is still doing this. It can only be hoped that as the 21st century unfolds, the world’s emerging superpower increasingly serves to balance these excesses rather than further undermining international norms of justice.