Is America ready to be Number Two

This was the topic for discussion in the CNA programme Perspective hosted by Teymoor Nabili on  prime time 3 Oct 14. The panel guests included two American dons, Prof Thomas Magnanti and Assoc Prof John Donaldson, the American Ambassador Kirk Wagar and Manu Bhaskaran, a CEO of a consultancy. This is a good programme to watch not so much as to the subject matter but the temperature generated and how sensitive the subject was to the American dignitaries present. Watch the repeats on CNA

From the very beginning the position of the Americans was clear. Teymoor used the Great Roman Empire as an example of everything that goes up must come down.  He hit a wall. No such thing as America being Number Two to a rising China. Even if China becomes the biggest economy, so what? What they avoided saying was that they carried the big guns and could turn the table anytime they like it and China would be history. That’s the message.

It is interesting to watch the nuances and the body language of the American panellists, especially the Ambassador. I could not believe that an academic discussion on an ‘iffy’ question could cause so much uneasiness and sensitivity. And Teymoor, one of the best presenters you can find, was doing his best to balance the tension and you could sense that he too was affected by it. But being an old hand and very adept at what he was doing, he did manage to control the situation very well without upsetting anyone, but still not able to hide the discomfort in him.

The topic was about a hypothetical case in the future, what if the economic statistics are correct and China surpasses America and becomes Number One economically, or the Number One superpower. Of course everyone can dispute on the definition of what Number One means as the overwhelming American military might is unquestionable for a long time to come. The American economy could slow down, but the American expenditure on military would always be maintained to keep this pole position unchallenged and unsurpassed. To the Americans, this is a non issue. They would ensure it would not happen.

Who would ever think of the Soviet Union being what it is today? Who would ever imagine, even 30 years ago, that China could transform itself from a poor backward communist state to challenge the Americans for the pole position in international affairs? Some crystal ball gazers would say that the rise of China is inevitable, like the fall of Singapore as equally inevitable. The chips are all in place for the rise of China and the fall of Singapore. Somehow everything is in place not by intent but it just happened.

Whether China would overtake America as Number One is a moot point as no one would agree with the definition. But the rise of China as a superpower, as an economically and technologically successful nation is on the card.

And it is best not to discuss such a topic with the Americans. It rubs the wrong way and nerves are extra sensitive, like special needs children.  America will never be Number Two! China can never dream of being Number One. No way, not in the near future, not in the distant future.

PS. The Chinese were given a pleasant surprised when they were shoved up the be the Number Two when the Soviet Union self destruct. They too could not believe that they could be Number Two so fast, without any effort on their own.

Kopi Level - Yellow


Michael Heng PBM said...

The question presumes that America has any choice or say in the answer, RB. America is ALREADY Number 2 in economic growth and social stability. China's ascendency is like America's in the 50's and 60's after WW2. But there should NO fear from a Chinese Ascendency in the World. The Chinese has no colonial mindset nor is she expansionistic in ambition. For sure, she would "deal" with global trouble-makers more effectively than the Americans had in the last 15 years.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese would not bully the Arabs and the Muslims around the world. The exception is in Xinjiang when the Islamic terrorists think it is alright to go around killing the innocents.

It is so easy for china to lock down Xinjiang and treats it like the American reservations, shut away from the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

Part 1:

Rb, according to Professor Charles P. Kindleberger, one of the scholars credited with the so called "HST" ( Hegemonic Stability Theory ), what happened between 1914 and 1939, especially 1929 to 1939, was due to the UK losing its leadership position globally yet no other nation stepping up into that shoes.

In a way, after World War I, the international order collapsed. The Neo-Liberal pre-1914 era gave way to the resurgence of Mercantilism between 1914 to 1939.

International order was restored after the US assumed the hegemonic role after WWII, left vacuum by the UK after 1914. Essentially, HST believes that the world needs a hegemonic state with preponderant power and resources to maintain world order, the precondition for international trade and globalization.

The international political conditions that incubated and catalyzed rapid globalization via heightened international trade, commerce,finance etc etc are arguably receding due to the world sliding back to the pre-1914 international order.

It is inevitable for a hegemon to decline.

The problem is who will be the next hegemon to fill the shoes left behind by an ex-hegemon.

Small nation states that depend on globalization and international trade, commerce to thrive and flourish are likely the first to be doomed when the world order slides back to conditions similar to pre-1914 years when the UK eventually lost its pre-eminent global position.

Anonymous said...

'......the rise of China is inevitable, like the fall of Singapore is equally inevitable......'

How will the Fall happens?
Will the SID(Sin Dollar) becomes rotten banana over night?

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

I agree with some of the panellists that the new world order is likely to be multi polar with several countries working together instead of a single hegemon. It is too expensive to be the single policeman of the world. No one can afford it or would be allowed to be one.

The other option is for the American and the Chinese to rule the world in a bipolar arrangement. The Chinese have rejected this model as they did not want to rule the world like the Americans did.

Anonymous said...

Part 2:

Sinkieland was lucky in that when it achieved self-government in 1959 and subsequently independence in 1965, a new world order was secured and stabilized by the new hegemon after WWII namely the US.

Globalization was in ascendance.

The world was going into a huge growth cycle. Sinkieland just rode the rising tide and wave. In other words, sinkieland and old man caught the “GLOBALIZATION WAVE” at the right time. But of course some credit has to be given. Some correct policies were implemented to take advantage of this cycle.

Just like any cycle or wave and tide in the natural world, it will inevitably ebb and recede .......

Can YEW imagine old man was born 40 years earlier and came to power in 1919 instead of 1959?

Anonymous said...

Part 3:

The Chinese have a saying:

“ 时势造英雄”!

In 1919, there was no UN.

There was no WTO, not even GATT, much less IMF, WORLD BANK etc.

The international chaotic and anarchic inter-wars period between 1919 and 1939 culminated in the GREAT DEPRESSION period between 1929 to 1939.

Under such world order and circumstances then, RB, do YEW think sinkieland and old man could have succeeded and flourished?

Anonymous said...

neyPart 4:

What could have happened?

Could sinkieland have taken off then?

Heard about “Gong Gong Chak Ti Kong?”

Some people just succeeded without knowing the actual reasons why they made it so big?

Some people are so talented in this world but somehow simply don't make it?

Perhaps the Chinese are quite right.

They have two sayings:

" 怀才不遇”;

“ 生不逢时”

Anonymous said...

"A Free People's Suicide"

Anonymous said...

Part 5:

The world may be gradually returning to the pre-1914 years of a declining world hegemon and not succeeded by another.

The question is would world order collapse just as it did post-1914 after the declining hegemon run out of any means to stay and remain as one as much as it might want to be one and try to be one?

As Rb said above, it is super expensive to be a world hegemon and which state can afford it?

Again as RB said, even if the Chinese has the means in the future, would it want to be one given the costs and consequences of being one?

How about a bi-polar world of the US and Chinese holding hands, sleeping in the same bed and maintaining world order together?

RB, can YEW imagine old man and JBJ doing that?

Holding hands together and sleeping in the same bed?

So a bi-polar world order probably is going to have “a miscarriage and died in its conception”?

How about a multi-polar world envisaged by many scholars and political scientists including RB?

Anonymous said...

Part 6:

To answer that question, a good proxy and analogy maybe near at home in sinkieland?

Just look at the “fragmented opposition”?

RB, do YEW think, realistically, they can sleep in the same bed together and have the same dream?

The Chinese have another saying:

“ 同床异梦”.

“ Same bed but different dream.”

Can such a multi-party marriage last?

Or would it turn out envisaged by some quarters of a fairy tale ending and happily married ever after?

How many oldies have such a marriage please KEE CHIU?

So would a multi-polar world order be possible, stable and bring about lasting peace and more GLOBALIZATION?

Or more likely the world, in the event of the power vacuum left by an ex-hegemon degenerate into trading and power blocs with the REGIONAL POWERS each having a surrounding group of neighbouring satellite states?

Is the world staring at the possibility of a US Dollar-Bloc, a Euro-Bloc and a RMB-Bloc?

Romance of the Three Kingdoms all over again, way back in the 3rd Century in ancient China?

Veritas said...
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Veritas said...
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Veritas said...

Will China rise benefit or harm Singaporeans? What if China will be harming Singaporeans. This is the most important thing we need to ask ourselves.

The track record of CPC shows that they screwed SE Asian Chinese big time. CPC support Pot, who massacre disproportional number of Cambodian Chinese. Reason being Chinese are more richer and higher educated.

Then Vietnam kick Pot out for being a murderer. CPC see murderer being kick out and CPC fumed. CPC accused Vietnam of imperialism and attack Vietnam.

Also the Southern Vietnam is good to Chinese. USA did not molest Chinese in S Vietnam. CPC support Ho Chi Minh and North Vietnam. Northern Vietnam started a Chinese pogrom after unification. The boat people of Vietnam are not Vietnamese but Chinese.

The massacre of Chinese in Indonesia has a lot to do with CPC formenting revolution in Indonesia. Allegedly, 800,000 to 2 millions died in Indonesian communist witch hunt under Suharto.

Anyone think CPC is good, got to get their head check. As a patriotic Chinese, what we need to do this to inform Singaporeans about the shit of CPC, not become her cheer leaders.

The future of Singaporean Chinese is Singapore. We make ourselves a valuable asset of all the powers, playing off one another. If we suck PRC cock, we may be massacre by PRC as PRC has shown willing to kill oversea Chinese.

Anonymous said...

A little knowledge is very dangerous. More knowledge is even more dangerous without the capacity to think through and make sense of the knowledge.

Wisdom does not come early.

Anonymous said...

Part 7:

Now, there are a few pertinent questions that concerned citizens in this world should ask:

1) Is hegemonic leadership necessary to ensure a stable international order?

2) Would the world order, given its current trajectory, degenerate into similar conditions that gave rise to Hitler as in post-1914?

3) The world pre-1914 was as interdependent, if not more than now but the world order still collapsed post-1914. Is the current interdependence and emergence of transnational organisations such as UN, WTO, IMF, WORLD BANK, WHO etc sufficient to prevent world order collapsing in the absence of a world hegemon?

4) For small nation states like sinkieland that depends on global commerce and globalization in general to thrive, what would the end of the current world order signify? Can we assume globalization is inevitable and irreversible and therefore the international condition for sinkieland to thrive and flourish would always pre-exist?

5) If globalization recedes just like sea tide in the natural world, what is the backup plan or contingency plan of all the paper generals and the “WORLD BEST BOTAK FINANCE MINISTER” ( “ or was it bought with one billion tax-payers monies as contribution to IMF kitty ” ) for sinkieland to continue to thrive and flourish?

6) If the US eventually loses its hegemonic position, which is 99.99% inevitable and the current world order breaks into a US Dollar-Bloc, a Euro-Bloc and a RMB-Bloc, would all the FTAs, MTAs, BTAs and RTAs signed be of any use and still relevant? Would the regional power bloc umbrella that sinkieland eventually seek refuge in allows all the pre-existing FTAs, MTAs, BTAs and RTAs signed by sinkieland to remain valid or even enforceable? How would sinkieland thrive or even survive under a regional trading bloc? Which trading bloc would sinkieland choose? A US-centric bloc or a China-centric bloc?

7) In the GREAT DEPRESSION between 1929 to 1939, some billionaires were turned into beggars literally and some beggars became millionaires or even billionaires. Would such similar scenarios happen in the future? In one of old man's early biographies written by Alex Josey, old man was quoted as saying that many tycoon's fortunes were decimated and wiped out in the 1920s and 1930s. Besides the world political order being realigned, would domestic economic order also be realigned in sinkieland in such an eventuality?

There are many many more questions to be asked going forward as the US, China, India, EU, Russia, Brazil etc re-balance and reorganize themselves into a new world order. It is inevitable just like in the jungle when a supreme male lion aged and eventually being replaced by another dominant male lion or a pair or even more.

Anonymous said...

Part 8:

The issues are how long would the transitory period be and how tumultuous would it turn out?

Think 1914 to 1945 and World World I and II, the rise of Hitler, the destruction of the entire European economies built after the Industrial Revolution, the death of more than 100 million humans in Europe and Asia, the displacement and suffering of many more, the Holocaust ….. etc etc.

Would a human bean or some human beans come along to avert all the potential disasters and tragic eventualities as the world transits from a single polar US dominated world order to a bi-polar or multi-polar world order?

Is the world witnessing such a transition as it unfolds?

Are the current world conflicts and Geo-political tensions symptomatic of such a transition?

Anonymous said...

Part 9:

In the words of ancient Chinese, there is a saying:


As much as some people dread winter, it is a natural order and it happens in cycle.

No human bean from Qin Shi Huang to old man can escape the phenomenon of the natural world?

Just like no man can escape death?

Life is not about the destination, it is about the journey?

Travel is as much the journey, if not more, as the destination itself?

What happened, will happen in sinkieland are just “ 小打小闹,胡闹,瞎闹”?

RB, what say YEW?

PLSE feel free to disagree?


b said...

They can both be number one and while they fighting with each other to be number one, the rest of us can progress further.

b said...

Anyway, china never wants/aims/set out to be number one. It is a prediction by others. It is very simple why the others want to do this.

Michael Heng PBM said...

America plus China can be a stronger for global peace. American must first respect China as an Equal partner at least. China must understand America with all her "strange" idiosyncracies typical of 'gweilos'. Together as Partners, the world can be a better place. Even the "Tangos" would not dare to disturb anyone but just kill or blow up themselves, instead of attacking BOTH China and US.

Anonymous said...

@ b October 05, 2014 4:47 pm

//They can both be number one and while they fighting with each other to be number one, the rest of us can progress further.//

Ha ha ha ha ha ha .......

Halo B, well-said but........

The concept and theory behind such thinking is existence of potential "FREE RIDERS " .......

It is exactly the same concept as "Public Goods " under "Complete Market Failure " due to non-excludability and non-rivalry in Economics theories and concepts.

Public goods such as roads and public libraries are provided by governments than the private sectors because they are fully or partially non-rilvary in nature. When say "A " uses the road, it does not exclude "b" to use the road nor fully being consumed such that it is not available to "b".

For example, if there is only one apple, if "A" eats ( consumed) it, then it is consumed and "b" cannot have anymore apple even if he wants it and cry father cry mother ( kpkb ) for it. But how about public goods such as roads?

After "A" walked ( consumed ) on a road, the road though consumed by "A" does not diminish the amount available to "b" to "free-ride" and walk or "consume" it. So why should "A" bears the cost if "b" can "free-ride" on it. Technically, the marginal cost of the road for "b" to walk on it after "A" had one so is "zero". In Economics, price = marginal cost => price =0.

Which private sector entrepreneur will "GONG GONG " provide a good or service whereby market price is zero because nobody needs pay a price as they can "free-ride" on it?

Thus the garment has to provide it because RB or "A" is not going to "gong gong" pay for it for "b" to "free-ride" , tio bor?

But in a cuntry, a garment is willing and prepared to pay and build the roads because they can extract COEs, ERPs, RD TAX, PARF EXCISE DUTIES ETC ETC from sinkies!

For a world hegemon, where are the taxes?

Anonymous said...

Part 11:

If "b" can think of "free-riding" , RB, YEW can also have thought of it as well, tio bor?

So, the rest of the world including China have been "free-riders" with the US taking all the glories but predominantly paying for the cost of providing a stable world order for the rest to thrive and trade including sinkieland.

Now "b" , do YEW think China having "free-rode " for the past almost 40 years since 1978 when the late paramount leader Deng Xiao Ping opened up China will be "gong gong " pay the bills and let other potential rivals like the 1.2 billion AhNehLand "free-ride" on it and become its largest rival in its neighborhood down the road?

"b" , it must be said that the Chinese are not "simpletons" or the dynamics for rebalancing of the future world order would be so simple?

Only "WAR" dragged the US out of its isolationist shell and reluctantly became the world hegemon after WWII. To be exact, it was the "Attack On Pearl Harbour " during WWII.

Unless China can tax the rest of the world and make them pay COEs, ERPs, PARF EXCISE DUTIES etc etc for their ships, planes, trains etc etc, why would China want to assume the hegemon role and let people like "b" , RB etc "free-ride" on it?

Tio bor?

PSLE feel free to disagree?

Whether YEW are a patriot, traitor and patraitor?

Anonymous said...

I didn't know b stands for stupid. The world order dictated by the Americans was to oppress and contain China and the communist bloc. Even today, the system is skewed towards the West with them controlling every thing, every organisations. Look at UN, IMF, World Bank, and now the TPP.

The system was hostile to China. What fucking free ride you talking talking about?

Anonymous said...

@ Quitter aka BC or BEEF CHOP

// The system was hostile to China. What fucking free ride you talking talking about? //

If the system as YEW claimed is so SKEWED towards the WEST just like the ODDS are skewed towards the banker in a casino, then why are casinos perpetually making huge profits but the West is running chronic huge trade deficit especially the US at almost USD 1 TRILLION ANNUALLY in the past decade?

Next their chronic budget deficit especially military and related expenses to police and maintain relatively stable world order?

How much has China contributed since 1978 for maintaining world order in its rapid ascendancy to Number 2 in the world?

China is smart to "free-ride" whether YEW like it or not?

Moron, YEW often accused RB of EMPIRICAL errors?








Anonymous said...

History did not start yesterday. Heard of cold war, containment, sanctions, colonialism, imperialism?

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous October 06, 2014 10:38 am

//History did not start yesterday. Heard of cold war, containment, sanctions, colonialism, imperialism?//

Ha ha ha

Anon 10.38pm, YEW are right, " History did not start yesterday."

Have YEW not heard "cold war, containment, sanctions, colonialism, imperialism" are all HISTORY?

But there are many things YEW might not have heard of.

However, since YEW are adamant about the non-existence of "free-rider" so as to be one, YEW WILL NOT BE GIVEN THE LIBERTY TO "FREE-RIDE" .

Anonymous said...

Whatever intentions or desires, any country would seek those of common heritage to further its interests. Look at US, Australia and UK.

Similarly, China would seek out Spore being of Chinese majority. The difference is Spore is just a small part in the greater scheme of China's strategic interest. Once China has attained its goals, spore would be put into the back palaces, to be called upon as and when needed.

Anonymous said...

// Once China has attained its goals, spore would be put into the back palaces, to be called upon as and when needed.//

Of course, in the scheme of things, after SINKIELAND attained its purpose, either US or China becomes its vassal state and pay tributes to SINKIELAND every year. That would be ideal!

b said...

"The concept and theory behind such thinking is existence of potential "FREE RIDERS " ......."

- Nothing is free lah. Not in the past, now or in the future. Everything has a price. China only wants to be B or C and not A. Dunno which idiot whole day chirping that china wants to be A causing all the tension between the giants. However, no need to be a genius to know why the idiot does what he did.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

There are free riders but China is not one of them. China was on the wrong side of the 'free' system. All the rules and regulations and world bodies were designed to contain China's growth. Even today, after China broke free from the encirclement, it is still regarded as the enemy of the Americans and the West.

The TPP is the latest trade pact to exclude and isolate China. The biggest free loader is India, seen as a friend of the West but not contributing much to the system. Many other countries are victims of the 'free' trade system of the West and you can count them quite easily. Indonesia is one, so is Malaysia and many others in Latin America and the ME.