The End of Globalism: Where China and the United States Go From Here

By Eric X. Li / December 9, 2016 / Foreign Affairs

When it rains, it pours. As the Great Recession, eurozone crisis, stalled trade deals, increased conflict between Russia and the West, electoral revolts against European political elites, and finally Brexit followed the 2008 financial meltdown, it seemed clear that globalization was running out of steam. Yet few expected that its opponents would claim the top prize—the White House—and so soon.

World powers are now scrambling to react to Donald Trump’s paradigm-shifting election as president of the United States. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, after repeatedly expressing concern about a potential Trump presidency and pointedly meeting with only Hillary Clinton before the election, rushed to New York for face time with the president-elect. European leaders have been more ambivalent, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel even putting conditions on working with Trump. And the Russians have seemed downright gleeful; in a congratulatory note, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote that Trump’s victory could bring “a constructive dialogue between Moscow and Washington on the principles of equality, mutual respect and real consideration.”

Yet the feelings of perhaps the most consequential power—China—remain somewhat unclear. During the campaign, China was a primary target of Trump’s dissatisfaction with trade. Yet Trump’s likely jettisoning of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement would immediately benefit China. And for obvious reasons, his anti-interventionist foreign policy outlook suits the Chinese. For now, there are signs that Beijing is still processing the enormous development and is calibrating its response.

THE RISE AND FALL OF GLOBALISM

Globalization started as an innocent enough concept in the 1970s: the world was becoming increasingly connected through trade, investment, travel, and information. But after the Cold War, it was injected with an ideological component: globalism. And now one can hardly distinguish between the two.

Globalism is rooted in the neo-liberal doctrine of the Washington Consensus, which was initiated by the first post–Cold War U.S. president, Bill Clinton, and carried out by the successive administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. It envisioned a world moving inextricably toward the adoption of a unified set of rules and standards in economics, politics, and international relations. National borders would gradually lose relevance and even disappear. Cultural distinctions would give way to universal values. Electoral democracy and market capitalism would spread the world over. Eventually, all countries would be governed in more or less the same way.

The process would be backed by the United States’ hard and soft power. Indeed, it was partially according to this logic that neo-liberalism’s offspring, the neo-conservatives and liberal interventionists, took America to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. And therein lies the problem; globalism was a Trojan Horse. It devoured globalization, turning it into a force that seemed unstoppable until it collapsed under the weight of its own hubris.

In the West, the leading disciples of globalism became its greatest beneficiaries. Wealth and power concentrated at the top, among the owners and deployers of capital, who favored free trade, multiculturalism, multilateral institutions, and even regime change and nation building in foreign lands. But their vision harmed the vast majority that constituted the middle class. Just one generation after winning the Cold War, the United States saw its industrial base hollow out, its infrastructure fall into disrepair, its education system deteriorate, and its social contract rip apart.

Beyond the economic damage, changes in social values propagated by globalismthreatened social cohesion. The political scientist Robert Putnam captured the process best in his important book, Bowling Alone, in which he described in painful detail the collapse of American communities. In the name of globalization, in other words, American elites had been building an empire at the expense of a nation.

The same thing happened in Europe. Technocrats in Brussels, along with their allies in national capitals, pushed an ever-expanding set of standards onto an ever-expanding European Union, relegating to the backburner the interests of the people in its member states. In some European countries, youth unemployment reached and stayed at 50 percent.

Now the globalist elites have been overthrown at the very same ballot box that used to sustain their rule.

THE VIEW FROM BEIJING

China, more than any other developing country, has benefited from globalization. It saw itself transform from a poor agrarian economy into a global industrial powerhouse, all while lifting more than 600 million people out of poverty. Yet China chose to engage globalization on its own terms, embracing connectivity while decisively rejecting globalism. In turn, China was able to strengthen its one-party political system and open its market according to its own national development priorities. Read more….

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