We are, therefore, seeing the emergence of an asymmetric world in which the fulcrums of economic and military power are no longer co-located, but, in fact, are beginning to diverge significantly. Political power, through the agency of foreign policy, sits uncomfortably somewhere in between. As a result, in the absence of sophisticated diplomacy, over the coming decade we are likely to see more differences emerge between Washington and Beijing, rather than fewer. This will be exacerbated by the underlying reality that the U.S. and China have different national interests. They come from vastly different civilizational, cultural and linguistic traditions. They have significantly different sets of values. Neither has a history of close strategic collaboration with the other. Instead, their shared strategic history is a combination of proxy conflict over Taiwan, open conflict in Korea, and deep ideological enmity, followed by a period of pragmatic collaboration against a common enemy in the Soviet Union, and, more recently, a period of significant economic interdependence.
The central question for all of us is whether these changes in the regional and global distribution of power can occur peacefully, in a manner which preserves the stability and prosperity of Asia, while preserving the underlying values and institutional framework of the post-war order. No one should assume that the current order cannot be radically improved. The uncomfortable truth is that our existing system of global governance, anchored in the United Nations (UN) and the Bretton Woods institutions, is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. We can see this in its cumbersome response to the great global security, economic, social and environmental challenges of our time. For this reason, no one should assume, a priori, that a greater Chinese role in the order is by definition detrimental. That is simply not the case. The question is whether the unfolding dynamics in U.S.-China relations will result in an international system that is better or worse than the present one, warts and all.
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