Not infrequently, I bang on in this space and elsewhere about “parity between West and non-West.” I consider achieving this the single most pressing necessity of our century if we are to make an orderly world out of the deranged, dysfunctional botch those responsible for it still get away with calling “the postwar order,” “the liberal order,” “the global order”—all of which are polite ways of saying “the Western-designed, Western-imposed order.”
Parity: What does this mean? It sounds like a flaky abstraction worth years of paychecks for the think-tank set. Why should one want to see it realized, given that so much of the non-West is ungiven to our “free-market democracy” after all we have taught them of its virtues and all we show them by example of its rewards? What would the world come to were it somehow to do without the “order,” “stability,” and “market-based” everything the West is here to protect and extend across the planet?
These are among the best questions one can ask now. And, kindness of Xi Jinping, it is a good week to consider them. On Monday China’s president concluded a two-day summit in Beijing, the first of this kind, dedicated to constructing—on the ground as well as in the history books—something like a new world order. The Chinese are not talking in such grand terms. They prefer the modest “Globalization 2.0,” or—this from China Daily a few days ago—“a new trajectory for mankind.” Ni Lexiong, an emeritus professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, put it this way in an interview with The Los Angeles Times: “The West and East are switching their roles.”
I do not buy into “the Asian century,” “the Pacific century,” “the Chinese century,” or zero-sum notions such as the honorable professor’s. There is always a pride factor in the consciousness of the Chinese, for whom the Opium Wars were yesterday. These expressions suggest the magnitude of events, but mislead as to the nature of the ambition. Before you know it you are trading in a civilized variant of the “yellow peril” Hearst conjured at the turn of the last century—and, to be honest, a lot of our hacks are already at it. “A post-Western world” I can live with. I subtitled a book thus a decade ago; China figured prominently in the argument, and I wrote it on a famed island that had earlier passed back from Britain’s hands into China’s.
It is a world one could sense back then but not quite see. Now it is hard upon us. It is what Vladimir Putin, who seems to have an excellent grasp of history, is talking about—the first, second, and third reasons we are supposed to detest and fear him. It is what formations such as the BRICs—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—are all about. It is what Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s reformist president, is trying to get across (as was Mohammad Khatami, the admirable reformist before him). Xi’s banner is as large as Tiananmen Square.