During the 1952 presidential election campaign in the United States, the eventual winner Dwight Eisenhower made a blatantly dubious comment: “If there must be war, let it be Asians against Asians with our support on the side of freedom.” But he opposed land wars in Asia — the latest lesson he learnt was from the 1950-53 Korean War which claimed the lives of five million people. Of the total casualties in the Korean War, half of them were civilians. In other words, 10 per cent of the Korean Peninsula’s total population perished. That the tragedy was triggered only five years after the end of World War was a demonstration of how ideological and surreptitiously economic wars would be unleashed in the ensuing times.
Dubious desires Desire for exercising hegemony could be counted as the chief cause of such horrific consequences. Percentagewise, the staggering number of civilian casualties in Korea outstripped the casualties suffered in Vietnam in the 1960s spilling over the early 1970s. For the Americans, too, the Korean and Vietnam wars proved to be excruciatingly painful and acutely embarrassing. As many as 40,000 Americans were killed and 100,000 were wounded in Korea. Vietnam claimed 58,000 Americans while up to half a million Vietnamese lost their lives fighting against the richer and better equipped superpower. In both the wars, the US could not achieve its stated goals. Whereas the Korean Peninsula was left split, a divided Vietnam got united under a communist regime. Germany’s ally Japan became the only country to suffer a nuclear holocaust but the US, which bombed and reduced the core areas of Hiroshima and Nagasaki cities to rubble, is imperial Japan’s great ally today. In fact, the Americans had a lot to do with the drafting of the existing constitution of their war time foes. Times have overtaken events in many respects. The US policy of “no boots on the ground” is at work as an outcome of America’s highly advanced weapons technology. Whatever the degree of the US self-confidence, its traditional allies have been expressing doubts since especially the Donald Trump presidency (2017-21). A survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations indicates that majority of Europeans no longer trust the US, particularly since the Trump’s presidency. The inevitable question stands: Can the rest of the world trust a basically collective Europe or the US? The distrust level between the two continents across the Atlantic nags defence strategists. Until the George W. Bush presidency (2001-2009), Americans debated over the issue of the president exercising power in the global arena. Today, the same lot worries whether their president has the same scale of power exercisable in the global context. They believe the US might have grown weaker than at any other time in the post-World War II decades. Covering 15,000 subjects at the end of 2020, the 11-nation survey found that no less than half of the respondents wanted their government to not take any side in a Sino-US conflict. Most Europeans have begun to acknowledge a sharp increase in Chinese superiority. The detail of the survey indicates that 79 per cent of the respondents in Spain, 72 per cent in Portugal and Italy, and 63 per cent in France believe that China would replace the US as the world’s No. 1 superpower by the end of this decade. The indications were accompanied by most Europeans wanting their continent to gear up its defence system instead of overly relying on the Americans. Interestingly, Beijing suggests that “Asian countries should build inclusive security structure” in the absence of the US. Yang Xiyu, a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, recommends “an inclusive security structure that is sustainable and reliable”, in which every country can equally participate, to pull themselves out of the paradox trap.
In the Global Times, Yang Xiyu observes: “Since the end of World War II, the US has influenced Asia. But more recently, Washington has been absent from important Asia-Pacific regional economic deals, such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and the just sealed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). US’ absence clearly illustrates that Asia is developing toward multi-polarity.” Formed in 2016 and with more than 100 member states now, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank serves has as its top three shareholders China (26.5 per cent), India (7.6 per cent) and Russia (6.0 per cent). Among its three top non-regional shareholders are Germany (4.2 per cent), France (3.2 per cent) and the United Kingdom (2.9 per cent). The US now lacks absolute superiority, and no long possesses its former advantages. This ineptitude in the near and long run will hold Washington back from putting its nose everywhere. Western media and scribes frequently describe as an increasingly “assertive” China but they never tagged the US and EU “assertive” stands of similar nature and worse scope, as if superpower status is a US monopoly to be of valid values for universal application.
Nation first A brief but telling instance of how the West looks at those not within its direct sphere of influence is manifested in the manner in which its leaders and media write about events and developments among its core competitors. The brief but firm lockdown clamped on some parts of China when COVID-19 spread some 15 months ago was described in the ideologically infected societies as “draconian” and “drastic” measures. Once the lockdown trend caught up with European countries, too, the term and tone changed, without bothering to correct themselves on their earlier assessment of the situation in communist China, the world’s next No. 1 economy. Britain, having formally pulled out from the European Union at the start of this year, is being invited to join Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Tied to the acronym CANZUK, the quartet shares a common feature of being predominantly English-speaking nations. Its objectives include free trade, reciprocal migration and foreign policy cooperation. Nationals of the grouping are to be given free movement in the member states. A 2018 poll showed big support for free proposal, backed more than 70 per cent of the four countries. What all this suggests is the policy of each according to best of its interest first and foremost. Sharing and helping others is considered secondary in the countries of origin of the respondents. That consideration, too, might be more strategic than humanitarian. In this light is to be chronicled the steady but sure stride of the Emerging Asian Age in terms of economic success and political power in the decades ahead.
(Professor Kharel specialises in political communication.)