This is a timely book. Throughout history, rising powers have come to blows with waning ones: think of Germany in 1914 or Japan in the 1930s. Some suppose that a rising China is doomed to clash violently with America. Not necessarily so, says Mr Feldman. Both sides have too much to lose. Economically, they are more intimately entwined than any previous pair of rivals.
The old Soviet block barely traded with the West. China not only trades with America on a stupendous scale but also holds much of its debt. A trade embargo would cripple China’s economy. That would undermine the Communist Party’s main claim to legitimacy: that China has prospered under its rule. And that in turn would threaten the party’s precious grip on power. So it “would simply be irrational” for China and America to go to war, Mr Feldman writes.
Alas, just because something is irrational does not mean it will not happen. The Communist Party’s other claim to legitimacy is that it embodies Chinese nationalism. As growth slows and the Chinese people tire of being robbed by corrupt officials, Beijing may feel tempted to crank up the aggression in its backyard.
Cool War: The Future of Global Competition: Noah Feldman: 9780812992748: Amazon.com: Books
A bold and thought-provoking look at the future of U.S.-China relations, and how their coming power struggle will reshape the competitive playing field for nations around the world
The Cold War seemingly ended in a decisive victory for the West. But now, Noah Feldman argues, we are entering an era of renewed global struggle: the era of Cool War. Just as the Cold War matched the planet’s reigning superpowers in a contest for geopolitical supremacy, so this new age will pit the United States against a rising China in a contest for dominance, alliances, and resources. Already visible in Asia, the conflict will extend to the Middle East (U.S.-backed Israel versus Chinese-backed Iran), Africa, and beyond.
Yet this Cool War differs fundamentally from the zero-sum showdowns of the past: The world’s major power and its leading challenger are economically interdependent to an unprecedented degree. Exports to the U.S. account for nearly a quarter of Chinese trade, while the Chinese government holds 8 percent of America’s outstanding debt. This positive-sum interdependence has profound implications for nations, corporations, and international institutions. It makes what looked to be a classic contest between two great powers into something much more complex, contradictory, and badly in need of the shrewd and carefully reasoned analysis that Feldman provides.
To understand the looming competition with China, we must understand the incentives that drive Chinese policy. Feldman offers an arresting take on that country’s secretive hierarchy, proposing that the hereditary “princelings” who reap the benefits of the complicated Chinese political system are actually in partnership with the meritocrats who keep the system full of fresh talent and the reformers who are trying to root out corruption and foster government accountability. He provides a clear-eyed analysis of the years ahead, showing how China’s rise presents opportunities as well as risks. Robust competition could make the U.S. leaner, smarter, and more pragmatic, and could drive China to greater respect for human rights. Alternatively, disputes over trade, territory, or human rights could jeopardize the global economic equilibrium—or provoke a catastrophic “hot war” that neither country wants.
The U.S. and China may be divided by political culture and belief, but they are also bound together by mutual self-interest. Cool War makes the case for competitive cooperation as the only way forward that can preserve the peace and make winners out of both sides.
Praise for Cool War
“Feldman is a sensitive and incisive observer of what he has coined the ‘Cool War’ between the [United States and China]. . . . A crisp writer, Feldman has a fine eye for telling anecdotes, which he uses to frame nearly every chapter. . . . Neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic, Feldman lays out a compelling case for why the neither-allies-nor-enemies standing between the two powers is tenuous but not necessarily doomed to topple into hot war. Current affairs books always run the risk of going rather quickly from the New Releases shelf to the remainder bin, but Feldman’s book carries enough insight to warrant serious attention from anyone interested in what may well be the defining relationship in global affairs for decades to come.”—Kirkus Reviews
“By giving realism and liberal internationalism their due, and by giving credence to both naked self-interest and legal norms, Noah Feldman’s dissection of the United States–China relationship is smart, balanced, and wise.”—Robert D. Kaplan, New York Times bestselling author of The Revenge of Geography