The limits to Obama and Xi’s smiles

Earlier this year, the New York Times reported on a heated exchange between a group of American officials and their foreign counterparts. The Americans, the paper reported, denounced the other side as “deceitful, disrespectful and arrogant… The fact that you ask for ‘mutual respect’ is nothing short of laughable.” Surprisingly, the target of such strong criticism was not, say, China, but Canada, to whom New York State officials were expressing their frustrations over the ironically titled Peace Bridge that connects the two countries. Such negative language belies the very strong affinity Americans and Canadians have for the other, despite a host of trade, environmental, and other disagreements. But it is exactly this strong affinity that counterintuitively allows for direct, even heated, engagement that ultimately facilitates agreement.

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Finding true north in a nonpolar world

The most popular narrative of how the global balance of power is shifting emphasizes the end of the United States’ “unipolar moment” and the return of a multipolar order in which rising powers vie for influence alongside the European Union and the United States. Such a reversion depends upon the assumption that the traditional role of the nation-state will remain unchanged. This is not likely to be the case. As Richard Haass, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations notes, the state is increasingly challenged from all sides: above from global organizations, below from militias and empowered citizens, and from the side from nongovernmental organizations and corporations.

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China and the New Revisionism

Late last month, China’s new president, Xi Jinping, undertook his first trip abroad as head of state. With the country’s once in a decade leadership transition now complete and the Obama administration several months into its second term, it is an appropriate moment to reflect on the evolving U.S.-Sino balance of power.

The past few months have been a banner one for China hawks. Its tit-for-tat complaints at the WTO; its territorial disputes with its Pacific neighbors; the fall boycott of the IMF meeting in Tokyo; and the successful first-ever landing on China’s newly acquired aircraft carrier: all reinforced the impression of a rising China that will challenge the liberal democratic order. Continue reading “China and the New Revisionism”

Chinese soft power: on the shores of West Lake

It has been called the “Kung Fu Panda problem,” or, more recently, the “Gangnam Style question.” Why, China’s leaders and intelligentsia ask, is it American studio Dreamworks which scores a global blockbuster with the film Kung Fu Panda, two of China’s most globally resonant symbols, and not a Chinese studio? And, on the heels of South Korean rapper Psy’s achievement of the most watched video on YouTube, they are also asking, and not without some jealousy, why it is Korean pop playing on iPods worldwide and not Chinese?

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