There’s no question that the US, rather than China, is a leading revisionist power today, because the Washington establishment of both political parties is trapped in another wave of panic: the morbid fear of a US decline. Americans are always obsessed with declinism. Declinism is a business that never declines, writes Valdai Club expert Xiang Lanxin.
A central premise of the Biden foreign-policy team is that China is trying to challenge the status quo, which is defined as US primacy in the world system. China is seen as a rising power with a huge grudge against the existing international system. In short, it could be said that there are parallels between the second decade of the twenty-first century and the early twentieth century, when a democratic England struggled with a rising, economically powerful but authoritarian Germany. This analogy, however, that of a “Wilhelmine China”, is flawed: it is hardly obvious, in the year 2021, just who is defending the status quo. The irony is, at the very moment of China’s decision to integrate fully into the international system, the United States seems to have started the process of changing that system. It is abandoning the rules it established at the end of the Second World War, especially the liberal international economic order, which was based on free trade and the mechanism of market competition. After more than forty years of reform and opening, China is on the verge of becoming a lead player in the existing international economic system. Just as China aspires to become a “normal state” for the first time in its long and self-isolated history, the criterion for “normal” is changing. When China became multilateral in its foreign relations, America became unilateral under the Trump administration, and this policy has continued under Biden.
There’s no question that the US, rather than China, is a leading revisionist power today, because the Washington establishment of both political parties is trapped in another wave of panic: the morbid fear of a US decline.
The popularity of declinism was established in 1918, in the book that gave decline a profitable name in publishing: the German historian Oswald Spengler’s best-selling work “The Decline of the West”. For many in Washington, Spengler was far-sighted in his pessimism and attempt to foretell the decline of liberalism in the face of the spread of totalitarianism. But this is not enough — they have also to revive Spenger’s racism to justify their animosity toward China. Hence, the Yellow Peril narrative came in handy for the Trump administration. Trumpism is stoking a fierce racial war in the United States and abroad; hostility towards the Yellow Peril has been kindled simultaneously. This is no accident. While Trump’s China policy was openly racist (phrases such as “Kung Flu” have certainly been responsible for current anti-Asian hate crimes), Biden’s China policy is more subtle. However, its Yellow Peril undertone is unmistakable. Since the political elite in Washington are horrified by a crumbling world order built on “unipolar fantasy”, it is not surprising that they are, subconsciously perhaps, seeking inspiration from Spengler, the guru of the racialist school of decline. The combination of declinism and the Yellow Peril narrative produces a perfect rhetorical tool for China-bashing today.
Spengler, the original prophet of a declining West, left a horrible proposition for the Western people over a century ago: if the decline of the West is caused by its own doing, i.e., internecine wars, then you have no one to blame. But if the rise of the non-white peoples causes the West to decline, how should the white world deal with them? Either by eliminating them or simply retarding the advancement of their societies. The worst solution, according to Spengler, is to ‘integrate’ them. The America Firsters have peddled this message loud and clear. Nazi Germany chose to eliminate an entire ethnic group, while the US prefers to return to the idea of economic retardation and launch a military chokehold against the most advanced non-white country, China. Not by accident, Spengler also provided a handy theory for technological “decoupling” with China. He vehemently opposed technological advances in general, for fear of non-White people getting hold of them to destroy Western civilisation. More importantly, the China-bashing campaign is shrouded in a moralistic halo.