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America's AIIB debacle: an imperial hubris or a case of “the fox and the grapes

Popularity 5Viewed 2444 times 2015-4-13 21:41 |System category:Economy| imperial, hubris, sour, grapes

The late British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) once remarked, “We have two kinds of morality side by side: one which we preach but do not practice, and another which we practice but seldom preach.” Russell's words could apply to the Obama administration’s stance on the proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), an international financial institution proposed by China that has been embraced by a number of America’s long-time allies, especially Britain, despite Washington’s objections. The primary function of this multilateral development bank is to finance infrastructure projects in Asia's developing countries desperately in need of such investments. America has long admonished China to become a “responsible stakeholder” in Asia, and China is attempting to become one with the creation of the AIIB. So why did the U.S. object to it only until recently?



How could one interpret the negative attitude of the Obama administration toward the AIIB? The late American historian William Appleman Williams (1921-1990), the author of Empire as a Way of Life, defined empire as “the use and abuse, and the ignoring, of other people for one’s own welfare and convenience.” Was the Obama administration displaying the imperial hubris historically displayed by empires? Or was the AIIB debacle simply a case of Aesop’s “the fox and the grapes”? Since it would be unable to get approval for funding from a United States Congress dominated by the Republican Party even if it wanted to join the bank as a founding member, was the Obama administration deeming China's grapes “sour” and telling America’s allies not to eat them? In either case, by pressuring America’s allies not to join the bank, the Obama administration did not win the sympathies of the global community.


Despite the Obama administration’s announced policy of a “pivot to Asia”, America's presence and influence in Asia will likely experience a steady decline. The AIIB debacle is only a symptom of America’s waning clout in Asia that started in the aftermath of the devastating financial crisis of 2007-08, which originated in the United States and cascaded to the rest of the world. China and its neighbors (with the exception of Japan) have disabused themselves of “Washington consensus”.  Although the U.S. economy has been slowly recovering, it seems to have neither the resources nor the will to sustain its Asian presence and vigil. Moreover, systemic realities in America contribute to its overall decline in economic influence: a shrinking middle class and concentrated wealth that does not result in productive investments; a significant portion of its population in poverty or near poverty; a declining quality of primary and secondary education. It may lose leadership in technological development and, without a strong economy, will even cease to be the best armed. The country is fractured along racial, socioeconomic, and ideological lines—with some observers even calling it the “Disunited” States of America. Contrary to an “audacity of hope” proclaimed by President Barack Obama in his 2008 campaign, there is neither a shared national purpose nor leadership that can instill a sense of unity among the American populace. It is even losing its awareness of and pride in being the sole global superpower. With its failure to turn the tide in defeating international terrorism, a once ample sense of bravado since September 11 has faded. One cumulative effect of these factors could likely be America's complete disengagement with Asia—out of an exhaustion of resources and a lack of political will to be there.


America’s waning influence in or withdrawal from Asia will provide added responsibility to the AIIB’s founding members who, instead of carping from the sidelines, have wisely chosen to join the AIIB, notwithstanding paranoiac concerns about “the rising might of China” oft expressed in some quarters of United States officialdom. By working together with “a risen China”, they have a moral obligation to the global community to ensure not only that the proposed bank will meet high standards of governance, but also that the bank will not be used as a tool for hegemony and dominion by any one country or group of countries—the paradigm of international politics that has plagued the world for centuries. China could take this opportunity to emerge as a new and powerful champion of world peace and justice. This moral challenge may be difficult for China to meet in light of its history at the hands of foreign invasion and domination, such as the Opium Wars and the brutal invasion of imperial Japan. China taking an affirmative and courageous stance on peace and justice would therefore be all the more persuasive.


(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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