Obama might be trying a neo-Rawlsian approach to the world

G. John Ikenberry wrote in the January/February 2008 number of Foreign Affairs, The Rise of China and the Future of the West, prior to the financial crisis and Barack Obama's presidency, about the need of letting China into the Western Order. Gideon Rachman, at the Financial Times thinks this is getting less probable in his recent book Zero-Sum World. Since Ikenberry is a leading ideologue in Obama's administration, Rachman then seems to challenge the modus operandum of Obama's foreign policy.

Ikenberry suggests that the US takes a breath and positions itself behind a "veil of ignorance" to find out where they want to be now when they are relatively less powerful. He says: "The United States cannot thwart China's rise, but it can help ensure that China's power is exercised within the rules and institutions that the United States and its partners have crafted over the last century, rules and institutions that can protect the interests of all states in the more crowded world of the future."

Thus, the question how the Eastern authoritative ruling system can be economically integrated in the Western Order is an important one. To what extent can rules be shared, especially now when asymmetries have arisen in world trade. Japan's development affords an interesting example. Under a democratic, almost one party system, they have risen to nearly the same GDP per capita as the US. Still their society is very Japanese, even if they actually play little league baseball. If China does a similar journey they will be gigantic but there will still be Japan, India, the US and Europe. The rise of Japan, by the way, caused quite a stir in the US at the time.

It should be noted, however, that Ikenberry also brings up the similarity to the rise of Germany prior to World War I and refers to Niall Ferguson's discussion of the topic. This is a hurdle we have to pass. I guess what the debate in reality is about is if the liberals system can survive which is a question Ikenberry asks. He does not see America winning over China but sees the West winning over China. My idea of why this is the case is the scientific revolution which is exported successfully to the East. It might actually be the only thing they are impressed by.

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