Viewed from the United States, there are three ways of looking at the rise of China and India: as an illusion, as a threat or as an opportunity. Fareed Zakaria is an optimist.
Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, came to the US as an 18-year-old student from India. But, in many ways, this is a very American book – both in its optimism and in its determination to leave the reader with useful lessons.
Much of the material in The Post-American World will be well known to anyone with a passing interest in international affairs: the stunning economic growth in Asia; the challenge to America’s post cold-war hegemony; the parallels between modern America and the British empire. Zakaria tells this story in a convincing and entertaining way. But it is familiar stuff.
The novel feature of Zakaria’s book is its effort to argue that “the rise of the rest” need not entail the decline of the US.
To illustrate his point, he draws an analogy with tennis. A generation ago, American players dominated the US Open. Now they have to share the prizes with players from other nations. This does not mean that Americans have suddenly got worse at tennis. It is just that others have learnt how to play the game.
I went to a couple of meetings this week where the food crisis was discussed. At Chatham House on Monday John Holmes, the UN’s co-ordinator for emeregency relief, gave a careful and under-stated presentation -which was still alarming in its implications. He told me after the meeting that he thinks that we are still only at the beginning of the food crisis – and that prices and hunger are likely to keep rising for a while yet.
I’ve certainly noticed on my travels that food prices are now a big political issue in almost every country that I visit. I first noticed it on a trip to Pakistan and Bangladesh at the beginning of the year. In both countries, people told me that the biggest source of popular discontent were not the machinations of President Musharraf or the Bangladeshi interim government. It was the fact that the price of staple foods had gone up by as much as 40% over the last year.
In case you haven’t been reading the papers, London has a new mayor. Boris Johnson has won. I thought that both Boris and Ken Livingstone gave unusually graceful speeches at the count last night. There was no triumphalism or buffoonery in Boris’s speech – and his tribute to Ken was generous and sounded genuine. Livingstone, for his part, avoided bitterness and accepted responsbility for his defeat – which was also generous, given that the more plausible explanation is that he was a victim of an anti-Labour rip-tide that is sweeping Britain.
The conventional explanation of Boris’s victory is that the voters are fed up. The economy is turning down, people are scared of crime and everybody in London is in a bit of gloom. This seems to me precisely wrong. Electing Boris is the act of a supremely confident city. You wouldn’t take a chance on a joker like him if you were actually worried about the future.