THE EBB AND FLOW OF CIVILIZATION: HOW THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF CORE/PERIPHERY DEVELOPMENT HAVE LED US TO THE EDGE OF RENEWAL THROUGH CONFRONTATION WITH THE EAST.
Western civilization, like all forms of imperialist-based societies, has been developed by way of what is known as the `core/periphery` method of development. Essentially, the `core`, being a civilization possessing a great deal of material wealth, knowledge, military might, population, and economic productive capacity, seeks out a `peripheral` civilization, rich in raw materials such as gold, silver, or animal and vegetable material, and seeks to develop that wealth for its own benefit, so as to garner a favourable balance of trade for itself, usually by transferring the raw materials from the `peripheral` civilization back to the `core` area, and exporting the finished goods of the `core` civilization to the `periphery’s` market.
Often, in years gone by, `core` countries such as Britain, France, Spain and Portugal, chose to first forcibly subjugate the inhabitants of the `peripheral` countries, and, in some cases, enslave their populations so as to gain access to the country’s material wealth and human productive capacity.
Thus said, this process was itself utilized in one way, shape or form by previous civilizations which pre-dated the emergence of western European nation-states in post-medieval Europe. The Romans established a peripheral zone of rule throughout the better part of the Mediterranean in their day, all ruled from Rome as the `core`. Same goes for the Greeks, Egyptians, and so on.
The result, in the end, was that the European empires not only expanded to North and South America, but to Asia and the Middle East as well. This led to two important developments which are crucial in understanding the current paradigm which is potentially emerging out of years of post WWII and post Cold War socio-economic and socio-political ferment.
One was the emergence of the United States of America as an independent nation state and world military-economic power. The other, which grew out of the first, was the emergence of Japan and China as world military and economic powers. In the first case, when the USA was in the process of consolidating its control over the lower 48 states with its war against Mexico in 1846-48, and later Spain, in 1898, it began, in doing so, to seek access to strategic ports on the pacific coast to act as military bases to eventually expand into the Pacific for its trade interests.
This it continued to do so in 1852, when Commodore Mathew Perry established diplomatic relations with Japan by practicing his now famous `gunboat diplomacy` with the Japanese and threatened to bomb one of their port cities if they did not open them up to trade with the USA.
The Japanese complied, and soon trade between Japan and the USA was very brisk, and Japan quickly went from being a virtually agrarian, feudal country, to being an industrial, urban one within only a few decades.
This led the Japanese to first of all, modernize her armed forces, then her civilian economy. So Japan quickly became a force to be reckoned with in the Pacific. The Japanese began to flex their newfound muscles, that the USA and Britain had helped them to acquire, by eventually invading other European nation’s colonies in Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia).
This eventually led to the outbreak of WWII when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in December of 1941, and only came to a close when the USA dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Now we see the same core-periphery development phenomenon occurring between the USA and China. In the wake of the Japanese defeat in the Pacific in 1945, the Allies, led by the USA, had hoped that China, which had been in the throes of a civil conflict pitting Communists against the Kuomintang Party for several decades since the fall of the last Imperial Dynasty in 1911, would become a pro-American country open to investment from the USA.
However, in the 4 year civil war which followed WWII, the Communists emerged victorious, and Chiang Kai Shek, the leader of the pro-American Kuomintang Party, retreated to the island of Formosa, thus creating the dilemma of there being two Chinas: The People’s Republic of China on the mainland led by Mao Tse Tung, which most of the world recognized, except the USA, until Richard Nixon’s historic visit in 1972, and the Republic of China on the island of Formosa, known as Taiwan.
For many years, Communist China remained closed to foreign investment, and was closely allied to Soviet Russia. Mao closed down the old `treaty ports` along the south China coast which had been a leftover from the old days of when foreign powers from the west had negotiated deals with local warlords, in the absence of any centralized state authority, to set up special `duty-free` or `free trade` areas in certain `treaty ports` along the south coast whereby foreign manufacturing interests would get tax-free status for their exports within the treaty zone and access to cheap Chinese labour, and in exchange, the local Chinese warlord and business men got a share of the proceeds.
Eventually, however, it became quite apparent that China was falling behind economically-speaking from the rest of the world and that its rigid state-controlled system of industrial production and ownership was not allowing the country to flourish. Eventually, during the Reagan years in the 1980s, the US Administration persuaded the Chinese to enact certain limited economic and social market-oriented reforms so as to open the door to foreign investment.
In time, the floodgates opened, and China has now become the economic and industrial powerhouse that we know today, with business people from all around the world, including the USA and Canada openly off-shoring jobs from their own countries to China so as to make more money for themselves by shutting down production in North America.
This has now led us to the current predicament that we find ourselves in. The Chinese produce a lot of the world’s cheap consumer goods, often with the complicity of western interests. However, the Chinese must ship those goods across the Pacific Ocean to world markets by way of the protection proffered to them by the US Navy.
The Japanese do this also, but they only agreed to it once their military capacity was explicitly written out of their constitution after they surrendered unconditionally to the USA after the 2 atomic bombs were dropped on them in 1945.
I can’t see the Chinese continuing to kow-tow to the USA for much longer, being forced to count on their rival’s military might to protect their trade interests, which, by the way, are being pursued at the expense of the economic interests of the very rival who is protecting them!
At some point, and I think that point has already been reached, China is going to want to develop a world-class Navy of its own so as to protect and promote its economic interests at home, and especially abroad. It will want to protect access to its own shipping lanes in the Pacific and especially it will want to be able to project power outside of the South East Asian perimeter so as to be able to send its warships to foreign ports in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East so as to negotiate trade agreements, giving her access to a greater quantity and quality of animal, vegetable and mineral products.
This will enable her to build even more warships, especially carriers and carrier battle groups to support them so as to get access to even more resources to oil the jaw of both her military-industrial and civilian-industrial complexes, as her citizens become increasingly more prosperous and demand a better standard of material comfort and civil liberties.
This will put China on a direct collision course with the west, especially the USA, which, to date has had, and continues to have the monopoly over the control of the high seas and the access to raw materials for her own military and civilian-industrial complexes and those of her allies.
This process has already begun, with China having embarked on an ambitious program to build aircraft carriers and a new generation of nuclear submarines. She recently inaugurated her first carrier, a 60 000 or so ton Diesel-powered craft which was purchased from the Ukraine in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. It was just an unfinished hull at the time, but the Chinese finished her and she is now at sea, and China is now in the process of researching and developing a new fighter aircraft which will be able to take-off and land on an aircraft carrier.
This will create an inevitable clash over competition for resources, which may lead inevitably to a 3rd world war. This competition with the east may be the last and decisive conflict in the process of core-periphery developments on this planet since the emergence of civilization many thousands of years ago.
The new `thesis’ which results from it can only be speculated upon. What can be said is that the casualties will likely be enormous, and that both the USA and China will likely emerge from the whole affair greatly transformed, with both sides having learned a great deal from each other and a new, more genuine system of global civil and military governance resulting from it all.