Next week, Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to the United States to meet Donald Trump for the first time. But according to Gideon Rachman, the chief foreign affairs commentator for the Financial Times, power is flowing in the opposite direction. Rachman is far from the first analyst to argue that China and other Asian nations are rising while the Western world declines, nor is he the first to cite the now-familiar statistics about China’s ballooning economy and unparalleled manufacturing might. His contribution is to help explain some of the most confounding developments of the day—from the Middle East’s descent into anarchy to the ascent of populist politicians in the West to the emergence of nostalgia as a political force—through his theory of the “Easternization” of international affairs.
“In the twenty-first century,” Rachman writes in his recent book on the concept, “rivalries among the nations of the Asia-Pacific region will shape global politics, just as the struggles between European nations shaped world affairs for over five hundred years from 1500 onward.”
Trump, in fact, was an early opponent of Easternization, though he used different language. The businessman first expressed some of the core themes of his 2016 campaign—that foolish free-trade deals and greedy allies were draining the United States of its greatness—in the late 1980s, when the Japanese economy was booming and, as the former Bush administration official Peter Feaver has noted, “the joke was that the Cold War was over, and Japan had won.” Today, Trump argues that China is winning—and that America’s losing streak must end.