Author: Zhong Sheng
As soon as the government is shown to be ineffective, the public becomes angry. Once the public becomes angry, the political situation descends into chaos. Once the political situation descends into chaos, the government becomes even more ineffective.
In the wake of recent gun violence, ongoing protests and troubled race relations in the U.S., a senior fellow with the Brookings Institute, Jonathan Rauch, has offered an explanation of sorts for the country’s descent into madness. He calls this chain of events “chaos syndrome.”
When it comes to handling domestic affairs, Washington has not yet lost all reason. The forces behind chaos syndrome are complicated and not easily resolved. Whoever holds political power must contend with self-interested political parties and unmotivated politicians, not to mention a complex modern society often full of contradictions.
However, in the field of international relations, can Washington still be counted on to stay reasonable and rational? The truth is, it’s difficult to say. Even though the U.S. is still the world’s number one power, it’s increasingly obvious that the country’s ability to defend and maintain that position in the world is weakening. American policymakers have not only failed to maintain stability in their own country, they have intentionally leaned on their internal crisis to manufacture chaos beyond their borders. In fact, “chaos obsession” is really the only way to properly describe the syndrome currently afflicting America’s foreign affairs.
Just like the self-reinforcing nature of chaos syndrome, chaos obsession is also a chain reaction. Insufficient public goods lead to a weakening of the dominant power. The weakening of the dominant power leads to still more chaos. The increased chaos leads to international influence that is more problematic with each passing day.
The causes of these two chains—chaos syndrome and chaos obsession—have different origins. Chaos syndrome is caused by a corrupt system and a society riddled with deep-seated contradictions. The cause of chaos obsession, on the other hand, is its habitual hegemony. However, the common trait these two chains share is that they can both be classified as vicious circles, heightening and worsening as they go round and round.
U.S. strategic “pivoting” to Asia-Pacific, and especially its behaviors on the South China Sea issue, perfectly reflects the vicious circle of chaos obsession.
What kind of crisis in the Asia-Pacific region truly necessitates the U.S. rushing all the way over from the opposite side of the ocean to intervene? Is this really necessary? What merchant vessel in the South China Sea is so utterly deprived of its freedom of navigation that it requires the escort of an entire U.S. aircraft carrier fleet? Just because the U.S. now faces its own decline as a global power, it does not have the right to re-label cause and effect at will.
All countries must be honest. Otherwise, no matter how “justified” an action may seem, and no matter how glamorous an explanation may sound, such lies and interventions constitute an unforgivable and a departure from polite civilization.
As the global economic center has gradually shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a new, win-win model of regional development has emerged. Since the 1990s, China and Southeast Asian countries have experienced 20 “golden years” of economic cooperation. Many economic achievements were made thanks to the joint efforts of China and Southeast Asian countries. China has exercised great restraint over the past few decades after the South China Sea issue emerged, always making honest efforts to solve problems through peaceful negotiation.
However, such a positive situation, which should be cherished by all countries involved, has instead constituted the state of affairs that birthed the chaos obsession in the South China Sea. Why is this? The reason is simple: the first two links of the chaos obsession chain are insufficient public goods and weakening of a dominant power. As a result, the third link, additional chaos, leads to the fourth link, problematic international influence.
Washington, who habitually makes rules for others, should realize that in today’s Asian-Pacific region, common development is the basic rule. If the U.S. doesn’t make and implement strategy in accordance with this rule, then it cannot avoid chaos obsession.
Nobody wants to see the world’s biggest power losing its rationality, which can only negatively impact global peace and stability. However, if such a situation does occur, we must deal with it calmly and strongly. After all, China has to safeguard its core interests as well as global justice. History tells us: more chaos would be triggered once the manipulator succeeds.