Decentering the West and China

By David Pan, Telos

As the world faces aggressive behavior from Russia and China, one possible consequence will be the decline of the Western-dominated order that has shaped the world since World War II. In such a case, dichotomies such as China and the West would give way to the political dynamics within separate super-regions. In her research on the relationships between different East Asian cultures—China, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia—Karen Thornber provides insight into the possibilities of such a cross-cultural landscape in her consideration of the ways in which Japan’s early twentieth-century imperial projects dominated East Asian political and cultural developments. Western ideas and techniques often reached Asia through the Japanese filter, and these intra-Asian dynamics defined cross-cultural flows and conflicts. If the alternative to Western imperialism was Japanese imperialism and may in the future become Chinese imperialism, such realignments pose new problems and questions for cultural comparisons and political dynamics. But if today’s global order, though established on the basis of U.S. and European institutions, is in fact based on a world of separate, sovereign nation-states without an imperial center, the maintenance of this order will depend on the decisions of most of the world’s nations to support this order and the kinds of cross-cultural relationships it makes possible. Decentering the West consequently takes two different forms, one involving the reemergence of regional imperial powers and the other consisting of the defense and stabilization of a global order based on nation-state sovereignty. The war in Ukraine is a key event in the conflict between these two alternatives. In my conversation with Thornber on today’s episode of the Telos Press Podcast, we discuss her work on how intra-Asian relationships have taken on various historical forms in a variety of problem areas, including gender discrimination, health, ecological degradation, and climate change.

Karen Thornber’s article “Decentering the ‘West’ and ‘China’ in China-West Comparison” appears in Telos 199 (Summer 2022) and is available at the Telos Online website (subscription required). If your library does not yet subscribe to Telos, visit our library recommendation page to let them know how.

Categories: Geopolitics

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