The much-vaunted "liberal order" policed by the U.S. was a product of World War II and the Cold War. Germany and Japan had to be kept down, the Communist powers had to be contained, and the old countries of Europe had to learn to live with one another under unifying pan-national institutions. All of this was made possible by American money and military might. As a result, the Free World, in Western Europe and East Asia, became a US dependency. This cannot go on forever. Indeed, the arrangements are already fraying. But then comes the old imperial paradox. The longer others remain dependent on the U.S., the less capable they will be of taking care of their own affairs, including their security. And, like an authoritarian parent, the U.S. itself, despite its admonitions to its allies to pull their weight, is often loath to let go of its increasingly unruly dependents.
Unlike the Cold War period -- in which the Soviet Union was isolated from the global economy -- commercial interests and trade secrets underpin the intrinsically entangled Sino-American economic relations. The higgledy-piggledy distinction between national security and corporate interests is hardly convincing to the Chinese, especially when the US revolving doors conveniently inhabit the space between government service and corporations during both Democratic and Republican administrations. Just like the Sino-American relations in commercial intercourse, economics triumphs over ideology in the partisan world of American politics. On China's side, its intertwined national and economic interests are enshrined in the peculiar institution of the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs).
Fast forward just over fifteen decades and our thanks still go out to President Lincoln and the 37th U.S. Congress for working together to pass such far-sighted and impactful legislation -- in a time of war -- to do what was right for the nation. Perhaps we still have a much to learn from that bygone era.
It would be politically incorrect in the United States to proclaim that the domestic order kept by the Chinese Communist Party would serve U.S. interests. It would also be ideologically unacceptable in China to announce that the current international order sustained by American primacy should be welcomed. Paradoxically, the stark reality is that the two orders have been reinforcing each other now for the past 42 years, since Richard Nixon's historic visit to China. Today, it is in China's best interest to see a vibrant U.S. economy stimulated by technological innovations, and a benign, careful use of U.S. power in the global system. In turn, an orderly yet changing China, under a strong, reform-minded leadership, will make greater contributions to the global order in favor of the United States.