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Good Reads: Predicting the end of history and the fall of China

Year-end pieces predicting future events may seem like just so much guesswork, but looking deeply at present events and guessing where they will go is part and parcel of journalism. 

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In that spirit, one must read Gordon G. Chang’s piece in Foreign Policy, under the headline “The Coming Collapse of China: 2012 Edition.” To put it lightly, Mr. Chang’s viewpoint is not the dominant one, at a time when the Chinese economy continues to boom. But as the Monitor's own Peter Ford notes, there is growing unrest in the Chinese population. And Chang identifies three of China’s former strengths – its economic reforms, its massive and cheap labor force, and its emergence at a time of falling economic and political barriers – that have now turned into weaknesses.

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… the global boom of the last two decades ended in 2008 when markets around the world crashed. The tumultuous events of that year brought to a close an unusually benign period during which countries attempted to integrate China into the international system and therefore tolerated its mercantilist policies. Now, however, every nation wants to export more and, in an era of protectionism or of managed trade, China will not be able to export its way to prosperity like it did during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. China is more dependent on international commerce than almost any other nation, so trade friction -- or even declining global demand -- will hurt it more than others. The country, for instance, could be the biggest victim of the eurozone crisis.

As a side note, it turns out the American official who will be doing the most to guide US policy on China in the next year or so will be Vice President Joe Biden, a fact that will either reassure or terrify, depending on one’s opinion of Joe Biden.

There is a reason why journalists tend to pay so much attention to the political leaders of the day, and it is because it is political leaders – and their belief systems and prejudices – that do the most to affect the course of political events. Paul Pillar, the former deputy of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, writes a strong piece in Foreign Policy refuting the conventional wisdom that it was bad intelligence that led the US into the war into Iraq. No, says Mr. Pillar, it was the gut instincts of the Bush administration that led the US to war, for good or for ill.

On major foreign-policy decisions, however, whether going to war or broadly rethinking US strategy in the Arab world (as President Barack Obama is likely doing now), intelligence is not the decisive factor. The influences that really matter are the ones that leaders bring with them into office: their own strategic sense, the lessons they have drawn from history or personal experience, the imperatives of domestic politics, and their own neuroses. A memo or briefing emanating from some unfamiliar corner of the bureaucracy hardly stands a chance.

Journalistic predictions, like diplomatic cables, may be guesswork. But they’re a useful part of analyzing a changing world. Are you keeping score?

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