How the West Was Re-Won

At a time when the US economy remains fragile, Europe’s financial crisis is fueling an existential funk, and Japan’s deep structural malaise continues, the West's decline seems undeniable. But there are good reasons to doubt conventional wisdom, beginning with the West's growing awareness of its new, reduced position in the world.

PARIS – In 2005, at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, a prestigious exhibit sponsored by the Chinese Government, “The Three Emperors,” celebrated the greatness of Chinese art. The show’s central piece was a giant painting in the European (Jesuit) style depicting the envoys of the Western world lining up to pay respect to the Chinese emperor. The message could not have been more explicit: “China is back.” The West would have to pay tribute to China in the future the way it had kowtowed to it in the past.

In 2012, China is on the verge of becoming the world’s largest economy and is by far the leading emerging power. Yet two simultaneous phenomena suggest that the West may have been buried prematurely by its own Cassandras and by Asian pundits who sometimes behave like “arrogant Westerners.”

First, the West, particularly Europe, is slowly taking the measure of the Asian challenge. Second, it is doing so at the very moment that the emerging countries are starting to feel the consequences of a world economic crisis that has Europe as its epicenter. In other words, a new balance of strengths and weaknesses is emerging beneath the surface of events – and runs contrary to current mantras. Europe has awakened to the Asian challenge just as its own crisis exposes and intensifies the emerging countries’ economic, political, and social weaknesses.

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