How the West Was Re-Won

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.

A few years ago, in my book The Geopolitics of Emotion, I stressed the differences that existed between a Western world dominated by fear and an Asia animated by hope. While the West accumulated debts, Asia had startled the world with its long economic boom. This continues to be the case, but nuances are appearing. There is more fear today in the West, but also a little less hope in Asia.