Ian Bremmer: 'I See Only One Country in the World That Has a Global Strategy Today, and It's Not America. It's China'

Ian Bremmer explains that China is the only country today with a global foreign policy strategy and explores the shortcomings of U.S. foreign policy. (3 min., 2 sec.)

In a far-ranging exchange of ideas at Asia Society New York on May 27, Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer and Asia Society Policy Institute President Kevin Rudd discussed the need for U.S. leaders to commit to a coherent foreign policy strategy as China gains influence and as other nations, particularly in Asia, hedge their alliances with the two countries.

In the last 25 years, Bremmer said, U.S. foreign policy “has been marked by extraordinary overreaction.”

“I think once the Soviet Union collapsed, [the United States] stopped doing foreign policy strategy. I think we became much more reactive,” explained Bremmer, who was recently named the Asia Society Policy Institute’s first Harold J. Newman Distinguished Fellow in Geopolitics.

China’s rise, in turn, poses a threat to what Bremmer termed “incoherent America.”

“I see only one country in the world that has a global strategy today, and it’s not America. It’s China,” Bremmer said.

Added Bremmer: “I think the idea that if the United States doesn’t lead, that no one else is going to lead, and so there’ll be chaos — there’s a lot of truth to that. But also if the United States doesn’t lead, the fact that the Chinese will occupy a lot of space and that American allies will start hedging, and as a consequence U.S.-led global institutions will not become led by China, but they will become fundamentally weaker and more fragmented, that really worries me.”

Rudd countered Bremmer’s assessment of U.S. influence with China’s perspective: “As of 2015, China, in its heart of hearts and mind of minds, is more confident about America’s future than America is.”

“Chinese realists are not negative, and certainly not dismissive, of America’s capacity to act,” Rudd said.

Bremmer pointed to Asia as the one bright spot for U.S. foreign policy in recent years.

“Despite all of my criticism of U.S. foreign policy, I happen to think that American Asia policy has been somewhat more strategic than what we’ve seen in other parts of the world. And here I’m focusing most importantly on the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said Bremmer, adding that he expects the 12 TPP countries to reach an agreement.

“I certainly believe that it is much more useful for the Americans to show strong economic interest and strong security engagement — to the extent we’re going to do so anywhere — in Asia, than [it is] in the Middle East or Ukraine,” Bremmer said.

Nonetheless, Bremmer said he worries about an apparent lack of focus on China among U.S. policy makers.

“When I go to Japan, I don’t get that. The Japanese understand this is a serious problem and they should be dealing with it every single day. It should be affecting their government, it should affect their national strategy, it [should] affect how their corporations think,” he said. “They’re having that debate. We’re not having that debate.”

“If [the next U.S. president] does not make China a fundamental platform of what they’re running for, then they’re going to have to deal with it in reaction. And the reaction will, I suspect, be much more xenophobic. It’ll be much more damaging to American interests. It certainly will be much less thought through,” Bremmer cautioned.

Rudd proposed that the United States has an opportunity to engage China in a constructive, collaborative fashion, an idea that he explores in his report U.S.-China 21: The Future of U.S.-China Relations Under Xi Jinping.

“Given where these two countries are right now — which is China rising but frankly America not out for the count by any measure — it’s actually time for American leadership to say to our Chinese friends: ‘Take Asia. Let’s actually build some institutions together. Let’s craft a common future,’” said Rudd.

Rudd asked Bremmer whether he thinks the U.S. can set and implement a sound foreign policy strategy.

“Absolutely, we can do this,” said Bremmer. “American presidents have the ability to lead foreign policy if they want to.” And foreign policy topics such as ISIS, the Iran nuclear talks, Russia and Ukraine, and China will be “central to the 2016 campaign,” he predicted.

“If there’s anything that this community can do […] it’s to try to get these candidates to address these substantive issues,” Bremmer urged the audience.

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Joshua Rosenfield is Director of Content Strategy with the Asia Society Policy Institute. He is based in New York.