Europe‘s dreams of world domination, shattered in the bloodletting of war, had passed to the US: extolling the west’s virtues served to assert the depth of shared transatlantic values, and simultaneously defined them against the cold war barbarians to the east. So it should not surprise us now, as US power approaches its military and economic zenith and confronts the rapid emergence of India and China, that the shifting global balance is altering our understanding of the past once again. According to some east Asia experts in the US, the west’s ascent was reasonably recent and fortuitous: in 1800, China’s gross national product was probably still higher than Europe’s. For them the Pacific, not the Atlantic, is key to understanding the long run of world development. Their findings give western policymakers reason to pause before seeking to spread their own values around the globe. For if the west’s rise is no more than two centuries old, its success may owe more to contingency and less to values than its cheerleaders believe. For states as for stock markets, what goes up may also come down.
……China’s rise does not portend the downfall of the US or Europe but it does challenge the west’s self-perception as the civilisational hegemon in global affairs.