Reluctant hegemon


The protests in Egypt and the Middle East at large have shaken the political landscape from Tahrir Square to Pearl Square. Moreover, it has also rattled the outlook of many nations’ foreign policy; most notably, the United States.

The world’s hegemonic power is struggling to find what hand to play in the Egypt crisis. The U.S. began by saying Mr. Mubarak was an ally and in charge of “stable” government, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Indeed, it was not until 1 February, a week after protests began, that President Obama called Mubarak and asked for a transition that “must be peaceful, and it must begin now.”

Israel is uneasy about change in Cairo, too. The Jewish state is terribly anxious that such protests will give rise to dangerous ideas in the minds of those Palestinians living in the West Bank and also to the potential security risks it poses to the fields of Sinai. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu succinctly expressed his nation’s anxieties by stating that the Israeli-Egypt peace treaty needed to be maintained in order to advance “free and democratic values in the Middle East.” In other words, advancing the Israeli state’s protection.

And China? Well, China is too busy keeping their population in the dark as regards to the Egypt uprising to worry about foreign policy. Anyone who types in “Egypt” in Sina Weibo, a Chinese offshoot of Twitter, will be greeted with a warning stating that “according to relevant laws, regulations and policies, the search results have not been displayed.”

They, the government, are concerned, and legitimately so, that news of such protests will awaken a sleeping giant that is their people.

Once an inkling is formed that the Chinese people could enforce change in their government, the Chinese Communist Party will not feel so smug. As such, the Party’s Publicity Department is on the hot seat.

To quote Inception, China’s government knows that an idea is “like a virus,” and they are determined not to catch this virus.

As a huge global mover-and-shaker, it stuns me that China is able to keep silent. Undoubtedly, they are the financial hegemon of the world. Even though the U.S. still holds the position of the largest economy, this will not last for long.

But it is terribly surprising that on any question of foreign policy, China sinks back into their own little world as the rest of the actual world has to resolve the issues.

The recent Korean stand-off was a perfect example of this. Sure, China told North Korea to cool it off a bit, but in a large part it was America that had to come in and get their hands dirty. China gets the best of both worlds. They are financially in control, so they know when foreign policy decisions need to occur; all they have to do is look at the U.S., give a gentle reminder about the debt they owe and say “Why don’t you take care of this one?”

It must be terribly frustrating for Washington. When the Egypt crisis emerged, the whole world turned to America for how they were going to handle the issue. Who would they back? What should they do? How long do they let the anarchy last for? All the while, China sits back, blocking websites and phone connections whilst amassing huge economic gains.

A financial hegemon? Certainly. But until China has to delve into the dirty foreign policy that is required of a hegemon (which will mean allowing its people to see what the rest of the world is up to) they will never be a true hegemonic power. And so for now, China hides behind their great wall of apathy.

Nick Cassella


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