The Anglo-sphere, The Sino-sphere, and the Atmosphere are all Drifting Apart

Authored by Robert Guest

TO UNDERSTAND THE difference between the Anglosphere and the Sinosphere, consider “South Park”. When this satirical American cartoon mocked Chinese censorship, China banned it. The show’s creators apologised: “We welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts…Xi [Jinping] doesn’t look like Winnie the Pooh at all…Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?”

Two of the world’s great cultures are butting heads. In one corner is the Anglosphere—America, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—a group of rich, English-speaking countries with open societies and a streak of gleeful irreverence. In the other corner is the Sinosphere, a sterner place where deference to the leader-for-life is not merely expected but required. The Sinosphere consists mostly of the People’s Republic of China, but also includes those under its sway.

Sticklers may carp that neither formally exists. There is no president of the Anglosphere, no code of Sinospheric law. But the idea of the two spheres explains a few things about the world. The superpower struggle at the centre of geopolitics is partly about two very different kinds of society failing to get along.

The five English-speaking democracies have heaps in common. All are free-talking, free-enterprise-loving places (though they often fall short of these ideals). They are attractive places, too. Between them, they draw in two-thirds of the world’s highly skilled immigrants. By contrast, of the 750m people who Gallup reports would like to migrate, only 1% want to move to the People’s Republic. Sydney alone has more foreign-born residents than mainland China.

Members of the Anglosphere have warmer ties with each other than they do with other rich democracies, even if most of the non-Americans dislike Donald Trump. Together the five governments make up the “Five Eyes”—their spies trust each other enough to pool intelligence, in a way they don’t with France, Germany or Japan. The Sinosphere revolves around one country, but its reach is wide. It buys influence with roads and loans and offers autocrats everywhere a model of how to combine rapid economic growth with one-party rule.

The two spheres are increasingly suspicious of each other. Mr. Trump is waging a trade war. Australia frets that it relies too much on exports to China. The once-fanciful idea that Western economies could decouple from China is gaining currency.

Meanwhile, the Anglosphere’s military planners ponder how to keep China from controlling the Pacific. To guard against Chinese spying, three Anglosphere governments have slowed the roll-out of fifth generation (5G) mobile networks by imposing curbs on Huawei, a Chinese telecoms firm, and the other two are mulling it (see Business section). China is ramping up military spending to keep America at bay.

A degree of discord is inevitable. But both sides must try harder in 2020 to avoid escalation. If they don’t, Mr. Trump’s trade war could metastasize and hobble the world economy. A miscalculation in the South China Sea could lead to a shooting war.

A good start would be to co-operate more in areas where both sides have common goals: climate change, fighting pandemics, preserving the ocean and stopping North Korea from doing anything rash. America and Australia in recent times have failed dismally to work with China on climate change. They can do better, though perhaps not under their current leaders.

Both sides should tone down the hostile rhetoric. On trade, chest-thumping nationalism is obscuring shared interests. Mr. Trump cannot afford a recession just before an election. Mr. Xi cannot afford a sharp slowdown. A deal could be reached in which America drops tariffs and China allows more market access and less pillaging of intellectual property. The biggest sticking-point, America’s demand that China stop favoring state-owned enterprises, is a demand to rewrite the relationship between the Chinese state and its economy. That cannot be satisfied—but it could be fudged.

A Word of Advice to U.S. negotiators

To build more constructive relations, compartmentalize. Chide China for abusing dissidents, but not in negotiations on trade or the climate. Global disgust is rightly growing over Beijing’s bullying of Hong Kongers and mass incarceration of Muslims in Xinjiang. But if trade talks start including demands for human rights—unlikely under Mr. Trump, but possible under a future Democratic president—they are doomed.

Two of the world’s great cultures need to get on better. They also need to realize their interests go far beyond their own borders and citizens. There is a planet to take care of – with serious environmental, biological, nuclear and other risks that ALL need global cooperation and coordination to be mitigated.

This polarization serves no one’s interests.

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