The beginning of March 2013 was marked by three important milestones in the unfolding transformation of the global order, each culminating processes that have been playing out since late 2012: The death of Hugo Chavez, the ascension of Xi Jinping as the President of the People’s Republic of China, and the implementation of draconian federal budget cuts in the United States.

In Venezuela, the death of Chavez officially moves the country into the long-anticipated battle for who and what will follow. Attention is now focused on what could happen in, or in the lead-up to the scheduled April 14 Venezuelan elections, and afterward, to the grouping of countries previously united by Venezuelan money and Chavez’s polarizing rhetoric.

To many in the continent, however, the Venezuelan caudillo and his anti-U.S. rhetoric had become an anachronism — the rest of the continent was becoming interested in newer, more interesting questions, such as how best to engage with, or be part of the emerging new “community of the Pacific.”

The Asia-Americas nexus is becoming the new global center of growth and prosperity.

While Latin America was fixated on the “telenovela” surrounding the death of Chavez, on the other side of the world, an equally anticipated and arguably far more important event was occurring: the formal election of Xi Jinping as the new President of the PRC by the National People’s Congress, and with him, the seating of Li Keqiang as its new premier. As in Venezuela, the ascension of the 5th generation of leadership in China had been a known event, following the outcome of the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party last November. However the style of the new leadership may differ from those that it replaces, President Xi assumes the mantle of an ever more self-confident China which has captured the attention of the world by its dramatic growth and re-emergence onto the global stage.

Meanwhile, in the United States, March marked the beginning of “sequestration,” the confirmation that the situation had become so grave and politically polarized that U.S. politicians could no longer complete one of their most fundamental duties: passing a budget. Like the cancer that ultimately took the life of Hugo Chavez, the U.S. fight had unfolded over most of the preceding year in a series of escalating dramas that failure was inevitable.

As with Chavez’s cancer, many in the U.S. kept hope alive, unable to imagine that the worst could occur. The impact of the $85 billion in automatic cuts in the federal budget will play out more gradually than the current political discourse suggests, yet the public self-flagellation in Washington sends the clear message that the U.S. is too broke, and too internally paralyzed, to halt its death spiral off of the world stage.

Each of the three previously-mentioned milestones highlights the most profound transition of the current century: the re-centering of geopolitics from a U.S.-Europe “Atlantic Community” to a newly emerging “Community of the Pacific.” The new community is not just about China, or even Asia more broadly, but about the relationship across the Pacific, for good and bad, between a new Asia and a new Western hemisphere whose political dynamics have shifted.

Already, with Europe mired in fiscal crisis, and Africa and the Middle East stagnating in political violence, the Asia-Americas nexus is becoming the new global center of growth and prosperity.

Just as the U.S.-Europe centered world order of the 20th Century helped to define relations with the rest of the globe, so too the Pacific-centered order re-casts the struggles of the previous age. The new divisions between the Pacific Alliance states and the more heterogeneous groupings of populist and protectionist states on the eastern side of the continent are not a continuation of cold war ideological splits, but are about how best to engage Asia. Commerce with the PRC and India, rather strategic positioning vis-à-vis the U.S., are currently driving Brazil’s posture in the continent, including alliances such as the BRICS and IBSA, as well as its engagement with Peru and other neighbors between it and the Pacific.

As the new Pacific community takes shape, and takes a central place on the world stage, there is a struggle underway to define its “soul,” with profound repercussions for the new world order. On one side is the “mercantilist” approach of the PRC, with government-industry collaboration to absorb the capabilities of partners and enter ever higher value added new markets in a targeted fashion. On the other side are the countries such as Japan, Taiwan and Australia in Asia, and Pacific-facing Western hemisphere countries such as Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico, whose approach to commercial relationships across the Pacific is more rooted in free trade, respect for contracts, intellectual and physical property, and the channeling of political will within legal structures and rules-of-the game.

Both the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Pacific Alliance are efforts to define the new trans-Pacific community as a neo-liberal regime. While the fates of these alliances cannot yet be written, much less the attempt to integrate them, this is the story of the future, pointed to by each of this week’s events.


Evan Ellis
About The Author Evan Ellis [Full Bio]
Dr. R. Evan Ellis is Research Professor with the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute and author of over 80 works on Latin American security issues, including his new book, "China on the Ground in Latin America.”

China on the Ground in Latin America

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