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Joshua Cooper Ramo: The New Global Dynamic

The managing director at Kissinger Associates, an international strategic advisory firm, made the case for adopting a world view that embraces China.

Instability is the new global dynamic, and for America it means adopting a revolutionary world view that embraces China.

This story first appeared in the November 15, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That was the thesis of the presentation by Joshua Cooper Ramo, managing director at Kissinger Associates, an international strategic advisory firm.

He opened his presentation with a conversation he had with Henry Kissinger a few years back in which he asked whether Kissinger had ever seen a period of time such as the current one. Doing his best impression of the historian and former Secretary of State, Kissinger said, “Not since the fall of the Roman Empire.”

While Ramo didn’t know if current events were comparable to the fall of the Roman empire, he did note that there is a paradigm shift occurring in the world.

According to Ramo, the new global dynamic that is erupting is baffling the world, China included. More interesting is how cultural differences influence how the U.S. and China each view the world.

In one example that is both bilingual and bicultural, Ramo spoke of a study by a scientist in which 25 Chinese graduate students and 25 American graduate students were given the same images, with the students’ eye activity analyzed when looking at the images. The one shown during Ramo’s presentation was that of a tiger in a field. The Chinese students took in the broader landscape, with “80 percent moving [their eyes] back and forth taking in the whole environment.” In contrast, 90 percent of the American students stayed focused primarily on the tiger.

In another cultural example, Ramo explained that the Chinese see the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the collapse of Lehman Brothers on Sept. 14, 2008 as one connected event, where there can be a “huge impact by a small event,” whereas in America “we see them as distinct events.”

Ramo also spoke of the “explosion of actors” on the global stage — hedge funds, urban residents, terror cells and nongovernment organizations — and how these groups are adding to the complexities of the modern age.

So what does it mean to be modern?

Essentially, that used to mean the ability to invent a life for one’s self versus the old-world view of staying within the social group one was born into. In a postmodern world, the definition of modern has become more complex and now means evolving into different identities as things change, a continuous reinvention of one’s self.

Moreover, as individuals redefine themselves, so, too, can the next generation of leaders on the global landscape by adopting a revolutionary world view that embraces China, one that could help strengthen the ties between the U.S. and China.

While there are risks as the world becomes more networked, there is also a greater need for cooperation between the two countries.

“The problem with U.S.-China relations is that the two have got to be friends, and that’s hard when there are competing ideas,” Ramo acknowledged.

Embracing China is an opportunity for more positive relations between the powers, and there’s no better way to achieve that than through commerce, Ramo concluded.