Great Power Competition in the Post-COVID-19 Era

Great power competition in international politics is not a new phenomenon. History of international politics illustrates that an established power has always been replaced by the rising power. Under current juncture, there has been an instructive debate within academician and intelligentsia over great power competition between rising China, presumably, declining US. The post-covid-19 arena would inevitably present a new outlook to the great power competition between the US and China in international politics.

In great power competition, military and latent power are prerequisite. Military power explicitly revolves around raw military expenditure or soldiers and possession of nuclear weapons. Latent power ranges from economic and demographic qualities, underpinning military power. The father of structural realism, Kenneth Waltz articulates that power needs to be based on both military and latent power. He further reiterates that “great powers are those that score highly on size of population and territory; resource endowment, military strength; political stability and competence.

In post-covid-19 era, great power competition between the US and China would be fascinating to watch. Their military and latent power in Waltz’s lexicon also need a great deal of critical appraisal. Military power of China ought to be assessed accurately. The Center for a New American Security in its June, 2020 report reveals, Chinese military strength, saying that Chinese military power has been accelerating exponentially, posing a grave threat to the US military primacy, Chinese military is outstripping the US technological edge owing to its rapid economic growth and military advancement.

The report further says, China is pondering over how to disrupt the US battlefield system, manufacturing long-range weapons and stealing a march on the US in artificial intelligence AI. In this regard, Robert O. Work, former US Deputy Secretary of Defense cautions the US and says “China is on the way to developing secretive weapons directed energy weapons, advanced space weapons, electromagnetic rail guns, high-powered microwave weapons or even more exotic arms”. Intriguingly, China,by reinforcing its military ascendancy from 1996 to 2015 has enhanced its military spending by 620 percent.

Paul Kennedy in classic book titled “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” accentuates the significance of economy saying “wealth is usually needed to underpin/support military power and military power is usually needed to acquire and protect wealth”. A robust Chinese economy unambiguously paves the way for consolidation of its military power resulting in protection of its wealth. However,in post-covid-19 period, China is likely to have a supremacy over US as for as demography is concerned. After the pandemic, the world probably moves towards digitization and on line activities. China has the largest digital community in the world, having approximately 850 million net users, accustomed to on line activities. Meanwhile, Trump administration tries to slow down Chinese economic growth, imposing tariffs on its items, calling China as a currency manipulator. Prevailing trade war between the US and China, by the US particularly is attributed to enfeeble Chinese economy, contributing enormously in China’s initiative “Made in China 2025” aimed at bolstering Chinese industrial sector as one of the best in the world. The Council on Foreign Relations, the US think-tank terms “Made in China 2025 is a real existential threat to U.S technological leadership”

Technological race between the US and China has already been triggered. Emerging technologies severely affect strategic stability and future arm race would certainly be technology oriented. The more state possesses advanced technologies, the more it would have an economic and military superiority, having capacity of combating unforeseen diseases such as covid-19.ArtificialIntelligence AI is expected to be contributing nearly 15.7 trillion dollars to the global economy by 2030 and China alone in AI sphere would contribute 7 trillion dollars to the global economy. China, thus, is obsessed with becoming world leader in AI by 2030, investing heavily in research& development and various facets of AI application. A massive investment by great powers in AI prognosticates that whoever leads in AI is likely to rule the world for the next century.

China has been overtaking the US in AI sphere. China the epicenter of novel coronavirus tackled the spread of contagion spectacularly by using AI, having network of more than 200 million video surveillance cameras, installed biometric scanners in the doorway of residential complexes. It, currently uses AI-powered smartphone apps for the purpose of monitoring geographical spread of pandemic and individual’s health. The US, on the other hand, does not possess such AI capabilities in combating of the virus resulted in the highest death casualties during covid-19.

The covid-19 has badly tarnished the US exceptionalism. The pandemic is perhaps the first global crisis in more than a century, where no country is looking towards the US insteadmanystatestilt towards China,that so far has supported 45 countries in crunch situation by providing medial aids. Presumably, in post-covid-19 arena, China would have acompetitive edge over the US, having economic ties with 120 countries, the world today is more dependent economically on China than on the US. The US during pandemic remains exclusive, isolated and belligerent even threatening its closest allies to support her. While, China remains inclusive and supportive in the pandemic. The US warmongering polices and spending of 700 billion dollars annually on its military would be a question mark on its human security. The concept of traditional security strengthened in post-9/11 period is likely to erode in post-covid-19 era, buttressing Chinese stance in international politics. In the final analysis, in pos-covid-19 era China’s economic leverage, its hard and soft power, growing progress in AI, technological advancement and research & development would pose a severe threat to US hegemony. 

Dost Muhammad Barrech
Dost Muhammad Barrech
The writer works at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad ISSI a think-tank based in Islamabad. He is also pursuing PhD degree in International Relations IR from International Islamic University Islamabad IIUI.