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Illusions of a New Bipolarity

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There is a certain foreign political dimension to the COVID-19 pandemic that is beginning to rear its head with increasing frequency and can thus explain the current behaviour of states on the international stage. Coronavirus plays two largely contradictory roles – it accelerates some processes while at the same time putting the brakes on, or even halting, others. The former include, among other things, the geopolitical plans of a number of states, while the latter includes finding solutions to global socioeconomic problems and domestic political processes. One area in which events are accelerating is the rivalry between the United States and China, which has prompted many to start talking about a “new bipolarity.” Are we really seeing a revival of bipolarity, but in a modern form? That is, in the true definition of the word – is the world being split into two antagonistic systems?

It has become the norm in the mainstream media, especially those media outlets that push the liberal political agenda, to separate the world into two camps. “China is on the way up and, thanks to Trump’s trade war,” CNN tells us, “the world is heading for an us-versus-them universe […] There will be two camps, pro-America; pro-China […]” Let us be clear, we are not talking about escalating tensions between two states here, but rather between two “camps.”

And now let us not forget that the only bipolarity that we have ever experienced was in the form of the U.S.–Soviet confrontation during the Cold Warю It was marked by a gradual stabilization of international relations that culminated in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. In other words, the logic of bipolarity entailed not only rivalry between the two global centres of power, but also their joint activities to eliminate the threat of a major armed confrontation. However, relations between Washington and Beijing appear to be heading in a completely different direction. According to Graham Allison “[W]ar between the U.S. and China in the decades ahead is not just possible, but much more likely than currently recognized.” [3] It thus follows that interaction between China and the United States will lead to loosening, rather than a stabilization, of international relations.

There is a more optimistic scenario, too, which would involve Washington agreeing to coexist with Beijing in a “competition without catastrophe” [4]. The problem with this scenario is that any large-scale “rebalancing” will have to be carried out on conditions set by the United States [5]. However, given the current circumstances, such a rebalancing can only be achieved in a climate of equality or, what is more likely, under conditions that suit China. In order for this to happen, American foreign policy needs to return to some semblance of realism. But that’s another story.

Are there any favourable “external conditions” for a bipolar world to take shape? Is there anything in the current international climate that would convince us to place our trust in China and the United States as the countries that are expected to lead these new poles? We should keep in mind that, during the Cold War, East and West continued to develop actively. Today, both China and the United States are shoulder deep in globalization. But just look at what is happening to globalization. Economic, informational, technological and other forms of competition are only growing, and what used to be a self-regulating economic process is turning into a political instrument for suppressing business competitors, with unreasonable restrictions, the extraterritorial application of national laws and actions in circumvention of the WTO rules in the name of “national security” becoming the norm. Many of the problems that led to the global financial crisis in 2008–2009 have not been properly addressed. And the coronavirus pandemic promises even harder times. It turns out that that, in its current manifestation, globalization is not a process that Washington or Beijing are able to steer, rather, it is a phenomenon that makes it increasingly difficult for China and the United States to pursue their respective goals.

Some proponents of a new bipolarity might concede that deglobalization processes are indeed taking place right now, but in no way does this prove that the world is not being split in two and becoming bipolar in nature once again. The answer to this would be that none of the world’s most respected economists would challenge the idea that globalization is a representation of the interdependence of the modern world. We are talking about the specific ultra-liberal form of globalization that has dominated for the last 30 or 40 years exhausting its usefulness. There is no objective reason to expect a return to the old kind of bipolarity, which functioned as two parts of the world that existed almost in complete isolation from each other socially and economically under the leadership of the United States and the Soviet Union. Despite all the current trade, financial and sanctions wars, the global nature of the market cannot be dismantled and returned to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the European Economic Community, for example, which in any case had little to do with one another.

It thus follows that China and the United States are destined to have close economic ties, yet at the same time are sliding towards confrontation. And neither the first nor the second circumstance was characteristic of the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. It turns out that the United States and China cannot exist in economic isolation from one another, nor can they build a kind of economic interdependence that would suit both sides, which has led to a kind of acute “ischemia” in the rivalry between the two countries. Even at the embryonic stage, this kind of bipolarity cannot offer stability to the world or anything that would even remotely resemble U.S.–Soviet relations.

One of the reasons why the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States grew into a standoff between two poles was that external contours emerged in the form of the socialist and capitalist camps, respectively. The events of the past 20 years show that the West, in the previous sense of the word, no longer exists. The dominance and economic might of the United States are very much on the decline, as its ability to use force effectively and maintain its leading technological status in a respectable way. Even the United Kingdom, traditionally Washington’s closest ally, refused to support the White House in its war against the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei. According to the people of Japan, Canada, Germany and France, the United States poses a greater threat to their respective countries than Russia and (with the exception of Japan) China [6].

It is unclear exactly where the boundaries of the West begin and end. It is turning into a dual-core system with centres in Washington and the European Union that are undergoing a kind of strategic decoupling [7]. The United States has, since the presidency of George W. Bush, pursued a course of monetizing and pragmatizing relations with its allies, strategically leaving Europe. The European Union is trying to shed its image as a purely economic centre of power through the idea of strategic autonomy and a common strategic culture. Europe will never again be the focus of the United States’ attention, writes Foreign Affairs, and so must ensure the survival of its own model in order to stake a claim to global leadership.

As for China’s external contours, there is nothing here that resembles the socialist camp that existed under the auspices of the USSR. Political and ideological cohesion was key to the bipolarity that we witnessed during the Cold War. China has long surpassed the Soviet Union in terms of its economic influence, but politically Beijing has very few allies, especially when it comes to an out and out confrontation with the United States. This is perhaps the biggest difference between what we are witnessing today and the bipolarity of the past – when superpowers are not surrounding themselves with ideological blocs, bipolarity becomes nothing but two states getting into a bickering match, albeit with certain global attributes. China has perhaps one true strategic partner, and that is Russia. The United States, on the other hand, has many allies, although many of them, including France and Germany, are tired of being of their forced dependence on Washington.

Can the Russia–China tandem stake a claim to being one of the blocs in the new bipolar world? Probably not. As a rule, the poles can have only one indisputable leader. China–Russia relations are largely asymmetrical in favour of China, although they are far from being subordinate. Neither side is willing to let the other assume the role of leader. And let us not forget that the two countries pursue strategies that do not always coincide: the military and political standoff between China and the United States is largely focused in the South China and East China seas, thousands of miles away from Russia. Russia does not have any interests in that region. Yet it is precisely here that China’s most vulnerable geopolitical sore spots are located (Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Paracel and the Spratly Islands). Russia has a zone of strategic tension of its own to the west, far away from China.

Another thing that we should keep in mind is that bipolarity was only possible in a world that was already split along ideological lines. But the confrontation between socialism and capitalism is a thing of the past, and value differences have also receded into the background, making way for realpolitik and geopolitics [8]. Without an ideological confrontation, it is impossible to recreate the necessary conditions for the world to split into two camps. It is true that China and the United States have fundamentally different values and political systems, as was the case with the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But these contradictions run nowhere near as deep. The United States remains convinced of its exclusivity and its God-given right to global leadership [9]. China, on the other hand, does not demonstrate any kind of messianism and, unlike the Soviet Union, it does not promote socialist and communist ideas. Beijing does not rely on hackneyed ideological phrases, rather, it points to the effectiveness of its development model. The inescapable growth of competition between Beijing and Washington is not due to the irreconcilability of ideologies, but rather to their geopolitical incompatibility, and this is simply not enough for the confrontation to transmute into a bloc-based rivalry.

Yet many are still enticed by discussions of a new bipolarity, and there are many reasons why. Let us outline a few of them. First, the world order that existed during the Cold War was relatively simple. Second, people are motivated by anti-Chinese sentiments. That is, many associate the bipolarity of the Cold War with the eventual victory of one of the sides, and they hope that the United States will defeat China in much the same way that it defeated the Soviet Union. Third, it would seem that those who still believe in the return of a consolidated West under the leadership of the United States and the emergence of an anti-Western bloc led by China and neighbouring Russia see U.S.–China bipolarity as a viable option. Such conclusions are normally based on the immature and ideologically motivated idea of the world being split into “liberal democracies” on the one hand and “authoritarian regimes” on the other.

If the idea of a new bipolarity is untenable, then the possibility of a new Cold War, that is, the appearance of elements of the political, military, financial and economic confrontation between Russia and the West, has also no substance behind. The phenomenon of the Cold War is inseparable from the post-War conditions that led to the emergence of U.S.–Soviet bipolarity. Its key parameters are well known and almost none of them have been recreated. No one makes the claim today that there is a new geopolitical rift between Russia and the United States, and thus the West. The phrase “New Cold War” would still make sense with regard to the trajectory along which China and the United States are currently travelling. However, even then it is used rarely, and mostly by Washington [10]. Again, we need to keep in mind that the Cold War as an element of U.S.–Soviet bipolarity was a path to a certain balance of interests, and not a slippery slope towards an open confrontation.

As for relations between Russia and the European Union, I dare say that, even given the depressing strategies pursued by both sides, the principle of a new bipolarity has not taken root. It is only under extreme duress and with extreme reluctance that the European Union has taken any steps against China. This was laid bare for all to see in the tragicomic story involving the EU report on disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. The handling of the coronavirus is leaving more and more people in Europe with no illusions about the United States and the “shining city upon a hill,” or indeed about the far-reaching ambitions harboured by Brussels. The point of view that the current state of relations with Moscow will only make the situation worse has been argued very articulately in a number of analytical works [11], not to mention by a number of politicians in Europe. The pandemic has led to a certain opportunistic surge in anti-Russia and anti-China rhetoric. But it works far better on the European Union’s less blinkered view of the world than it does on neoliberal apologetics, which in many ways perverts legacy of liberal thought.

[1] Pence M. Remarks by Vice President Pence on the Administration’s Policy Toward China. The Hudson Institute, Washington, DC, 4 October 2018. Perlez J. Pence’s China Speech Seen as Portent of ‘New Cold.

War,’” The New York Times, 5 October 2018. Rogin J. Pence: “It’s Up to China to Avoid a Cold War.”

Washington Post, 13 November 2018.

[2] Monaghan A. Dealing with the Russians. Cambridge, Polity Press, 2019.

[3] Allison G. Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2017, p. xvii.

[4] Campbell K. M. and J. Sullivan. Competition Without Catastrophe. How America Can Both Challenge and Coexist with China // Foreign Affairs, September–October 2019.

[5] Campbell K. M. The Pivot: The Future of American Statecraft in Asia. New York, Twelve, 2016.

[6] Munich Security Report 2019, p. 7.

[7] Gromyko, A. A Splintered West: The Consequences for the Euro-Atlantic // Contemporary Europe, No. 4, 2018, pp. 5–16.

[8] The return of geopolitics had been a topic of discussion long before Donald Trump moved into the White House. See, for example, Larrabee S. Russia, Ukraine, and Central Europe: The Return of Geopolitics // Journal of International Affairs, No. 2. Spring–Summer 2010, pp. 33–52.

[9] The idea of American leadership appears 36 times in the country’s 32-page National Security Strategy for 2015.

[10] Pence M. Remarks by Vice President Pence on the Administration’s Policy Toward China. The Hudson Institute, Washington, DC, 4 October 2018. Perlez J. Pence’s China Speech Seen as Portent of ‘New Cold War,’” The New York Times, 5 October 2018. Rogin J. Pence: “It’s Up to China to Avoid a Cold War.” Washington Post, 13 November 2018.

[11] Monaghan A. Dealing with the Russians. Cambridge, Polity Press, 2019.

From our partner RIAC

Director of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IE RAS), RAS Corresponding Member, RIAC member

East Asia

China and Indo-Pacific democracies in the face of American boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

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Despite the US administration’s announcement of a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, with the “American Olympic Committee allowing the participation of American athletes in the Winter Games in China”, many global democracies, that are allies to Washington itself were challenged to participate in the Winter Olympics in Beijing, and not only that, but a number of global official institutions defied the globally criticized  US decision, most notably the United Nations, by announcing “Antonio Guterres”, in his capacity as (UN Secretary-General), that he would attend the Beijing Winter Olympics, despite a boycott by several allies of Washington. They are mainly, are: (Britain, Australia, and Canada), but on the other hand, the decision to challenge the United States of America from its regional allies neighboring to China has very many implications, which can be analyzed, through:

  The confirmation of (South Korea, Japan, and India) and all the Asian countries directly neighboring to China, and the main allies of the United States of America in the “Indo-Pacific” region, to participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics and challenge the American boycott decision: Despite Washington’s alliance with the countries of the “Indo-Pacific” region, according to the American concept, which aims to exclude China by inserting the Indian Ocean within its territorial elements and borders, or the “Asia-Pacific” region, according to the well-known traditional Chinese concept, and not politicized in the American sense. However, we can stop a lot to analyze future indications and indicators, about: (the extent of the global challenge to American decisions and demands to boycott the Beijing’s Winter Olympics), even from most of the (democratic regimes allies to Washington itself in the Asia-Pacific region, adjacent to Chinese influence and an ally of Washington).

  The most remarkable thing to me is the participation of “established Western democracies in the Beijing Winter Olympics and challenging the American boycott decision”, most importantly France, with French President “Emmanuel Macron”, describing the decision of the United States of America and some Western countries to boycott the Beijing Olympics diplomatically as a “trivial step”: The French government announced its defiance of the politicized US decision, and its non-diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.  Most notably, the French Minister of Education, Youth and Sports “Jean-Michel Blanquer”, said that:

 “He does not support this incomprehensible diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, calling on France to participate strongly, to prevent the politicization of sporting events globally”

  The French Minister of Education, Youth and Sports “Blanquer”, stated firmly that:

 “Sports is a world in itself, and it must be protected from political interference, otherwise we will end up killing competition, and this is unacceptable and we must not bow to it or encourage it”

  As for what is known as the theory of “China’s alliance with democracies and others to confront liberal authoritarianism” with the call for reforming American democracy at home: the Egyptian researcher believes that this applies primarily to the challenge of all democratic regimes to the decision of the American boycott, and their announcement that they all participate in the Winter Olympics. This is what requires the leaders and comrades of the Communist Party of China to take advantage of it later on by (adopting an appropriate discourse language aimed at mobilizing European politicians to defend its interests). Especially, on November every year in Beijing, all parties around the world are being invited by the (Department of Foreign Relations of the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party of China) to attend the annual conference’s meetings in Beijing from November 30 to December 3, in each year. The Comrade “Xi Jinping” in his capacity as the General Secretary of the “CPC” Central Committee made a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the international dialogue in 2021, in front of number of leaders of political parties around the world, stressing of the principles of (multipolarity and ignoring unilateralism policies).

   China’s presentation of the topic and issue of “American politicization of the Beijing Winter Olympics and other events” in the meetings of foreign political parties and their political discussions, the dialogue will gain great importance for both the Communist Party of China and other parties even with different orientations and visions of communist ideology: what was striking to me as an expert in the Chinese affairs, what was done at the last conference of the CPC leaders’ meeting with the leaders of foreign political parties in 2021, the slogan has been raised by the participants, was that: “Working together towards a community with a shared future for the humanity and a better world: Responsibilities of political parties”. In this conference, the CPC discussed with all of the invited foreign parties leaders, the topic of “Sharing Responsibility on Major Global Issues”. Therefore, the leaders and comrades of the ruling Communist Party in China have benefitted of this opportunity to stress the importance of “not politicizing international sporting events and not politicizing events for American political agendas”.

  The importance of the Chinese and international demand remains, even at the level of the American interior itself, to continue the approach of “reforming the democratic and legal system at home first before trying to impose it on the outside and brandishing it”, for regimes it calls “authoritarian” as a justification for interfering in its internal affairs: here, it would be much better for the United States of America to (adopt a comprehensive domestic agenda that prioritizes justice and a real democracy, better than interfering in the internal affairs of others), additionally, the American policies should get rid of the (increasingly crucial ideological cases of the white supremacy racism over its black citizens). Here, effective American advocacy for liberal democracy does not need to interfere in the affairs of other countries, with taking into consideration and account that the (USA is often supporting the authoritarian governments and regimes for its own interests), overthrew elected governments, and the reason is partly due to its quest to confront the former Soviet Union, as well as to achieve its own economic interests.

Increasing Chinese and international demands for the United States of America and its always successive administrations to stop presenting itself as (the global leader of the values ​​of liberal democracy) and its demand to review all its policies and tracks internally and externally: here we find that Washington is in dire need to change its position regarding reviewing the policy of polarization internally and externally. Now, China and the international community should mainly focus on and call the USA for adoption such interior policies for the satisfaction of the American people, such as:

(Reforming all American democratic institutions, reforming its internal justice system, voting and casting their votes, including strengthening voting rights, in parallel with the need to put in place quick measures to stop racial injustice and improve comprehensive health and social security policies in the interior home).

 On the external level, the United States of America is in dire need of (working with everyone and respecting diversity and difference, regardless of their political systems, and striving to achieve common goals and securing global public goods), such as: (climate change, arms control and fighting terrorism), and other issues that are universally agreed upon.

   From my analytical point of view, it is necessary to shed light globally on the approaches and policies of the (development of China’s internal democracy and the improvement of its elections management system internally), in contrast to the decline in the level of performance of democracy in the American elections as the world followed them in the chaos of voting and the final results between “Biden and Trump”: The Communist Party of China “CPC” amended a number of internal regulations on Thursday, January 8, 2021, with the aim of improving the electoral work of all grassroots local Party organizations by approving the newly amended election rules, in accordance with the directives of the “Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee”, which announced that the local and grassroots groups are of great importance in strengthening the political structure of the Communist Party and the democracy within it. We can identify as well that the “Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee” has considered that the “revised version of the work rules for the elections of local party organizations, which was published by the CPC Central Committee on its official websites, is of great importance for unifying the standards of the electoral work of local party organizations and strengthening their construction”. 

  The procedures for the internal basal local elections of the Communist Party were determined by following (four steps for the election stages, determining an appropriate percentage for workers and peasants to represent them at the forefront of the front lines by selecting their delegates and their representatives in local party conferences), and the minimum required to represent this category is 30% of the are party’s congresses delegates at the level of various Chinese local provinces.

  Through my new analysis and linking theoretically and practically between thought, theory and practice, to manage the ongoing conflict between Washington and Beijing, even at the sporting level, such as Washington’s boycott of the “Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022”, this can lead us to a theoretical analysis and understanding about the causes of this growing tensions between China and the United States of America, which have been (resulting from deep and long-term transformations in the current international system, and its transition from the era of globalization to the stage of strategic competition between the two major powers). 

  Therefore, it has become necessary for the United States of America to “practically” to stop interfering in the internal affairs of countries and primarily of China, by using the “ideological dimensions ” to confront others, or its attempt to (the renewal of the leadership of the United States of America for the freedom camp in the face of the tyrannical and authoritarianism camp).

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East Asia

The Global (Dis) Order Warfare: The Chinese Way

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Since the ascension of Xi Jinping, two important developments have come to dominate the global headlines. One, the so-called wolf diplomacy of China has been on the forefront of global political relations and two, there has been a huge spurt in Chinese efforts to use disinformation and espionage, as a part of its global diplomatic-strategic plans to destabilise countries who it sees as rival or a threat, in more than one ways.

Suddenly, there are instances of greater violence, instability and conflict in countries and regions that could be considered as political/economic/military rivals or likely competitors to China. In the US, FBI has reported an increase of 1300 percent in economic espionage investigations with almost 90 percent cases having a Chinese military/government background. On an average, the US has reported registering of a new counter espionage case against China, every 12 hours. A recent report suggested the operation of about 250 MMS Chinese spies in Brussels, the capital of European Union.

 In Australia that has a continuing run-in with China in recent times, there have been instances of Chinese overt/covert interference in political/economic domain. In the UK, a highest level confirmation came in from the Home Secretary Priti Patel that confirmed the MI5 report of a Chinese government agent working in the British parliament to subvert democratic process and promote Chinese interests.

In India in particular which is virtually in a state of no-peace, no-war with China for the last 21-months, following a bloody conflict at Galwan (in which 20 Indian and 44 Chinese soldiers killed, though Chinese did not accept casualties for a long time.), the situation is quite favourable to the massive Chinese interference. The Modi-led Indian government is working at a furious pace on various fronts, economic, political, diplomatic and strategic. And that is something that is not convenient to Chinese interests.

The Chinese since 1950s have been used to an Indian government, timid and submissive and more receptive to their interests than protecting national interests of India. A big example of this self-defeating, servile and pro-communist mental make-up has been the Nehru’s support to China for a permanent UNSC seat, even in 1963 after the Indo-China war in the previous year. Successive governments since then have been following the same thinking and policy in the name of ‘continuation of foreign policy’, irrespective of changes in the government.

Hence, when Doklam happened in 2017 and Indian government for a change, showed courage and stood up against the ‘self-proclaimed super power China’ to protect the territories of a friendly Bhutan, the middle kingdom got the shock of the decade. It was used to have a southern neighbour who in spite of decades of supporting terrorism in country’s north-east, supporting Pakistani terrorism, never faced China head-on. And that brought about a change in the Chinese perception and strategic calculations vis-à-vis India.

Since Doklam face-off between India and China, the latter has been playing all games with the clear objective of preventing its rise in the word order. For reasons better known to European politicians, for some years there has been no effort from their side to compete and prevent China from spreading its aggressive strategic-diplomatic policies around the world.

Its genesis could be seen in the passive Obama-led US policy of playing a second fiddle to China. No wonder, during the eight years of Obama administration, China was not only able to strengthen its politico-strategic grip over parts of Asia and Africa but came very close to attack Taiwan. Had it not been the sudden deterioration of US-China relations during the Trump era, probably the world map could have been changed so far, particularly in the south China Sea region.

The passive Obama administration allowed China to grow impressively on the trade-economic front and emerge as the manufacturing hub of the world. It also remained indecisive, letting China develop a huge trade surplus vis-à-vis the US. And the biggest flip came when is spite of being fully aware of the likely catastrophic implications and the debt-trap strategy of the Chinese showpiece Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it neither discouraged smaller nations nor took a stand against it.

India was the only country that spoke overtly against the concept and remained out of the BRI, even at the cost of antagonising China. Today, the world is witness to the debt trap that Chinese BRI has brought about for many countries like Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Laos, Mongolia, Zambia, Montenegro, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and a few others. This grim economic scenario is almost certain to compel such countries to part with their political and economic sovereignty that could well be a 21st century model of Chinese imperialism.

Such explicit Indian opposition to China and its likely emergence as a political, economic and military rival, led China to create a host of internal disturbances in the country. It is interesting to see that most of the damning criticism against Indian government for the past three-four years are emanating from Indian intellectuals living in the US/Europe for decades and are overtly/covertly left-leaning.

Similarly, the journalists, intellectuals, academicians in India who criticise and abuse the government are having a leftist background, many of them have a record of visiting China in recent past. Some of the politicians, including the de facto opposition leader Rahul Gandhi is said to have had midnight meetings with Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi. The Chinese government has also provided funds to the main Indian National Congress (INC) opposition party, a few years ago. Some media reports suggested that was one of the reasons for INC’s pressure on the previous Dr Manmohan Singh and current Modi governments, to join the Chinese dominated trade block Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The Chinese efforts to politically subvert the democratic countries has become more blatant. The recent anti-India resolutions in the British Parliament could well be seen in the context of MI5 report confirming the presence of Chinese agents in British legislature. In Australia, the reported offer by Chinese to Nick Zhao to run for Australian parliament as a Liberal Party member and recent statement of an apparent Chinese defector Wang Liqinag suggesting that Chinese agents are ‘operating with impunity in Australia’, need to be seen in this context.

And beyond all this politico-diplomatic moves, there have been credible reports of Chinese cyber-attacks on US, India, UK, Taiwan, Australia and others who it sees as rivals. India in the last one year, witnessed a 261 percent rise in Chinese cyber-attacks against military, scientific, banking, telecommunication systems.

To make matters worse, a detailed analysis of individuals occupying important positions in government/international organisations reveals that a few of them do have some or the other sort of Chinese support that has affected their actions or lack of it, vis-à-vis China. The tremendous suffering that the world and humanity have to endure due to Corona, clearly occurred due to deliberate or ineptness of Chinese government/military/scientific community. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has failed to fix accountability for this pandemic on China.

All such development clearly points towards a Chinese strategy to create a global disorder, a state where democracies like the US, India, Australia, Japan, Europe, Taiwan will not be able to stand unitedly and make way for the ascent of the middle kingdom to the pinnacle of global political, economic and military hierarchy. 

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East Asia

Rebuilding the World Order

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Image: Alexandra Nicolae/Unsplash

Many in the West believe China’s economic ascendancy indicates that Beijing is covertly working to usher in a new world order in which the balance of power has shifted.

History shows that changes in the world order are inevitable, but they are not happening as quickly as some analysts think. For example, the rise of the US to the world’s primary geopolitical position took nearly half a century, from the late 19th to the mid-20th century. France’s rise to domination over western Europe in the 17th century was also a long and arduous process.

In these as well as many other cases from ancient and medieval times, the rise of a new power was facilitated by stagnation, gradual decline, and military confrontation among the various existing powers.
For instance, the US was already powerful in the early 20th century, but it was the infighting during the two world wars among the European powers that brought down the edifice of the Europe-led world order and opened a path for American ascendancy.

But while it is possible to identify the changing winds of the world order through various analytical methods, it is much harder to find ways to preserve an existing order. It requires a whole constellation of leaders from competing sides to grasp the severity of the threat posed by radical change and to pursue measures together to cool down tensions.

The key question that needs to be addressed is whether the West still possesses the necessary political, economic, and military tools to uphold the existing world order and not allow it to slip into chaos, as the world’s leaders mistakenly did in the first half of the 20th century.

The successful preservation of an existing world order is a rare event in history. Following the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15, European leaders gathered to build a long-lasting peace. They saw that the French power, though soundly defeated under Napoleon I, needed to be accommodated within the new fabric of the European geopolitical order. This meant not only inviting French representatives to conferences, but offering military and economic cooperation as well as concessions to the French to limit their political grievances.

In other words, European diplomats had an acute understanding of post-French Revolution geopolitics and understood the need to build a long-lasting security architecture through balance of power.
But such approaches are unusual. Perhaps the shock of the bloody Napoleonic Wars, as well as the presence of such brilliant diplomats such as Metternich, Talleyrand, Castlereagh, and Alexander I, assured the success of the new order.

It is far more common that challenges to the world order lead to direct military confrontation. Failure to accommodate Germany in the early 20th century led in part to WWI, and the errant diplomacy of the Treaty of Versailles led in part to WWII. The list goes on.

China’s rise to power is another case for study. The country is poised to become a powerful player in international politics thanks to its economic rise and concurrent military development. Beijing has strategic imperatives that clash with those of the US. It needs to secure procurement of oil and gas resources, which are currently most readily available through the Strait of Malacca. In an age of US naval dominance, the Chinese imperative is to redirect its economy’s dependence, as well as its supply routes, elsewhere.

That is the central motivation behind the almost trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which is intended to reconnect the Asia-Pacific with Europe through Russia, the Middle East, and Central Asia. At the same time, Beijing has a growing ambition to thwart US naval dominance off Chinese shores.
In view of these factors, mutual suspicion between Beijing and Washington is bound to increase over the next years and decades.

Thus, we find ourselves within a changing world order. What is interesting is what the US (or the West collectively) can do to salvage the existing order.

From the US side, a strengthening of existing US-led alliance systems with Middle Eastern and Asia-Pacific states could help to retain American influence in Eurasia. Specifically, it would enable the US to limit Russia’s, Iran’s, and possibly China’s actions in their respective neighborhoods.

Another powerful measure to solidify the existing world order would be to increase Washington’s economic footprint across Eurasia. This could be similar to the Marshall Plan, with which the US saved Europe economically and attached it to the US economy. New economic measures could be even more efficient and long-lasting in terms of strengthening Western influence across Eurasia.

But no matter what economic and military moves the US makes with regard to allies such as South Korea, Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and others, any attempt to uphold the existing world order without China’s cooperation would be short-lived and would echo the way Germany was cast out of the Versailles negotiations, which served only to create a grievance in Berlin and prompt clandestine preparations for a new conflict. In a way, the West’s current problems with Russia can also be explained this way: Moscow was cast out of the post-Cold War order, which caused worry and a degree of revanchism among the Russian elites.

Without China’s inclusion in the world order, no feasible security conditions can be laid out. To be preserved, the world order must be adjusted to rising challenges and new opportunities. Many Western diplomats are uncomfortable dealing with China, but casting Beijing in the role of direct competitor would not solve the problem, nor would giving it large concessions, which would be too risky.
What is required is a middle road, a means of allowing China to participate in an adjusted world order in which some of its interests are secured. Only that will increase the chances for long-lasting security in Eurasia.

Pulling this off will require an incredible effort from Western and Chinese diplomats. It remains to be seen whether they will be more successful than their predecessors were in the early 20th century and other periods of history.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia today

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