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Illusions of a New Bipolarity

Alexey Gromyko

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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

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East Asia

Sino-India clash: A crisscross of geo-politics and geo-economics

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Two economic powers of Asia are in a head to head collision over a border clash in the Ladakh sector. It is not the first time when these nuclear powers are in front of each other over the border dispute. In 1962 both of these nations engaged themselves in war over border of Aksai chin. Then in 1967 tensions raised because of Nathu La and Cho La military clashes at the Himalayan border. A similar event took place in the shape of a military standoff in 2017 at Doklam. Such events not only put the regional stability at stake but are also tremendously important for international peace and security. The question here is why the states that have mutual trade of US $100 billion are at daggers drawn? Does India have the capacity of facing a super power like China? The answer is “No”, China’s GDP is more than five times that of India, and it spends four times as much on defense, militarily China is much stronger than India. In such an obnoxious environment when the world is facing a huge crisis in the shape of Covid-19, such disputes depict a much deeper power struggle-where the actors behind the scenes are more than two. Such events in International relations show a crisscross of geo-politics and geo-economics.

Abrogation of article 370 and 35A was not a normal phenomenon in world politics. It could not have been made possible without the support of super power like US. The massive rise of China in South Asia and its efforts to become a world power through its strategies like OBOR and CPEC is clearly not acceptable for US. US at any cost want to maintain its hegemony and as usual it has to use a foreign actor to pursue its interests-Hilary Clinton once said that; power of US lie not within but outside its territory. The strong ties and staunch mutual co-operation between US and India show that Indians In their actions are backed by US. Economies of US and Europe depend on the decline of China. Chinese on the other hand are getting more stronger due to their overwhelming economic co-operation with the developing countries. The only way left for US to counter China is to inflict a crisis situation in the Asian region which could have a direct effect on Chinese economy.

The recent episode of Ladakh clash seems an attempt to jeopardize the deterrence stability of South Asia. US along with its western allies are trying to stop the rise of China in the region. According to an IMF report, estimated growth rate of China for 2021 is 9.9% as compared to it US is estimated to have a growth rate of 4.9%. It clearly shows a sharp decline of US. They are now trying to mess things up using India. They also have a strong hold at South China Sea, which they would use to stumble Chinese trade. Indians are fully aware of the potential which Chinese posses in case of an armed conflict. They are also acquainted with the massive economic co-operation with the Chinese. But they are also anxious about China’s threat to its territorial integrity and its hegemonic design. They also have resentments with progress of Pakistan through projects like CPEC. This show down has its strings in the hands of US which intends to empower emerging India and weaken rising China. US with this strategy is killing two birds with one stone, on one hand they are trying to stimulate an economic imbalance for China and at the same time they are trying to divert Indian market towards US, like they did in case of S-400 deal between India and Russia.

Chinese follow the policy of minimum violence but they have all the might to give a sturdy response in case of any aggression against them. They have surpassed US on many grounds and they see themselves as super power of the world till 2030. India should realize the malicious intentions of US. Ex-President of America George Bush once said that; we are not complacent enough to counter “Indian and Chinese” economy. William Clay said; “This is quite a game, politics. There are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests”. India should realize that a stable South Asia is in its favor. US have always used a state to pursue its interests and once they achieve their goal they never turn back for any support. Instability and failure of deterrence in the east has always proved to be beneficial for the west. Americans have always used the power of “$” to drive policies of South Asian states which in longer run proved damaging for Asians themselves. A peaceful solution of the Sino-Indian border tension with an immediate effect is necessary in the current circumstances; otherwise the results could be lethal.

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East Asia

The China Syndrome: The Rising And The Existing Power

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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China is a large country.  It has a large population, a productive population.  It has the largest Gross Domestic Product of any country in the world including the US on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis.  It was $27.307 trillion.  A nominal GDP basis does not reflect the actual buying power of the currency.  China’s nominal GDP of $14,140 trillion is much less than the US, which is $21.44 trillion, both nominal and PPP as the dollar is the benchmark.  Since 1871, the US has been the world’s largest economy without question.  Now there is a question although the real question might be, so what?

Britain used to be the world’s foremost power.  No longer, yet Britain remains wealthy and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future, as will Europe and North America.  A couple of hundred years earlier to that the great powers were:  China, India, Persia and the Ottoman Empire.  The world changes. 

Among the problems President Trump has with China is its friendship with Iran.  Why that is a problem with Donald Trump is not some nefarious plan Iran has concocted to harm the US but the impression he has generated of he himself being a wholly-owned subsidiary of Benjamin Netanyahu and his LIkud party.

Thus Mr. Trump’s dead-on-arrival peace plan, to all appearances, had its birth on the drawing boards of the LIkud.  Iran happens to be Netanyahu’s nemesis and surprise surprise is also Trump’s.  A perfectly reasonable nuclear agreement bearing the imprimatur of the UN and the major European powers has been jettisoned by Trump in favor of saber rattling.  Europe is not cheeringly on board in this solo venture.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu feels free to start annexing the West Bank — at least the choice parts — and using it to shore up political support while he goes on trial for corruption.  He is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be so besmirched in the country’s history.

The implacable Xi Jinping and the stubborn Donald Trump happen both to be making their respective countries great again.  Donald Trump claims he has succeeded using a metric known to him alone:  China’s effort is more prosaic.  Between 2014 and 2018 it put to sea more ships for its navy than the British, German, Spanish and Indian navies combined.  And it has embarked on a campaign for tighter control of its coastal waters.  The ship-building program betrays a clear intent to project power beyond coastal waters to the open seas in a challenge to the U.S., the present policeman maintaining open sea lanes.  China prefers complete independence. 

Then there is China’s bid to be a prominent player in the world of high-tech industry, a role that can influence future economic power.  Huawei and its 5G capability is one example.  But the Trump Commerce Department has issued new rules designed to choke off Huawei’s access to chips and semi-conductors that it needs to manufacture 5G cellphones and infrastructure.  These are made made mostly in Taiwan and South Korea, and the new export rules issued May 19, 2020 forbid chipmakers from using US machines and software to make and sell chips to Huawei.  It closes a loophole allowing such sales as long as the manufacture was outside US territory.  While Huawei plans alternatives, its customers in Europe and globally are likely to be affected by higher prices and delays.

The cold battle goes on.

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East Asia

From Patriotism to Humanity: China Leading the Fight of the COVID-19

Sabah Aslam

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The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has not only impacted human and social life in terms of disease and infection but also created a controversy in the international media and social network to the point that some western media fell into the trap of racism and xenophobia showing an unusual and an inhuman reactions, instead of solidarity and unity exhibition.

Since China is the first country infected with this virus, so it has already started its fight, the government as a leader has put a clear and effective strategy with successful measures of treatment, protection and prevention. In order to maintain the situation the government dedicated all kind of resources and today’s statics shows an increasing of the confirmed infections and death cases and a considered decrease of healed people’s number.

As a matter of fact, the World Health Organization’ Chief TedrosAdhanomGhebreyesus has defended his earlier praise of China’s response to the outbreak and mentioned that all the member of the WHO has praised China for what it did by taking action in the epicenter, helped to prevent cases of being exported to other provinces in china and the rest of the world. This formal statement just confirmed the truth to the world about China’s reliability and the sacrifices made to safeguard the world.

All Chinese government’s management and measures wouldn’t be successful without the great response of the society. As a matter of fact we need to acknowledge the high level of patriotism of the Chinese citizens. No matter their social status;the military, police, engineers, workers, doctors and nurses, business and company owners, celebrities, civilians and ordinary people, students and volunteers, young-middle-old generations, all this people responded to the call of duty applied and followed meticulously all the recommended measures by the government, indeed by their own free will, they sacrificed wealth, made many donations, provided help and assistance donated free masks , free supplies, goods, food and even provided free services, and differently some people made a priceless contribution such the doctors, fully dedicated, working on clock on the front line risking and even sacrificing their lives to save other people’s lives.

Meantime, in the other side of the globe the coronavirus kept spreading, the virus is traveling the world it has no boundaries and it’s affecting the economy, the social life and the public health, it becomes a public enemy, presenting a threat especially for the African communities, in fact many of them they do not have neither the financial means nor a good health security. But since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Africa CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) took many actions and followed the Chinese in term of union and solidarity.

Indeed Africa CDC collaborated with the World Health Organization to train in-coming analysts in event-based surveillance. Also The Africa CDC has been working with member states to build infection prevention and control capacities in healthcare facilities and with the airline sector to support screening of travelers.

These prevention measures may help control the COVID-19, but African leaders still need to pay attention and follow suit to avoid an outbreak and not reproduce the Italian or Iranian scenarios. Recently, World Health Organization chief TedrosAdhanomGhebreyesus warned about the efficiency of the prevention measures and said mediocre preparations could have fatal consequences. He also said the real struggle lies in management of the situation in case of an outbreak.

Generally, Africa doesn’t have a high level of public health. Many diseases and viruses have appeared on the continent, such as HIV, Ebola and tuberculosis. In order to fight and eliminate this threat, a number of African governments have increased expenditures allocated to health and started cooperation for health development with the Chinese government.

China promised to continue to scale up assistance to African countries by creating a health care intuitive allowing the African countries to achieve independent and sustainable development. The plan also contain a long-term strategy of health development, exchange of scientists and new research and technical support for strengthening health-related capacities under the International Health Regulations. China aim to improve African medical and health service and hospital management to provide a better services to the African people by training medical staff, public health workers and administrative personnel. Besides China promised to upgrade its medical and health aid programs for Africa, particularly flagship projects such as the headquarters of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The cooperation’s plan shows the Chinese-African comity, the friendship and the mutual respect and we can clearly see that China is determined to the contribution in the development of the African nations. The actual epidemic situation of the COVID19 in Africa needs more attention and prevention, the collaboration precisely with china will be a wise action considering the Chinese experience of management, logistics, and organization to maintain the situation in case of outbreak and bringing out the best of the Sino-African alliance.

Despite that China is still fighting this epidemic in its own territory, the government express his readiness to help the other infected countries, recently the Chinese Foreign Ministry expresses sincere thanks for the support and assistance provided by many countries such South Korea and Japan, adding that China is ready to improve and strengthen the mechanism of responding to health and epidemic emergencies and promote the exchange of epidemiological information, exchange of experiences, prevention and control, to implement cooperation In the areas of diagnosis, treatment, research programs, and the development of medicines and vaccines.

China is acting heroically; in the middle of its own fight against the virus the PRC still showing gratitude and good will to help others countries. Till now Africa still has the chance to prevent and learn the Chinese experience, sadly some Africans countries still didn’t take serious prevention measures but China can provide the help and the assistance.

During the outbreak of the COVID-19 we all have seen the Chinese citizen showing patriotism and helping to maintain the situation, meanwhile the Chinese government have shown the same to the world, the lockdown was a strategy to stop the virus from spreading globally, if the Chinese government didn’t take the decision to lockdown cities and stop flights and traffics, experts confirmed that the COVID-19 could infect much more of global population, in fact it was a noble and human act, full of altruism and unselfish, all the matter was the human life.

Now China jumps to the next step which is helping the affected countries and proposing ways of preventions, sharing the genetic code for the virus with researchers around the world and providing medical trials information, treatment, and research programs for the development of medicines.

It’s time for solidarity and support and to have hope. This is a matter of life or death, and China can fight against the outbreak with the rest of the world to the safety…. to restore faith in humanity.

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