How China’s Engagement with the Global South Challenges US Dominance

The conflict in Ukraine has a considerable effect on not only the West’s relations with Russia and China but also the West’s relations with the majority of the world’s population in the Global South. The situation signifies the onset of a new phase of world politics, where the great powers engage in systemic competition to maintain or alter the current order, and the countries of the Global South, which had less significance, acquire more relevance and power. The situation in Ukraine also demonstrates the widening of the existing gap between the West and the Global South, and as the former Prime Minister of Finland stated, it is a wake-up call for the West1. The West made a huge error by assuming that the Global South would have the same perspective and response to the Russian invasion.

The Global South views this war as irrelevant. Rather than choosing a side and joining a war that does not concern them, they seek to collaborate with other global or regional powers to enhance trade and attract investment. For at least 107 countries in the world, which are experiencing a combination of financial, energy, and food crises, their issues and anxieties are distinct2. The Global South envisions a multipolar world where no great power subjugates others3. The Global South does not want a world order where all countries have to align with either the West or China and Russia.

The current period of transition is perceived by these countries as an opportunity to augment their weight and power vis-à-vis the diminishing power of the United States at the global level as well as in the Western Hemisphere. These countries have concentrated their efforts on reforming extant multilateral institutions or establishing new institutions that enable them to exercise better and more efficacious influence on international issues. The Global South intends to develop alternative networks of diplomatic, economic, cultural, and security partnerships and alliances, which, if realized, will cause a gradual decline in the influence and hegemony of the West.

Today, the Global South endeavors to diversify its economic and security partnerships, obtain new sources of investment and ensure multilateral efforts to tackle the challenges facing the world. The long-term neglect of the issues of these countries by the United States and Western Europe made them interested in joining the initiatives created by China and Russia. By welcoming cooperation frameworks such as BRICS and Shanghai, they want to reform multilateral structures to better reflect their role in the international order, as affirmed in the final communiqué of the 2022 BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) meeting in Beijing.

By forcing Western values on the Global South, the US has failed to build a mutual and lasting bond with them. The US has seen them as inferior or useful only for its own interests, especially in crises and conflicts. This has pushed the Global South away from the US. The US response to the Ukraine war with sanctions and pressure will worsen the gap between the Global South and the West. The Ukraine war showed that the US cannot make the Global South follow its lead, as its global power is fading. In short, the US is losing its hegemonic status.

China, on the other hand, is emerging as a global leader that challenges US dominance and exposes the flaws of the Western-centric order. China wants to convince many countries to support its rise as a global leader, which matches the aspirations of the Global South for a multipolar world. Since Xi came to power, China has concentrated on attracting many countries from the Global South, aiming to use their backing to gradually change the existing world order in accordance with its own vision. It was a fundamental shift in every aspect.

Therefore, unlike the US’s strategy, which relies on alliances with mostly wealthy countries, Xi’s China has chosen a completely different strategy. Xi’s ultimate goal is to overthrow the old Western-centric order and create a new world order led by China, which is called in Chinese a community of shared destiny for mankind.

China has endeavored to establish a coalition of countries that are dissatisfied with the existing world order and perceive that they do not benefit from it or have a decisive influence on it. China intends to utilize this coalition to alter and reform this system in accordance with its own preferences. This coalition encompasses countries that are overtly antagonistic to the US and its leadership, as well as underdeveloped countries in Africa, Latin America, and the South Pacific that are not necessarily opposed to the US or its leadership but discern in Beijing the readiness and capacity to address their financial and economic challenges. This indicates that Beijing exploits its sway over developing countries to subvert global norms and promote its interests in opposition to the US-led global order.

For decades, China has been pursuing the Global South by enhancing trade, financial investments, and loans. Beijing is much more flexible than the global institutions controlled by Western countries, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, etc., and most importantly, they do not have clauses and conditions. They do not condition the receipt of loans or economic aid on the implementation of neoliberal structural reform and adjustment programs in the borrowing country. China pledges rapid development to southern countries with infrastructure investment. It also establishes alternative organizations such as BRICS, Shanghai, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and institutions parallel to the dominant Western institutions, to address the demands and requirements of the Global South and increase the scope of China’s influence. China’s very attractive market for goods from Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East is another advantage of this country. It can be stated that as the Global South’s desire for China increases, the West is relinquishing these countries to China.

The West is confronted with a dual challenge from the South: not only are the Southern countries ascending in power and influence, but the West is also losing its economic advantage. The data shows that the G7’s economic power is declining in comparison to other countries, and this also affects its ability to influence the unstable global order. The G7’s share of global GDP in nominal terms reached its zenith at nearly 70% in the late 1980s but declined to less than 45% in 2021. In terms of purchasing power parity, the BRICS group has surpassed the G7’s share.

The West has failed to convince the Global South about the current order’s benefits. Many analysts worry about US’s unstable and imbalanced foreign policy, China’s rising power and influence, the lack of a strategy that meets the Global South’s needs, and the US’s short-term and cold war view of these countries. The developing countries’ leaders, therefore, prefer China, which offers stability, infrastructure, and no push for liberal democracy.

One of the key features of the new era of great power competition is the intensification of US-China competition in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. This competition aims to reach the Global South, where the United States faces a disadvantage because of the deep gap between the Global South and the West, and the effective and efficient diplomacy of China. China supports the idea of a multipolar world, polarizing the international space and creating and consolidating an alliance with the Global South to break the existing order led by the United States. China takes advantage of the existing gap between the West and the Global South.

Sarah Neumann
Sarah Neumann
Dr. Sara Neumann is a political scientist and freelance writer who specializes in international relations, security studies, and Middle East politics. She holds a PhD in Political Science from Humboldt University of Berlin, where she wrote her dissertation on the role of regional powers in the Syrian conflict. She is a regular contributor to various media outlets like Eurasia Review. She also teaches courses on international relations and Middle East politics at Humboldt University of Berlin and other academic institutions.