After the USSR disintegrated, the US became the sole superpower, shaping the world system to its interests. It has established its hegemony across the world and no state can dare to attack or conquer the US due to its favorable geography. However, China has challenged the US through economic hegemony, fighting through money rather than military forces or geography. Economic-oriented strategies are now given more importance than the arms race. In the Trump era, the US initiated an economic war against China by imposing increased tariffs on Chinese products that could lead to a trade deficit. Despite their conflicts, both states understand the importance of trade and are trying to become stronger economically.
The article questions how China will influence the US and the world system. Also, the COVID-19 has put America’s hegemony into question and empowered China. The world experienced a war in the medical field, with everyone fighting hidden enemies using medicines and injections as weapons. The more serious a state is towards this, the more successful it will be in ruling the world. In the 21st century, the world will experience a different world order that will determine the fate of China and the US as world powers.
This article aims to analyze the power dynamics between two states using various strategic theories to understand their position in the global order. Specifically, the paper delves into the details of China’s Belt Road initiative and how it affects not only the world but also US strategies. Additionally, the study examines Mahan’s concept of sea power, Mackinder’s Heartland theory, and Rimland’s theory of Spyman to answer the question of which country, China or the USA, will dominate the global system in the future and what strategies these two states will use to achieve their objectives. The significance of CPEC is also discussed as it plays a role in China’s dominance and the dependence of other countries on it. Overall, this article provides an analysis of the contemporary world system with a focus on the strategies of the USA and China. These theories can help to clarify each state’s current policy implications towards achieving global hegemony.
THE HEARTLAND THEORY
In 1904, Mr. Halford Mackinder introduced the concept of heartland and published his work known as the Heartland theory. It described the rules for achieving world dominance by whoever controls the Eurasian land. The Eurasian land comprises Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and some parts of Russia.
The famous quote of this theory was, “Whoever rules East Europe commands the Heartland; whoever rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; whoever rules the World-Island commands the world”.
For instance, during World War II, Nazi Germany, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler, aimed to invade the Eurasian land to dominate the heartland and gain power to rule the world.
THE RIMLAND THEORY
Nicholas Spyman proposed the theory of Rimland in 1942, stating that to rule over the world island, it is essential to conquer coastal areas. Rimlands are the boundaries of the world island and are connected to the seas. Spyman believed that to dominate the world, a state must dominate the Rimland and, to dominate the heartland, it is crucial to dominate the Rimland as well.
For instance, during the Cold War era, the USA prohibited the expansion of the Soviet Union to maintain its influence on the world by dominating Rimland. As a result, the USA became the sole superpower of the world.
MAHAN’S CONCEPT OF SEA POWER
Alfred Thayer Mahan, an American Naval Officer, developed the strategy of sea power that became one of the most influential in the field. In his book Influence of Sea Power upon History published in 1980, he argued that naval power could make a state a superpower. This is because 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by seas and a state with a strong navy can dominate the world. Mahan’s strategy was instrumental in World War I.
Naval power is crucial in becoming a world power as it secures trade routes, enables a state to hide nuclear weapons in submarines, and is difficult to detect. Additionally, naval power is important for maintaining deterrence to prevent the enemy’s first attack. In the 19th and 20th centuries, naval power strengthened the world’s great powers such as the USA, China, Russia, Britain, and France. Landlocked states without a navy are usually weak states such as Afghanistan and other small Asian states like Nepal and Bhutan.
The US strategy is based on Mahan’s concept, which has helped to strengthen the country. The geographical location of the US, with its sea routes, makes it difficult to be reached or conquered by any other state. Germany faced a naval blockade from Britain, and India threatened Pakistan with a naval blockade, which could lead to war. Naval power could be a strong factor in initiating wars or conflicts in the future.
All in all, becoming a naval power is pivotal in becoming a superpower, according to Mahan’s concept of sea power. History provides us with numerous examples to support this idea. For instance, Australia is currently buying nuclear submarines from the US, which highlights the importance of naval power.
USA & CHINA IN CONTEMPORARY WORLD
To answer the question that who will rule the world in future, whether the USA or China, let’s analyze the strategic and geopolitical position of both states.
CHINA’S BELT ROAD INITIATIVE (BRI)
The Belt and Road Initiative started in 2013, aims to strengthen China’s economic, political, and strategic position by linking the world together. Although the initiative has global risks, it has invited the attention of many countries from all over the world to invest in the project and earn profit. Around 70 states have signed up to cooperate with China in creating this global infrastructure.
The initiative poses threats towards the US in terms of economic, political, and strategic hegemony. This is because it increases China’s control over sea routes and the Heartland, where most of the world’s natural resources are located. However, the US can work with allies to create an alternative and compete with China to maintain its hegemony.
CPEC, another important project by the Chinese government, aims to make Pakistan its strong ally and involve other countries in South Asia. In the future, BRI will help China gain control over the Heartlands, according to Mackinder’s strategy, which could eventually lead to China ruling the world system like the US.
Despite this, China has chosen to fight economically rather than militarily and will continue to do so for the time being.
THE WAR OF IDEOLOGUES
There is not just an economic war going on between China and the USA, but also a war of ideologies. Similar to the capitalist and communist blocs during the Cold War era, there is a battle of ideologies between China and the USA. These ideologies could strengthen them as a soft power and encourage them to fight mentally. China has an excellent mix of capitalist and communist societies, but Western culture and Asian values cannot be neglected. China follows the ideology of relativism while the US favors universalism. Samuel B. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations cannot be ignored, which suggests that major wars may be initiated based on cultural differences.
The incident of 9/11 and Islamophobia is a prime example of how both the states of America and China have an Islamophobia mindset as we all know what the USA did with Afghanistan in the name of Jihad and what China is doing with Uyghur Muslims. There is also a rivalry between China and the USA based on ideologues and that could create a “security dilemma”.
GEOPOLITICAL NATURE OF RELATIONS
Under the Joe Biden administration, it appears that the relationship between the US and China may take a new form. While there may be an increase in economic interdependence, the strategic and geopolitical rivalry between the two nations is likely to persist.
China must focus on addressing its weaknesses, including issues such as population, labor force, environmental degradation, economic inequality, and social disparities. In addition to its Belt and Road Initiative and other similar programs aimed at increasing its influence, China must prioritize these internal matters to strengthen its position in the global arena.
CONTEMPORARY STRATEGIC ENVIRONMENT
The world can be seen as a collection of islands, with the mainland at the centre where most of the world’s resources lie. Nations fight for power and dominance to protect their national interests in this resource-rich area. In this context, let’s examine the current strategic environment of the world, considering Mahan’s concept of sea power and Heartland and Rimland theories.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative will give them control over the Heartland, while America will maintain control over naval power under the influence of Mahan’s strategy. China’s control over Rimland states, including through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), will continue to strengthen, paving the way for its control over the Heartland. This poses a significant threat to America’s hegemony.
During the Cold War, the US used the Policy of Containment to prevent the spread of communism, focusing on Rimland. This policy could be applied to China to prevent its expansion, although the US’s credibility has been called into question following the war in Afghanistan and its chaotic invasion in 2021. Under the Rimland Theory, the US may form alliances to counter China, such as its current partnership with India and other allies to disrupt CPEC.
In terms of the economy, China has invested more in Europe than the US, and China leads the US in Cyber and Quantum technology. The technological revolution may benefit China in the post-COVID world.
After analyzing the strategic, geopolitical, and geographical positions of China and the USA, we can conclude that the conditions are favorable for China to become a superpower in the future. The world may experience a bipolar world system again due to the economic interdependence between both states. The USA’s sea power will strengthen its position, as it has a good geostrategic location. Meanwhile, China’s geostrategic location is excellent due to its presence in Rimland and its access to sea power. However, it is difficult to predict who will rule the world, and it is too early to make a clear statement. The world will have to see both states fight, and alliances could shape a different future as discussed by Rimland’s theory. Both sides will give tough competition to each other, and neither will make concessions for healthy relations.