What kind of superpower will China be? That’s the question of the 21st century. According to American leaders such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, China will be a rapacious authoritarian nightmare, intent on destroying democracy itself. Beijing, needless to say, doesn’t quite agree.
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US President Donald Trump lashed out at China in his annual United Nations General Assembly address on Tuesday, saying the country had “unleashed” the coronavirus on the world and polluted the environment at extreme levels with impunity. “We have waged a fierce battle against the invisible enemy: the China virus,” Trump said in a pre-recorded speech.
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Watching the Trump carnival from afar, the former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt summed up the week’s events, and those of the many painful weeks to come: “This is the first great crisis of the post-American world,” he wrote on Twitter. “The UN Security Council is nowhere to be seen, G20 is in the hands of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the White House has trumpeted America First and Everyone Alone for years. Only the virus is globalized.”
Sometime in the last two years, American hegemony died. The age of U.S. dominance was a brief, heady era, about three decades marked by two moments, each a breakdown of sorts. It was born amid the collapse of the Berlin Wall, in 1989. The end, or really the beginning of the end, was another collapse, that of Iraq in 2003, and the slow unraveling since. But was the death of the United States’ extraordinary status a result of external causes, or did Washington accelerate its own demise through bad habits and bad behaviour?
…the post–Cold War interregnum of U.S. hegemony is over, and bipolarity is set to return, with China playing the role of the junior superpower. The transition will be a tumultuous, perhaps even violent, affair, as China’s rise sets the country on a collision course with the United States over a number of clashing interests. But as Washington slowly retreats from some of its diplomatic and military engagements abroad, Beijing has no clear plan for filling this leadership vacuum and shaping new international norms from the ground up.
Indeed, the rise of Asia as a whole is recasting the physical and mental map of the world. Proliferating transnational relationships and new flows of finance, trade, technology, information, energy and labour have created three new strategic geographies which are already escaping the shadow of transatlantic arrangements. They essentially represent the collision of erstwhile political constructs – and their management requires new ideas, nimble institutions and fluid partnerships.
Over the last couple of years, the China-policy debate in the US has begun to reflect more realism, with a growing number of voices recognizing China’s ambition to supplant its American benefactor as the leading global superpower. But is it too late to rein in America’s main geopolitical rival?
How should a great power manage a rival with an authoritarian government, a state-directed capitalist economy, strong mercantilist tendencies and a “leader for life” that exploited a “cult of personality?” To make matters more difficult, this country’s government dominates society through an all-pervasive party structure that stresses nationalism and argues that only the party can reverse recent slights and return the nation to its rightful place in the sun. This might sound like modern-day China, but in fact it is 1930s Germany.
As the new year gets underway, and Chinese foreign policy analysts join their counterparts around the world in assessing the events of 2017, the emerging international relations (IR) discourse in Beijing is quite a revelation — at least to the Japanese and Indian strategic affairs community. While most Chinese believe Japan to be the second biggest threat to China’s “peaceful rise,” according to a few Chinese experts, the rising global profile of India, especially under the “right-wing” nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has gone unacknowledged.