Changes in the global landscape
WU HEPING/FOR CHINA DAILY
Coordination, consultations and cooperation will be the order of the day as the world becomes multipolar
Since the end of Cold War, the United States has been the world's sole superpower, and it has been trying to build a unipolar international system by leveraging its hard and soft power. The US hegemony is based on systemic supremacy as well as material power, and it is therefore intent on maintaining the US-led international system. The US dominant position in the international governance system allows it to have much more say in setting the international agenda, as evidenced by the international community's wide acceptance of its launching a war against terror after the Sept 11 attacks on the US in 2001.
But since then, the fast progression of globalization has driven the rise of multiple developing powers and they are demanding a bigger say in global affairs. In fact, the hegemonic status of the US has been in a relative decline since the start of the 21st century, as evidenced by its diminishing influence globally. The narrow-minded populist "American First" strategy adopted by the Donald Trump administration embodied the US recognition of its fading soft power. And the Trump administration's arbitrary withdrawal of the US from international agreements undermined its predominant status in international institutions. The novel coronavirus outbreak might not be the catalyst for the US decline, but it certainly marks the beginning of the end for the US hegemony and the start of the reshuffling of the international order. The curtain is coming down on the era of the US hegemony.
There used to be several hegemonic periods in history, including the so-called Pax Romana and the Pax Britannica. However, the world at the moment is completely different and there will be no new hegemon. The reasons are threefold. First, there is no single country which has the overwhelming power to lead international affairs. The rise and fall of powers will continue to push forward the multipolar trend. Second, countries cannot single handedly lead or effectively address the pressing global challenges. Third, the international community will not voluntarily accept a new hegemon. Hegemony as an international order is over.
Despite spirited debates on strategic competition between the US and China, conditions for a bipolar international system dominated by the two countries do not exist either. There is still a big gap in the aggregate power between China and the US. A strategic equilibrium and balance of power, as was achieved between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, is far from being a reality. Besides, one of the prerequisites for a bipolar international system to exist is that the two superpowers must establish and maintain their own alliance systems. However, today most countries are hesitating to take sides. Moreover, an international system led by two illegitimate poles will not be recognized by the other members of the international community.
Most importantly, from their own perspectives, the US and China will not recognize a so-called bipolar world. The US willingness to lead the world and its wish to strengthen its alliances will not disappear but only grow stronger. For China, a bipolar system featuring confrontation with the US is at odds with its strategic intention of a peaceful rise and its ambition to build a community with a shared future for humankind. Confrontation with the US will by no means facilitate its ambition to realize national rejuvenation and future development. Some US scholars have proposed joint governance or "Chimerica" but this has failed to find an audience in either of the two countries.
We are moving toward a more diversified world. There will emerge several centers of power such as China, the US and the European Union. Although the US is losing its hegemonic status, it is still the most powerful single country in the world, and many countries will still look to it for leadership. China, as the world's second-largest economy, plays a major role in international affairs with its rising aggregate power and international influence. The EU is well-positioned to stand as a pole with its capability to mobilize the resources of its member states, despite the challenges it faces because of the pandemic. Therefore, it is impossible to form a stable world order and achieve effective global governance in the absence of any one of the three centers of power. Furthermore, there will be other important international players such as India and Association of Southeast Asian Nations which will emerge as significant sub-poles.
A diversified world means one in which there are different arrangements and facets for international affairs. When making assessments, most countries will not rely on a clear-cut or singular criterion, for example military clout, ideology, or alliance and security. The international community comprises members with different backgrounds, expectations and visions, as well as non-state actors who will not withdraw simply because of the revival of state-centrism. They will continue to play important roles in many areas. US liberalism will no longer maintain its monopoly in the international system. China's path of development and the European model will prove appealing, too. Besides, global governance will be augmented by more effective governance at regional levels, as evidenced by the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
The trend toward a multipolar world and greater diversification in international affairs will continue. Major countries will play a stronger role and shoulder more responsibilities, with active participation by other members of the international community. Extensive consultations, joint contributions and shared benefits will be the pointers to peace, development and progress.
The author is professor and former president of China Foreign Affairs University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.