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Coming apart at the seams


The global political security situation has deteriorated in 2021 due to the increasingly fierce competition among major powers as well as the impact of COVID-19.

The competition between China and the United States is the primary focus in the global arena, followed by that between the US and Russia. The US views China as its major strategic rival and a threat to its position as the leader of the world. The US regards Russia as a security threat in Europe.

The competition between China and the US is unfolding on the global scale, not only in multilateral arenas such as the United Nations, but also in regions including Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America. Also, the China-US strategic competition covers various fields--ideology, diplomacy, the economy, military, technology and culture.

In comparison, the Russia-US competition is mainly regional, taking place in Europe, and involves military and diplomatic rivalry.

Overall, the world is experiencing escalating confrontation and growing divisiveness. The US, using the pretext of ideology, is bent on containing and isolating China and Russia by building "small circles" such as the G7, Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance, NATO, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, and AUKUS, the new trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the US. It also hosted a provocative "Summit for Democracy" as part of its efforts to build an "alliance of values" and an "alliance of technology", trying to force countries to join its side in its competitions with China and Russia. By instigating division and confrontation, it is exacerbating the global security situation.

Due to the pressure from the US, Europe and Japan have ramped up their interference in China's internal affairs. As a result, China-Europe and China-Japan relationships have worsened--negotiations on the China-EU investment agreement have stalled, and ideological conflict between the two sides has escalated. Japan, on its part, has turned more aggressive on the Taiwan question. India in the meantime is attempting to exploit the competition between the US and China to its advantage.

Under the incitement and support of the US, Ukraine and other East European countries have witnessed rising anti-Russia sentiment, and relations between the European Union and Russia have soured dramatically due to the economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and the EU.

In general, although it has said that it does not want to see head-on conflict, US-China and US-Russia ties have remained unchanged under the Joe Biden administration. The pressure of the US has prompted China and Russia to strengthen their comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination. And 2021 is also the year that China began to speak to the US on an "equal footing".

Due to the confrontation and competition between major powers, the global governance deficit has become greater. The reform of the UN has been shelved, World Trade Organization reform remains at a standstill, and the World Health Organization-led global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has failed to curb the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, G20 cooperation has declined, and governance in outer space, cyberspace and polar areas has achieved little progress. The US has replaced the UN and multilateral organizations and institutions with "bloc politics", and formulated so-called international rules under the guise of multilateralism.

Settlement of global hotspot issues has also made little progress. The Iran nuclear deal is at an impasse, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea nuclear issue remains unresolved. In the Middle East, the conflict between Palestine and Israel has intensified, while Syria and Yemen are mired in civil wars. The hasty withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan has left that worn-torn country in tatters. In Europe, the Ukraine crisis has been reignited, with the prospect of a military conflict looming large.

The US has enhanced its deployment and presence in Asia-Pacific, aggravating the security situation in China's neighboring areas. The US and Japan have been trying to bend China's bottom line on the Taiwan question, escalating tensions in the Taiwan Straits. The US is also going to great lengths to drive wedges between China and its neighboring countries. Australia and Japan have moved closer to the US; the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Republic of Korea have not yet taken sides, but they face diplomatic and economic pressure from the US. China-India ties are also worsening. In addition, the situation in Afghanistan has created uncertainties, and brings new challenges to the security in the region after the Shanghai Cooperation Organization saw discord after incorporating new members.

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the global security situation. It has not only accelerated the evolution of the global landscape, propelling the regionalization of industrial and supply chains, as well as the development of new technologies and industries, but also compounded challenges to the global economic recovery and international cooperation, triggered the rise of anti-globalization sentiment and populism, and disrupted supply chains.

Overall, the shift of the world's center of gravity from the West to the East is continuing, and there is no fundamental change in the trend toward a multi-polar world. Multilateralism remains the greatest common denominator of the international community, and the global order is becoming more just and fair. Despite the impacts of the pandemic and anti-globalization sentiment, globalization is still making headway, and will gain more steam by riding the tide of the new technological and industrial revolution. But global warming has not been reversed, with the past few years being the hottest on record, and the frequency and consequences of extreme weather events increasing around the world. The planet's future depends on whether countries, especially major countries, honor their commitments to reduce their carbon emissions.

Looking ahead, the US will further upgrade its efforts to suppress China and Russia, and the prospect of a conflict between major powers will rise. With the hard and soft strength of the US continuing to decline, and the gap between China and the US shrinking, the next decade will be a key period for China's rise.

The author is deputy director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 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.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn