The term “international landscape,” as I understand it, refers to the basic balance of power, structure and competitive and cooperative relations among major countries and groups of countries. Multi-polarization is the most fundamental trend in the evolution of that landscape today. Based on this understanding, I share the following points:
First, multi-polarization has entered a new stage. The recently released Sino-Russian joint statement states: “The international landscape is becoming multi-polar faster than ever before.” The multi-polarization process referred to here is born out of post-Cold War globalization. Some important concepts people may be familiar with, such as emerging economies, BRICS, G-20 and the shift of the world’s center of gravity to the Asia-Pacific, are all hallmarks of the development of the multi-polarization process. An important political implication is that the United States is deprived of its position as the hegemonic center, and the West in general is deprived of its position as the center of the world.
Second, over the past 30 years, the peaceful rise of China has been the most striking development in the process of global multi-polarization. Its enormous impact is related to the basic balance of power, and to competition and cooperation among major countries. The most striking of these developments is the substantial change in China-U.S. relations.
Third, the changes in China-U.S. relations stem from the shift in U.S. policy toward China — i.e., the transformation of China in U.S. strategy from a partner/stakeholder to a major rival, threat and challenger. By the development of multi-polarization in a new stage, I mean that the change in the balance of power generated by this process has begun to shift from quantitative to qualitative change — that is, it has begun to affect the established structure of power in the world.
The most important political implication of this shift is to deprive the United States of its position as the hegemonic center. That position, established by the United States in the post-Cold War period, is based on its possession of dominant hard and soft power. Its decline is the result of two parallel trends — that American economic, political and social development are in a period of intense problems and frequent crises, and that the development of multi-polarization has begun to have a qualitative impact on the international landscape. Out of its nature to preserve its hegemonic position, Washington has spun the challenge posed to it as a narrative of great-power competition, with China as the main target.
Accordingly, one of the main U.S. diplomatic strategies is to do its best to bring other countries —especially those with which China has contentious or competitive relations — on board its battleship of strategic competition. In the Asia-Pacific region, India is a key country the U.S. wants to woo.
Fourth, the above-mentioned evolution of the international landscape has injected important new factors into Sino-India relations. The situation in recent years has shown that in response to U.S. wooing, India has adopted a policy of selective cooperation based on its own interests. As a result, a strategic triangle has been formed between China, the United States and India.
In recent years, Sino-India relations have hovered at a low level for well-known reasons. With U.S. containment straining U.S. relations with China across the board, New Delhi is faced with a great temptation to use U.S. wooing as a strategic chip to compete with or pressure China. For example, it has echoed the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, which is clearly aimed at China, by joining the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or QUAD.
As India’s policy toward China becomes more subject to considerations of strategic competition, the cooperative side of relations between the two countries will inevitably be squeezed.
Fifth, as a historical process, multi-polarization has significant implications for the progress of civilization and for the rationalization and democratization of international relations. In addition, it is an evolution within the existing international system, and its presentation and ultimate direction are the result of the interaction of multiple forces.
Whether current international relations evolve in the direction of more competition or more cooperation depends to a large extent on the policy choices of the main entities involved in that process. The U.S., for the purpose of diverting its own contradictions and maintaining its hegemonic position, is making a big deal of great-power competition, with its geopolitical narrative making China the main target. This is not only a major challenge to China’s peaceful rise but also a test of whether multi-polarization can maintain a progressive direction of development.
Against this backdrop, the historical responsibility of China and India — as close neighbors, developing powers and firm promoters of multi-polarization — is to resolutely resist the temptation of various international and domestic makeshift stratagems, focus on their own long-term interests, and maintain a sober sense of direction regarding the progress of civilization. They must correctly handle the difficult problems involved in the complicated bilateral game of competition and cooperation using the great wisdom contained in their traditional cultures. The two countries should also explore a path on which both can rise through win-win cooperation and a positive attitude toward the future.