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Foreign Policy

Facing Tectonic Global Change

Oct 20, 2022
  • Yu Hongjun

    Senior Research Fellow, Academy of Contemporary China and World Studies

Human society is facing a historic new round of transformation, whose salient feature is adjustment to the global changes that are at once sweeping, profound, complex, dramatic and fluid.

What is the essence of the global landscape? As I understand it, it’s the combined total of the international political order, international economic relations, international security dynamics and global governance. At the core are major country relationships. The nature and trend of the relations between major powers will shape the course of international relations and global governance and ultimately determine the destiny of human society in terms of mutual appreciation, progress and development. Fundamentally, major country relations are determined by the strengths and weaknesses of value systems and international strategic orientations — in other words, changes in the balance of power and the ebb and flow of international influence.

The United States is the world’s largest economy and a hegemonic power that claims to be the world leader. It is advanced in many fields, including economy, science, technology, finance, education and the military, as well as in its ability to influence, manipulate or otherwise intervene in international affairs and the system of international organizations in ways unparalleled by other major powers.

China is the world’s largest, nonaligned, developing country with a distinct socialist system. It is the world’s largest trader in terms of trade in goods and foreign exchange reserves. It is the world’s second-largest economy and has surpassed the U.S. in its contribution to global economic growth. The relationship between China and the U.S. is one of the most important major power relations in the world today and one of the important engines driving international relations and the international landscape.

Russia, has vast territory, rich resources, enormous potential, superb military power and a maverick character in conducting international affairs. The European Union is a highly integrated regional cooperation bloc of 27 countries that are recognized as important forces in today’s multipolar world. Russia-China and China-EU relations, as well as U.S.-EU, U.S.-Russia and Russia-EU relations, are all important components of the overall framework of great power relations that have a significant impact on the transformation and change of the international landscape. These pairs of relations all operate in the midst of an extremely complex and dramatic situation.

Driven by its entrenched imperial mindset and political bias, the U.S. had been hoping China would shift to a Western development path and governance model through reforms. But the Communist Party of China has been steadfast in its pursuit of socialism and has achieved progress in modernization — as well as growing international influence — to a degree overwhelming to the U.S. and its Western allies. Consequently, the U.S. and EU see China as a strategic competitor or institutional and systemic rival and are attempting to block and contain China’s peaceful development across the board.

The U.S. and its allies in the Asia-Pacific region have not only stirred up friction in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, leading to heightened tensions, but they have also attempted to isolate and encircle China in economic, cultural, sci-tech, financial and humanities fields, with the aim of creating an Asian version of NATO — replicating NATO's eastward expansion in the Asia-Pacific or even the entire Indo-Pacific region. The nuclear submarine alliance between the U.S., UK and Australia, the Quad, the Five-Eyes alliance, the so-called chip alliance and the Indo-Pacific economic framework will all add to the negative factors weighing on a changing global landscape. 

The evolving balance of power among major countries and the unprecedented complexity between them have led to an increasingly challenging external environment globally and in surrounding areas. China’s peaceful development is fraught with extraordinary risks and challenges, and the journey to the full rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and the center of the world stage will be an arduous and prolonged process. In the face of the greatest changes in history, China has stood firm and poised, demonstrating the fine character of a great nation that is in possession of strategic maturity, political stability, self-confidence and an unrelenting drive for improvement.

From the perspective of economic development and balance of power, China remains the world’s most resilient economy. It delivers steady growth and one of the best business environments, despite the all-out containment efforts and the pursuit of decoupling by the United States and other Western countries. In the first quarter of this year, China attracted nearly 20 percent of the global FDI. In the first eight months of this year, the actual cumulative FDI utilized by China stood at $138.4 billion, up 20.2 percent year-on-year. From January to July, China’s total foreign trade in goods topped 2.36 billion RMB, up 10.4 percent year-on-year. Its trade surplus reached 3.14 trillion RMB, up 62.1 percent year-on-year.

These figures show that whatever the international vicissitudes, the prevailing trend of the times has not changed. The center of gravity continues to shift eastward and the historical trend of mutual learning by China and other civilizations remains unchanged.

President Xi Jinping has been engaged in direct exchanges and dialogues with leaders of the United States and Russia. State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi has participated in a host of meetings and gave policy speeches during a trip to New York.  His messages were meaningful as he reiterated China’s determination to pursue opening-up, adhere to the path of peaceful development and stay abreast of the times. Their words merit thoughtful study.

The crisis in Ukraine has had a huge impact on relations between the major powers and on international relations and the world landscape as a whole. The spillover effect has not only triggered political rifts and moral confrontations on a global scale and intensified geopolitical conflicts in Europe but has also taken a toll on the world economy, dealing a blow to the trading order, energy supplies, financial cooperation, food security and the stability of industrial and supply chains. In the escalating metaphorical “all-out war” waged by the U.S. and the EU against Russia, oil and gas have become diplomatic tools with which to confront Russia and maintain their hegemonic position and interests. Russia has used oil and gas as a strategic weapon to counteract the U.S. and the EU. The global energy supply, especially oil and gas, is in chaos. The condition of the already severely weakened global economy has worsened.

This year saw a steep increase in extreme weather events around the world. Ecological problems brought about by climate change have become more pronounced, and international debates over carbon peaks and carbon neutrality have become more acute. Under such circumstances, it is apt and timely to mobilize all of society to discuss in depth the path of green development in China and the world and to expand and deepen cooperation and innovation in the energy sector — especially in the new-energy sector.

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