The current international situation is rife with change, uncertainty and crisis as a result of the world order being reshaped. As conflicts continue to flare up and complicate one another, China’s “strategic opportunities” face risk.
A stable world order is based on a balanced distribution of global power. That balance, however, has been broken by a number of events.
The first event is that disparities are emerging among developed countries. The U.S. stands out among its allies in the extent of its economic recovery. Thanks to the dynamic new industries such as shale oil, 3D printing, artificial intelligence and mobile Internet – not to mention the record amount of quantitative easing, the annual growth of the U.S. economy has exceeded 3 percent. In his State of the Union address, Obama announced that the U.S. had stepped out of the shadow of the financial crisis. Washington has learned lessons from the past practices of plunging into regional wars blindly and has tried to move away from direct military involvement, instead relying more on its allies’ forces in regional conflicts (some of which were orchestrated by the U.S.).
In sharp contrast to the U.S.’ remarkable recovery, Europe and Japan are suffering a disheartening decline in global strength. The eurozone has been too deep in the economic doldrums to see any serious recovery. The Ukraine crisis and Middle East upheavals have seriously threatened Europe’s security, which, coupled with its internal troubles, caused the European Union’s global influence to wane. In Japan, “Abenomics” is at the end of its resources. Sticking to a rightist stance in its diplomacy, Japan fell foul with almost all its neighbors with an aggressively hostile attitude, counting on its alliance with the US. Tokyo’s mistakes in its foreign as well as domestic policies have helped accelerate the decline of the country’s strength.
The second change is that developing countries also have seen differences in their economic development. China and India continue to lead other countries in economic growth, with the former going deeper in reform and the latter adding steam to its reform drive. Russia and Brazil, however, are bogged down in domestic and international predicaments with economic growth slowing down dramatically. The Ukraine crisis-induced Western sanctions, coupled with the continuing plunge of oil prices hit the Russian economy hard, the growth of which is expected to shrink by 3 percent. The Brazilian economy is also mired in stagnation.
The third change in the global power distribution is that both the U.S. and China are leading the world economy. The financial crisis has reshaped the strength balance among the world’s major powers with the competitive U.S. and China becoming the “twin engines” for the global economy. The two powers are the only countries with GDP each exceeding $10 trillion.
Big countries are the main players in the game of reshaping world order, and act that is characterized by three main contradictions. The first is the tussle between Western powers and the newly rising big countries for the ability and position to dictate the world order. The “Golden Brics” countries set up a joint Development Bank to enhance their power of discourse in global affairs. Russia and China have been working together to maintain the post-War world order. The U.S. banked on the geopolitical contradictions at both ends of Eurasia to strengthen the U.S.-Europe alliance and Washington-Tokyo alliance in order to suppress the influence of Russia and China. It is also using the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) to unite Western developed countries under its banner in order to maintain its leading role in the international system.
The second contradiction is the confrontation between the West and Russia in Ukraine, which is even being called a “new Cold War” by some. The U.S. is actually a beneficiary of the confrontation while both the EU and Russia are losers. Though the U.S. and EU are bonded in a united front against Russia, there are differences between them, especially between Washington and Berlin.
The third contradiction is that the rivalry and cooperation between the U.S. and China has become more complicated than before. As the gap between the two countries in terms of national strength narrows, both sides engage in tenser strategic competition. Trying not to be trapped in the Ukraine quagmire and in the fight with the “State of Islam,” the Obama administration continued carrying out its “pivot to Asia” strategy, with emphasis placed on its involvement in the Asia-Pacific marine disputes and the regional economic integration, to strengthen its alliance system as well as its cooperation with India. The purpose is to contain China and maintain a dominant position in the Asia-Pacific.
Regional order is an important part of the world order. Three major regions have seen their local order being changed. First, the Ukraine crisis strongly impacted the post-War order in Europe. Over the past few years, the U.S.-led West has been advancing relentlessly to squeeze Russia’s strategic space. They orchestrated another “color revolution” in Ukraine in early 2014 to overthrow the legal government in Kiev. The move incurred vehement counter-attacks from Russia, which took the opportunity to annex Crimea.
Second, unrests and armed conflicts that spread across the Middle East have disrupted the order in the region. The impact of the 2011 unrest lingered on with a plethora of contradictions fermenting to the point of bust. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria took advantage of the chaos to build up strength and challenge the existing national borders in the region. The regional and domestic order in the “power-changed countries” has been too disrupted to be restored.
Third, a three-party game has thrown the Asia-Pacific regional order off balance. The U.S., using both cajolery and coercion, dragged more countries in the region into the alliance it leads for to contain China. China, on its part, adopts an active diplomatic strategy combining firmness and flexibility to gain greater leverage in the region. Other countries in the region act accordingly to their maximum interests, with some siding with the U.S. while others “straddling two boats” to curry favor with both sides.
Non-traditional security challenges have gone rampant to testify to the disarray of the world order.
Major pandemics such as Ebola are challenging the world’s public hygiene mechanisms; surging terrorism is mocking global anti-terror cooperation, with ISIS and Al Qaeda forces committing massacres one after another; climate change continues to threaten the globe; and a disordered competition has proven the chaos in the cyber world.
Faced with a chaotic world situation, China has announced the “Outlines for State Security Strategy.” To seize the initiative in reshaping the world order, China should attach equal importance to development and security to make steady headway towards national rejuvenation.