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Society & Culture

Who Has the Advantage?

Mar 21, 2020
  • He Yafei

    Former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs

US China chess.jpg

The foreign policy of the United States has undergone major changes in recent years. From the Obama administration’s passive response to great-power competition to the Trump administration’s targeting of China and Russia as major strategic rivals, the U.S. has officially given up unipolarity in favor of the new era of great-power competition.

Henry Kissinger said in 2018: “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretenses.”

The U.S. elite define Trump’s great-power competition policy as ensuring the strength and economic vitality of the United States, maintaining advantages in the regional balance of power and clearly delineating American interests and redlines in order to keep the world free and open.

Thomas Friedman once described economic globalization as “wiring the world into networks.” He said the popularity of the internet and the information revolution have formed virtual and real networks into a complex, interconnected super network connecting countries.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008, all countries have been perplexed by the complex changes in globalization, non-traditional security threats, and geopolitical tensions. During the new era of competition between great powers, there have emerged a new international architecture and a new competitive situation. Relations between major powers have been constantly refreshed and reshaped, and the different political and economic systems and approaches to development that they represent have different impacts on economic globalization and global governance. All this has become a focus of reflection and comparison by governments and scholars.

In the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, a global public health crisis, different political systems have yielded vastly different results in responding to this non-traditional security threat, providing a clear indication of their respective competitiveness.

After the coronavirus outbreak, China quickly activated public health emergency mechanisms from the national to the community levels and adopted powerful and effective measures to control the spread. It relied on the strength of its socialist system of governance to mobilize resources and execute plans.

In addition, the Chinese government pushed out fiscal and monetary policies in response to the changing situation, including special and stopgap measures such as strengthening credit, reducing and exempting corporate taxes, supporting companies in the resumption of work and ensuring that supply chains for industy continued to function. The Communist Party of China and the Chinese people worked together and achieved good results.

Following the 2008 financial tsunami, China worked with other major economies to dampen recession. It stood out conspicuously in the G20, played the role of a global power and demonstrated the advantages of its governance system.

Facing the onslaught of the coronavirus, China once again gave full play to its system’s strong ability to pool resources in major undertakings and provided its experience for the benefit of other countries in fighting the epidemic — including examples of cooperation.

At present, the coronavirus situation in the United States, Iran and European countries — especially Italy —is going from bad to worse. Nobody knows where the epidemic will go, but we do know that it will severely test the ability of these countries’ economic and political systems and mode of governance to mobilize resources and execute response plans.

It is worth noting that American scholars have recently been discussing the so-called clash of capitalisms. They characterize the “state macro control plus market economy” model of socialist economic development — as represented by China — as “state capitalism” and the capitalist system represented by the United States as the “free capitalism” of the elites. They emphasize that capitalism has become the ruler of the world, while socialism barely survives.

In brief, they believe the competition is not between capitalism and socialism but between two different capitalist models, arguing that free capitalism gives rise to rapid economic growth. They emphasize the elements of freedom and democracy to fundamentally downplay the institutional advantages of China’s political system, socialist market economy and unique national structure of governance.

If you agree with the above, as declared by the U.S. when the Cold War ended, the historic end of competition between world political systems and the era of America's world domination will go on for a long time. Moreover, even if the world has entered a new era of great-power competition, the capitalist system represented by the United States will not become outdated; the international order is only labeled post-capitalist. 

Now that the Trump administration has shifted the focus of its foreign policy to competition between great powers, it is pursuing decoupling from China, most notably trying to overwhelm China with a technology blockade. Taking advantage of the short-term impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on global supply chains, some Americans are clamoring for a broad restructuring of supply chains to support U.S. decoupling.

Pointing to the epidemic in China, U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, first urged American companies to return to the United States and then called for American companies to look for alternative suppliers. The excuse was that supply chains were temporarily disrupted.

All this departed from principles of fair competition in the context of economic globalization. It amounted to the suppression and containment of an emerging power by a naked hegemonic country, and therefore contributed to the cutthroat competition between the great powers.

The United States, however, will have difficulty decoupling from China, given the general trend of globalization. Its attempt to downplay the advantages of the Chinese system in favor of the flawed American capitalist system will distort economic globalization, derail global supply chains and compromise the cooperation of great powers in their response to non-traditional security threats such as public health crises.

And this, in turn, will endanger the overall interests of the international community.

Ironically, as the 2020 presidential election in the United States ramps up, Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren not only call themselves socialists but propose plans that contain many socialist ideas for eliminating the growing inequality in American society.

Which system and governance approach is better, Chinese or American? It seems this debate will continue for a long time. Practice is the sole criterion for testing truth. China has confidence in its socialist path, theory, system and culture. It is firmly committed to running its own affairs well. In addition, it works to provide global public benefits to the best of its ability and continues to work for world peace and economic growth.

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