As the present world order weakens, the mega confrontations have appeared more likely: The Sino-American relations are increasingly adversarial, with escalating frictions over trade, advanced technology, human rights, and global strategic influence.
Currently, both sides – as president of the US Council of Foreign Relations Richard Haass states: “…are developing scenarios for a possible war…” The two countries rhetoric has grown so hostile that its speed and severity is unprecedented for the post WWII period, rather belonging to the forgotten vocabulary of 1910s and 1930s. (E.g. referring to PRC as ‘Country of Kung Flu’ or to the US as‘trigger happy nation’; calling the C-19 ‘China virus’ or ‘US Army brought pathogen’; China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman referring to the US leadership as ‘Elements deluded by the Capitol Hill metastasis’ while the US State Secretary calls the Chinese Communist Party ‘rogue actor’, and then in return Secretary Pompeo gets proclaimed as ‘the public enemy of mankind’ – just to name but few from the long list of heavy verbal fire exchanges between thetwo.)
Strategic decoupling between the biggest manufacturer of North-American goods – China, and its largest consumer – the US seems inevitable.
It also appears increasingly irreversible, no matter if the change of leaders in Beijing or in Washington may or may not happen beyond 2020.
Of course, many would reject the above as an overstatement and author’s alarmism. To this end, let us state some facts:
Extensive trading is not deterrent: Trade is an instrument of power not a virtue per se. (The case of the UK and Germany in the eve of the WWI, and of Japan and the US in 1941, are the most known, in the series of such examples starting with the Peloponnese, Trojan and Punic wars through Napoleonic wars and Continental blockade all the way up to modern times, when nations were ‘sleepwalking’ strait into a major mutually devastating and lasting armedconflict.);
Absence of nuclear parity deterrent in Asia, region that hosts by far the largest number of nuclear powers – 2 legitimate, 3 declared, 1 undeclared and at least 2 states with the credible delivery systems and N-ready ‘turn- key’technology.Noneofthemisevenbyitsquantities,qualities,configurations and delivery capabilities – which makes the First strikedoctrine tempting.)
The erosion of the world order
Diminishing international order due to a combination or either of the following:
- Successful challenger to the Status Quo power/s .The current world order will be degraded by the decline of one power meeting another rising power (such a combination makes both of them nervous). The challenger will wait for his moment to “strike” while the declining one will try to attack as soon as possible, before the time factor makes him lose more power and is vulnerable to a greater loss.
The modern-day China in the geopolitical imagination is portrayed as once-upon-a-time Imperial Germany – an illiberal opaque power that misuses liberal system on its unchecked quest for world domination. Collision course is fanned irrespectively from a fact that there are no overlapping territorial claims or even common borders, and despite an unprecedented interconnectivity and mutually brought prosperity.
Confrontation is not only geo-economic but also an ideological – liberal world of against an authoritative system.
- Weakening political support of the main guarantors to the existing International Regime, due to their shrinking economics and/or demographics (Simply, Trump, Johnston, Bolsonaro, Modi, Kaczyński, Orbán are not causes to but the consequences of fading politico-economic system of the western type ofdemocracy);
- Absence of the comprehensive regional system to temporarily uphold or replace the shrinking global one
Although the new US President is in place, it would be foolish to expect any policy reversal. The new administration will see China the same way: Not as a dangerous (economic-trade) rival, but as a geopolitical foe.
Is this yet another author’s alarmism?
Biden presidency will be one of the weakest in the past 100 years. It is indeed a Pyrus victory: Trump got few million votes more now than in 2016 (i); Senate is controlled by Republicans (ii); angry Trump electorate is deeply convinced that the victory has been stolen from them, and will be further galvanizing enlarging noising and tilting to the right in the following 4 years (iii); the blue-collar America firmly believes China steals their jobs – and none on the Democratic left even attempted to refute that. Hence, Biden’s four years in office (if) will be marked by alienation from those electing him, and by pure agony of cohabitation with stifling Republicans. Administration will remain paralyzed for any reversed yet fresh policy formulation.
Finally, history of the US bipartisanism teaches us that traditionally Democrats were opening wars while Republicans were closing them. Overstatement? Mind also that for nearly past 150 years, Trump presidency was the only 4-year period that Americans did not start a single war. Many now believe, it is a high time to recuperate and compensate.
Ergo, a change in the White House – paradoxically enough – will not slow down the ongoing strategic decoupling and to it compulsory global re-alignment, but on contrary; it will only accelerate its speed and severity.
To be sure; only a measurable success in the US-led de-Chinisation of the West will determine how far (and how long) will take the ongoing de-globalization, and if the second phase will be a reversibility, a re-globalization of the world.
It was expected that by the end of 2020s, Asian economies will be larger than the rest of world’s economies combined. Africa-Middle East are to come up next. Of course, that was only a prediction made before C-19 and the sudden Sino- American rift. Or this was the origin of that rift? – It is still to be seen.
The imposed global re-alignment will hit particularly hard –regions like the South East Asia, Africa, and Latin America from a prosperous meeting point of goods, cultures and ideas to the politico-military default lines. This painful readjustment may last for decades to come. Opting for either side will not only impact economy trade and security but will also determine the societal model, too.
The Indo-Pacific, ‘The Quad’, initiative (from Horn of Africa to East Pacific coast) is not viable policy response to the age of global realignment. Why resort to an imperial tactic? Why not assuming a more autonomous and prudent strategic orientation?
All this forces us to rethink the best of tradition of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which saved the world from the past irresponsibilities and frictions of the two confronted blocks (in the Cold War) that contested each other all over the globe fordecades.
The nations of the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, host to historic South-South summits, champions of multilateralismand many founding members of NAM, should not exhaust their thinking and foreign action in this regard, they should not be subordinated to beingmeresde facto Maginot Lines, they should lead a renewedThird Way.
Between confrontation and Bandwagoning, it is time for a true multilateralism and peaceful coexistence pivotal principles of the NAM, the global Movement that gave for many and for so long a security shelter and a voice, and sense of quest for a self-realisation ofmankind.
Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarević is chairperson and professor in international law and global political studies, in Vienna, Austria. He has authored seven books (for American and European publishers) and numerous articles on, mainly, geopolitics energy and technology.
The Professor is editor of the NY-based GHIR (Geopolitics, History and Intl. Relations) journal, and editorial board member of several similar specialized magazines on three continents. His 8th book, ‘No Asian Century’ is scheduled for winter 2020-21.