Updated: Jul 21, 2020
It's no secret that China has been the main rising force of the last couple decades. However, with power comes responsibility and influence. How will China's increased dominance of the globe influence the New World Order?
In my analysis of the future of the liberal international order, I do not foresee it in terms of black or white: the liberal order ending or the liberal order maintaining as strong as it has been in the post-WW2 world. This is due in large part to China and their strategy in the present as an indicator of their future plans. Bottom line is I do not see the USA remaining the global hegemon. Throughout this article, I will touch more upon the military, economic power, and political divide of the Western international order and China in order to show how I come to that conclusion. I will also go on to speak about why I see international relations becoming increasingly bipolar in a way that is more complex than the previous polarized, Cold War era.
Though America has stronger soft power through its universal ideals and the dominant position within NATO, this doesn’t erase the fact that China will be richer as projections have put China at around 58.5 trillion GDP compared to America’s 34.1 trillion, which is an essential attribute of being a global hegemon. While the American military is vastly more sophisticated and funded than the People’s Liberation Army, China has been going through military reforms since the 1990s. The upward growth of their army will only continue until it dwarfs all other countries’ armies except the USA. In that dimension, the USA will remain strong. While I do not believe they will set up an alternative order, which is not entirely in their interest, they will most definitely create a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Through their A2/AD devices, “anti-access/area-denial”, which is a weapon used to prevent an enemy from occupying or traversing land, sea, and air in a region, they have been able to complicate every scenario in which the USA could concoct in order to intervene in Asia in case of an international violation. Alongside that reality, China has also developed soft power of their own through the funding of political candidates in other Westernized countries such as Australia and spread of Chinese culture through “Confucius Institutes” spread out around the globe. While China will not completely overturn the Western order, they will most certainly alter or ignore it when it is advantageous for them to do so.
One of the reasons they will not completely overturn the order is because of the fact that their vast economic growth has been accomplished through exports given in the processes of free trade, which the current liberal order supports and benefits from to the fullest extent as well. The reason they have developed their military power last has been to ensure their continued growth economically and politically without incurring a war or military conflict with the USA. Their focus on this “peaceful development” has allowed the current balance of hegemonic power to shift more in favor of China as time goes on. America did not see this beforehand because of their hubris in this unipolar moment blinding them from the fact that China has no interest in maintaining all facets of the international order that the USA has created in the 20th century. While they agree more and more with global economic integration, their view on global political and cultural integration is in sharp opposition to America and the Western world. Their support of global economic liberalization also doesn’t always align with China’s national economic policy known for government subsidies and state-owned enterprises. If anything, their state capitalist model is becoming viewed as an increasingly tenable alternative to laissez-faire capitalist democracies that make up around sixty percent of the world. With the WTO being unable to adjudicate over such conflicts effectively, China will continue to capitalize with that strategy to the West's chagrin. In addition, China has been using its position in the UN Security Council in order to block Western countries from taking action that might hurt their interests for decades now such as stopping sanctions on Syria after their alleged chemical warfare in the region. Alongside that fact, they have created their own international institutions like the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in order to make other third world countries dependent on them for loans on infrastructure. This allows countries in Africa and elsewhere to avoid the economic and political strings attached through IMF loans for example. While these business relationships are important, these low-income countries cannot match the USA’s allies nor be strong enough to make a difference in a conflict even if they are on China’s side.
Looking at all these dimensions together, I see the international order fracturing between regions, breaking down ideologically, and slowing growth economically on the global scale. In this century, the USA will cease to be the hegemonic power. Instead, global power will be split mostly between China and the USA. Despite the apparent military advantage of the USA, it won’t be omnipotent. Their military power will be challenged and/or questioned depending on the region of the world. Their belief in international human rights and democratic freedoms will be politically challenged by many countries around the world, including China, as shown when China ignored the landmark ruling under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea saying that their presence in the South China Sea was illegal. China will become the predominant global economic power for certain. A complex bipolarity will return, but it will be not be the Cold War of yesterday. A mix of cooperation and competition seen on a scale never before seen with two huge powers will occur unlike in the Cold War. This is a phase that the USA can no longer halt.
By Mitchem Callahan
I am Mitchem Callahan, one of the writers making proposals and global affairs predictions. I am a first year global studies major. My regional focus is East Asia and China in particular. I speak 3 languages: English, Spanish and Chinese.