The Trend of Today’s World
By Ding Yuanhong
“Today’s world is undergoing huge changes as unseen in the past century”. That is a far-reaching and well-grounded conclusion reached by President Xi Jinping about the changing global landscape from the perspective of historical materialism and on the basis of long-time and deep-going analysis and research. It is of great significance for gaining a proper understanding of the complex and volatile international situation and forming a correct judgement of the future trend, which will inform policy making.
The major changes in today’s world situation is a result of the multitude of political, economic, military, cultural, national, ethnic and religious factors that have been intensifying and accumulating over the years. There are two prominent aspects: First, China, India and other emerging economies are rising, which has led to the fundamental shifts in the balance of power between developed and developing countries. Second, the so-called “Western liberal world order”, which has dominated the post-World War II era, is coming to an end because of the innate disadvantages of capitalism of major Western countries.
In the past two to three decades, amidst the growing economic globalization, China, India and other developing countries have chosen development paths suited to their national conditions and responded to the capitalism-dominated globalization in an independent way of fostering favorable conditions and bypassing unfavorable ones. As a result, they have enjoyed rapid economic development, thus known as “emerging economies”. They have enabled the developing countries as a whole to catch up with and surpass the developed ones, making greater and greater contribution to the global economy and considerably narrowing the power gap between the North and the South.
Developing countries, emerging economies included, as a share of the global economy, has jumped from 39.7% in early 1990s to over 50% today. China has overtaken Japan to become the second largest economy in the world. India is also growing with huge momentum, on track to be ranking among Top 5. In terms of purchasing power parity, by some estimates, the GDP of seven developing countries combined, i.e., China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey, was on a par with the combined GDP of seven big industrial countries, i.e., the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada in 2017. This changing economic power equation has been the reason why the G20 has replaced the G7 as the main platform for international discussions on major economic issues.
The shifting economic power balance is also reflected in the political field, mainly in the following two ways: First, regional organizations of developing countries, such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), the AU (the African Union), the League of Arab States and MERCOSUR (South American Common Market) and inter-regional organizations of developing countries, such as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), are playing a more and more active role. There is a growing awareness of unity among developing countries which have displayed great independence on major international issues. Second, the developing countries are calling more firmly for changing the world political and economic order that is dominated by a few Western countries and is unfair, unequal and unreasonable to developing countries. They are committed to building a world order that is based on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and that follows the rules of international relations, the heart of which is sovereign equality and non-interference in internal affairs.
The contest between the two world orders has not started today. In the wake of World War II, the post-War world order should have been shaped in accordance with the basic norms governing international relations as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. However, the few major Western countries, led by the United States, using their absolute advantage in overall national strength, attempted to establish the so-called “Western liberal world order” based on their own set of values of democracy, freedom, human rights and so on. Under such a framework of world order, all norms or “rules of the game” were developed by themselves and the international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have also been controlled generally by a few big developed countries, such as the United States and some in Europe. The United Nations Security Council has been subject to the abuse of “veto power” by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, thus unable to play a normal role in safeguarding world peace and security.
With the shifting balance of power between the developing countries and developed ones, the conflict between them surrounding the world order has also grown more serious. In his book “World Order” in 2014, Dr. Kissinger wrote something to such effect: the existing world order has been challenged completely; most parts of the world have never had a similar perception of world order to the West; there are fundamental differences between them; in the past, the non-Western world just acquiesced in the Western world order; and they have now become more out-spoken about such reservation and clearly demonstrated their intention to work hard to revise it.
External pressures aside, another factor causing the major changes in today’s world situation comes from within, which makes the “Western liberal world order” more difficult to sustain, bringing it to an end. There are three reasons behind this trend:
1. The Charter of the United Nations clearly stipulates that sovereign states are equal and there should be no interfering in other countries’ internal affairs. Regardless of such international consensus, however, the United States and some other Western countries, with an attempt to sell their set of values, such as democracy, freedom and human rights, have practiced power politics, willfully trampled on other countries’ sovereignty and interfered in their internal affairs or even used force to subvert legitimate regimes, causing serious humanitarian disasters and endless wars and conflicts. In recent years, many of the unending conflicts and wars in the Middle East, North Africa and East Europe are actually related to the willful interference by the US and some big Western powers in the internal affairs of the countries concerned. Their interference has therefore aroused resistance from the people of many countries, especially the developing countries.
The US, the sole super power, has gone even further to wage wars and assume hegemony, relying on the advantageous position of the US dollar and its super military power. That has not only brought disasters to the people of those countries but also made the US itself fall into decline. Andrew Bacevich, a famous American historian, once pointed out sharply that the “war for the Greater Middle East” waged by the United States is a process that leads to the destruction of this super power.
2. Over the years, to Western powers, like the US and those in Europe, “globalization” of the monopoly capitalism era they themselves dominated has been a powerful tool to uphold the “Western liberal world order”. Famous historian Andrew Bacevich also said something to the effect that the concept of globalization is the core of the strategy of the Clinton Administration and that globalization has become synonym for US leadership in the world. Globalization in the monopoly capitalism era is good for advancing global economic development but at the same time it has exacerbated polarization, a disadvantage of capitalism that has been made even worse. The US is a main force and a major beneficiary in today’s globalization and also a country with the largest wealth gap. Capitalism’s “social inequality” has made today’s US society hugely divided. The general public, including some middle-class people whose social status was brought down by the financial crisis, are extremely unhappy about the existing system and social reality of America and are indignant with the elites who are trying hard to maintain the current establishment. As a result of such division, Mr. Trump, a businessman outside Washington, has been elected as US President out of expectation.
In order to satisfy the strong desire of the electorate for changes, President Trump has been holding the banners of “America first” and “making America great again” but actually he has practiced an extreme selfish nationalistic policy. That only deepens the division rather than healing it. In his mind, there are only interests, but no values, and even less, “universal values”. Susan Rice, former Obama national security advisor, wrote in her opinion in New York Times on 20 December 2017 that “Trump believes we live in a world where America wins only at others’ expense. There is no common good, no international community, no universal values, only American values”. Trump insists that as long as the US has strong economic power and military power that can enable it to deter other countries, US dominance in the world will not be shaken and that there is no need to shoulder “global responsibilities” so expensively as it did in the past. And he believes that there is no need to “pretend” with talks of democracy, freedom or human rights. Probably that is what Dr. Kissinger meant when he said that “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”.
Since he took office, Trump has “overhauled” US relations with the world in an “unorthodox way”. That has brought chaos to the Western world and accelerated the end of the “Western liberal world order” which has dominated the world for so many years. As some scholars in the US and Europe have pointed out, Trump is actually undermining the “liberal Western world” which has been built by America itself.
3. The US-Europe military alliance built in the aftermath of World War II is a cornerstone for the US attempt to vie for and uphold its supremacy in the world and also underpins the “Western liberal world order” that is still existing today. Since assuming Presidency, Trump has been prompted by the mentality of “no more allowing allies to take advantage of the US” and gradually shifted from strengthening the US-Europe alliance to undermining allies for the benefit of the US. His first target is Germany, which is second to the US among Western economies. He has publicly supported Brexit, encouraged France to leave the EU and criticized the EU of being “an instrument of Germany”. He has accused German Chancellor Merkel of making a “disastrous mistake” on the immigration issue. He has blamed Germany for manipulating currency to get huge trade surplus with the US and asked for compensation. He has urged Germany and other countries to raise defense expenditure and pay full protection money to NATO. He has criticized Germany of financing for construction of Nord Stream 2, a natural gas pipeline project from Russia to Germany, citing concerns about impacts on US energy exports to Europe and he has even arrogantly threatened “sanctions” against Germany for that. He has provoked the trade war with Europe, imposing higher tariffs on exports to the US, including steel and aluminum products and cars and car parts, which actually are mainly targeted at Germany.
As the Munich Security Conference in 2017 suggested, the world might be walking into the post-West era, or in other words, the liberal world order dominated by the West is coming apart. According to the conference, there are two factors leading to the situation. One is Trump taking office as President of the US. The other is the weak cohesiveness of the EU. As a matter of fact, these two aspects are related, for Trump’s adjustment of US policy on the EU is also an external factor weakening the cohesiveness of the EU. If the “Western liberal world order” is drawing to a close, the West only has itself to blame for it.
The start and end of a world order is always a long process. The huge changes in the global landscape today has brought about turmoil which will not just be limited to the West and rather will go well beyond it and reach the non-West world. At the juncture where the old and new world orders are meeting, international relations will remain complicated, tense and volatile. That may constitute the normal state for some time to come.
The “Western liberal world order” is coming apart, further prompting all kinds of efforts of the non-West world to build a new order that is fair, just and equitable. China’s Belt and Road Initiative has made much progress. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation which is committed to building a China-Africa community of shared interests has yielded fruitful results. And South-South cooperation of various forms in many parts of the world are growing and thriving. All gives strong testimony to the efforts in that direction.
As part of the trend of today’s world, what is unveiling ahead of us is a new and completely different international order replacing an old one.
Ding Yuanhong is former Head of the Chinese Delegation to the EU and former Ambassador to Switzerland and Belgium.
Ding Yuanhong is former Head of the Chinese Delegation to the EU and former Ambassador to Switzerland and Belgium.