The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of the Cold War was defined as the ‘end of history’ by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama. This description of the waning of the Soviet Union doesn’t remain limited to the academic world. The international community, too, accepted that the post-Soviet world order would be based on neoliberal fundamentals.
From academic institutions to power corridors of states, it was generally accepted that ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA), albeit a section of academia remained defiant to this reasoning. The US emerged as the unchallenged global leader as the world order progressed from bipolarity to unipolarity. While this was a welcome shift for America’s Cold War allies, the rest of the world was left with no choice but to reform their economies on the lines of neoliberalism. The Washington Consensus became the guiding principle for Bretton Woods institutions, and developing countries were coerced to submit.
World with Boundaries
Neoliberal scholars and columnists viewed these developments as positive and prophesied that the world has a promising peaceful future. We were told by the acclaimed US journalists like Thomas Friedman that the ‘world is flat’ and we are citizens of a borderless global world with plentiful opportunities. Today, when we evaluate these predictions, we will only be disheartened.
Forget about the borderless world; we have seen more socio-economic boundaries emerging in the world. In economic terms, the world is more unequal. According to an Oxfam report, ‘the world richest 1% have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people, and almost half of humanity lives on less than $5.50 a day’.
On socio-political fronts, we have seen how ethno-nationalism is on the rise. Take a few recent examples. Brexit in the United Kingdom, the election of the US President Donald Trump, rise in populist parties in different European countries like Hungary and Poland and other parts of the world like in Turkey, Brazil and India. So over the years, the world became more racist, communal, inward, thus creating more virtual borders than ever before.
US in World Politics
Likewise, post 9/11 terrorist attacks, we know how Islamophobia gripped the world. Several states remained complacent, ignored anti-Islam discourses and at times were themselves guilty of fermenting such opinions. The US retaliated by attacking Afghanistan and eliminated Osama bin Laden. Now it’s leaving behind a volatile Afghanistan by signing a peace deal with the same Taliban that once sheltered Laden.
Moreover, the US is equally culpable of destabilising West Asia; it lied to the world about Iraq possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction. One can write pages on the debacles of the US in world politics in the post-Cold War period. Its unrestrained power is to be blamed. Thus, we need a multipolar world order, where countries like China, India, etc., should be more involved.
Multipolar World Order
China, by all indicators, is a frontrunner and now posed by many as a sole challenger to the US hegemony. China is approximately a $16-trillion economy, and in GDP terms, it is second in the world after the US. While the GDP per capita of the US is much higher, (it is slightly more than $68,000), for China, it is around $11,500. But overall, China is the number two economic power in the world. The US is still number one in military power, but China is not a distant second.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must be credited for these glorious achievements, including uplifting some 800 million people out of extreme poverty. Coming out of a century of humiliation (1939-1949) when China was under foreign subjugation, these strides in economic, military and development sectors are laudable. While addressing the nation on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP, Chinese President Xi Jinping was correct that today no foreign nation can bully China.
China’s Role in World
Contemporary China can play a constructive role in world politics. Unfortunately, that is not evident from its action. We need a multipolar equitable world order where developing countries can have more say. A multi-polar world favours China, but Beijing failed to look beyond its narrow national interests.
Let us look at some of its actions in South Asia to understand the Chinese role in the world. China is a permanent member of the Security Council and, therefore, has veto power. Interestingly, the first veto by China was used on 25th August 1972 to block the application of Bangladesh; it was on the behest of Pakistan. The Chinese communist party takes pride in liberating the people of China from the clutches of exploitation but failed to acknowledge the plight of Bangladeshi people and sided with the tormentor. Today several South Asian countries are under huge Chinese debt. (See infographics). If we look at the infographics, it appears that China’s debt-trap diplomacy is like neo-colonialism, and it is spreading in South Asia. There is similar critical data of China’s involvement in Africa.
China and India
Last year, China, without any provocation, showed aggression against India near the Line of Actual Control (LAC). When the memories of the 1962 war between these two mighty neighbours somehow started fading, suddenly China decided to flex its muscle in the Galwan Valley.
Moreover, there is no evidence to prove that China ever took some stringent position on Pakistani sponsored terrorism in India. Although, it is in a position to use its influence to persuade Pakistan to reject terrorism and have cordial relations with India, which will benefit the whole of South Asia. China even ignores that ruffling feathers with India can have a repercussion on India-China robust trade ties that stand at around $87 billion. It is believed that countries having good trade ties generally avoid conflicts, but somehow this does not apply to China. Thus, the Chinese rise may not be as peaceful as projected by the CCP leadership.
Besides, the unwarranted Chinese aggression is pushing India towards the West. This, in a way, will end the dream of an Asian century. As of now, we can see lines of discord getting deeper in Asia. The Chinese political leadership can actually reverse this trend by amicably resolving border disputes with India. Notably, China resolved border issues with almost all its neighbours except India and Bhutan.
Do we need China? The answer is yes. Any proposition of multilateral world order is incomplete without the inclusion of China. Still, it disappoints, and there appears inertia in Chinese leadership to play a positive and constructive role leaving behind the constricted short-term political objectives.
(The author is Senior Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, South Asian University, New Delhi)
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