Foreign Affairs

How to Deal with China is the Challenge of Our Century

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Our generation and our century will witness the collapse of the ‘white man’s burden’ as the boomer generation witnessed the crumbling of the berlin wall.

The cold war saw the incredible rise of America into the largest economic and military power the world has ever known. But several decades after the cold war, like all empires, they outstretched their reach and were burned out by needless war, including driving their population back into desperate inequality. 

Now the challenge of our century is before us – how to deal with China?

China’s rising significance in the international system has been underpinned by economic success, military power, and soft power influence” this economic success is the result of the late 1970s and early 1980’s reforms that have lifted as many as 679 million people out of third world poverty. 

China is now ‘the second-largest economy after the United States’  which means an end in American international supremacy. This economic rise has also underpinned the modernisation of Chinese military power.

Furthermore, China ‘has shifted the focus of its military doctrine from combating people’s war under modern conditions to combating and winning the high-technology war against modern opponents’ this focus away from the soviet-style military build-up to targeted technological improvement has meant that the Chinese national expenditure on its military is as low as individual members of NATO, or about 2 percent GDP in 2020. 

Chinese influence in Asia now rivals America. This challenge to American supremacy has had a backlash in America and took the form of Trump’s China baiting. The symbol of this challenge is a civilisational re-assertation in the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, a nod to the silk road of centuries past.  

The belt and road initiative ‘is an ambitious plan to develop two new trade routes connecting China with the rest of the world’ through Malaysia and Pakistan; across the Indian Ocean to Kenya and Nigeria, this daring program could only be possible by the vacuum left by America, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This initiative will create economic dependency on China, and whether good or bad, it has provided funding needs that were much more generous terms than the IMF or WB. This soft power in the future may turn sour, but we will have to wait.

This rise in the Chinese state not only brings about questions of the future of world peace and America’s place in the world- but brings an end to almost three to four hundred years of economic and military domination of the white world. 

America’s place in the world is still secure. But is the American system secure? ‘Over the last 30 years, wage inequality has increased substantially, with overall inequality now approaching the extreme level that prevailed prior to the Great Depression’ this regression into poverty, lack of opportunity and despair, is partly what is driving the political extremes in America.

Keynesian economics in the 1930s was a general response to the extremes caused by inequality. Many American commentators now point to Chinese and Russian cyber-war that is fuelling extremism.

The American system may survive, even with great inequalities, but can it survive with technologically advanced adversaries who can challenge them domestically as well as internationally? 

Of course, China’s rise needs not to be American demise. But some international relations theorists see the world as a zero-sum game in which only one can win. Still high from the ideological vindication of winning the Cold War, some foreign policy analysts see the threat only in terms of military power and the confrontation in military terms. The recent American-Australian-UK pact which allowed ‘Australia to build nuclear submarines for the first-time using technology provided by US’ this development can only be seen as military confrontation.

But suppose China got Canada to agree to a nuclear base in its northwestern territories? The pact would surely have meant war. So it is time for America to take China seriously because it is unlikely that this century will be another American century. 


Image credit: Photo by Richard Tao on Unsplash

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