Thursday, June 20, 2024

China’s Bipolarity Theory

China is unleashing theories by its academics to propound reasons why the United States and its allies refuse to accept that the new international order is already bipolar. The narrative is seen as part of projecting its influence through its mass information arm.

The latest is a transcript of a speech on “The Future of China-US Relations in the New International Order” by Yan Xuetong, Director of The Institute of International Studies, Tsinghua University, and the chief editor of The Chinese Journal of International Politics.

Yan opens his argument by saying that a bipolar international structure has already taken shape, and if Americans don’t use the term and choose bipolarity, it would be admitting that China and the US are equally powerful. This would be politically incorrect for the United States, as it acknowledges another country in the world is just as powerful as the US, which would never be acceptable for the Americans. This is a derogation of America’s international status, Yan argues.

According to him, in contrast, Russia, India, Japan, Brazil, and European countries are willing to use the term multipolarity because if they use the term bipolarity, it would be belittling themselves and admitting that they are inferior to the US and China. Therefore, they must claim that Russia, India, Japan, and Europe are all independent poles, which puts them on an equal footing with China and the US.

As far as China is concerned, the professor says that China insists on using multipolarity because if China doesn’t, it will be belittling others. If China uses bipolarity, it will mean that China and the US are on the same level while other countries are not. This could upset other countries. “I want to impress upon you that insisting on multipolarity is not because the objective world is multipolar but because it is politically correct.”

The author uses Western arguments to bolster his own. He credits French President Emmanuel Macron as the “first person to openly acknowledge the bipolar world.” Macron said that one must admit that Western hegemony may have ended, and the world would ultimately have to revolve around two poles, the United States and China, and Europe would have to choose between them. Yan explains that Macron’s speech about bipolarity was “not well received in France, and many Europeans did not want to hear it because it meant that Europe was not a pole.”

Building his argument step by step, the author draws UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres into the picture, saying how, in a 2021 address to the General Assembly, he feared “that the world was creeping towards two different sets of economic, trade, financial, and technology rules, two divergent approaches in developing artificial intelligence, and — and ultimately the risk of two different military and geo-political strategies.”

The second point the author makes, quoting former Singapore Prime Minister Gok Chok Tong, is that the United States has taken up cudgels against China – in the form of tariff wars and sanctions – for the simple reason that it does not want to “give up its global leadership position and has planned to establish alliances to contain China’s rise.” To be fair to Yan, he does admit that China “would not easily give up either, and both countries now see each other as long-term threats.”

He then uses economic statistics to drive home the point on bipolarity: “Look at the global GDP share in 1990: the United States accounted for 26%, China had a share of only 1%, Japan had a share of 14%, Germany had a share of 8%, and the UK made up 5%. By 2022, the US accounted for 25% of the world’s total, indicating a relative decline without significant changes in the percentage it held. If we compare the GDP of the US with that of Japan, Germany, and the UK, the gap widened rather than narrowed. Japan went from two-thirds of the US in 1990 to less than one-third now, Germany decreased from one-third to less than one-third. The UK went from 5% of global GDP to 3%, accounting for one-eighth of the US now, declining from less than one-fifth back then. So the gap between the US and the major countries in the world is widening, but the gap with China is narrowing. China’s share of the global GDP rose from 1% to 18% last year (2022, accounting for nearly 70% of the US.” He expects China’s share of global GDP to grow to 25 % in the future, adding, “if China reaches 25%, it will be on par with the US, and that worries the US”.

He openly accepts a change in the economic order after the COVID pandemic, with many Western governments reducing international cooperation and restricting the movement of people, citing pandemic prevention as their justification. This trend has resulted in numerous countries’ widespread adoption of counter-globalization policies, making counter-globalization a historical trend. As an answer, China has proposed a “dual circulation” strategy focusing on domestic circulation.

Yan says his European visits made it clear that many countries there “are considering reducing economic cooperation with China” because they want to “avoid potential disruptions to their industrial supply chains due to political reasons, which could pose risks to the development of their companies.” He says that even American businesses are trying to reduce their dependence on international cooperation.

In this context he has visualized, Yan places the current China-US relations. He is on the offensive, quoting a Chinese document saying, “The United States is the largest source of chaos in the world order, using all internal and external resources to suppress China without bottom lines….The United States is the largest human rights violator in the world, one of the main threats to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, the initiator of the Ukraine crisis, the real threat to regional peace and stability, the largest source of disinformation, the root of the current China-US trade friction, and the largest global hacker empire”.

Having established the US policy of intrusion and interference in world affairs, the author writes: “The United States is a political, military, economic, technological, and cultural hegemony. How can this be resolved? How can China solve the relationship with hegemony? The United States must conduct serious soul-searching. It must critically examine what it has done, let go of its arrogance and prejudice, and quit its hegemonic, domineering, and bullying practices. That is, the United States must first self-criticize, admit its mistakes, and then the relationship can improve.”

Yan says this is China’s understanding of the United States, asking: How does the United States perceive China?

He quotes from a US Department of Defense report of last year: “The PRC seeks to undermine US alliances and security partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region and leverage its growing capabilities, including its economic influence and the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) growing strength and military footprint, to coerce its neighbors and threaten their interests…The PRC remains our most consequential strategic competitor for the coming decades.”

He concludes by saying the US policy toward China adopts a combination of cooperation, competition, and confrontation. Competition—technology, military, space, talent, finance, investment, trade, these are the core policies; cooperation—climate, energy, etc., these are replaceable; confrontation—human rights, Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, East China Sea, South China Sea, Taiwan, these are tools.

The real competition is in digital technology, according to Yan. So, to win the competition and strengthen the United States, a “club strategy has been adopted,” with several countries forming small clubs, “the core of which is to exclude China from participation.”

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