American columnist, Charles Krauthammer described how the fall of the Soviet Union gave birth to the unipolar world, dominated by a single superpower, unchecked by any rival, and with decisive reach in every corner of the globe. Unperceived ever since the fall of Rome that too with a completely different model.
America arrived with a republican model that’s more democratic than Athens. Possessing the largest empire in world history. The European’s suicide in the 20th-century world wars, the demise of Soviet Russia and Eurasian successor, by endorsing a barbaric economic and political system that elapsed in moments. Left America with global domination, making it a hegemon. A hegemon incised with commercial republican standards in lieu of hoary imperialism. In Krauthammer’s terms “a hybrid: a commercial republic with overwhelming global power”, calling it ‘A Unipolar Moment’. An accident of history, perhaps.
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The Myth has Exploded
The Post-cold war era, the 90’s, had America confused by its prominent unipolar feature. The idea of Multi-polarity was dubious but not blotted out. America is the hegemon in the unipolar moment and it was believed that this new setup will not be thrown into disarray for at least the coming two to three decades. But the world structure shifted and the co-equal great powers emerged with the United States. The world structure mimics the pre-World War I era.
So how did that happen? The myth that there’s a lack of second power that could compete with the United States, has exploded with the rise of China. Where the U.S put forward a democratic political system that shall be or must be globally accepted and adopted. Beijing joined the world trade organization in 2001which turned the tables for China’s economy.
China adopted a grand strategy in the ’90s and till 2010. This strategy was based on the utilization of economic instruments in the smartest and yet most beneficial way at the global level. Not to startle the international system, it was only meant to rise peacefully over economic grounds as to achieve global power status. Chinese officials made it evident China has no intention to challenge the existing international system but it was the new ‘Chinese Style’.
To engage with the world using capital instruments of investment and trade. Centralizing inclusion, collaborations, co-prosperity, mutuality, connectedness, a more allied approach that clearly depicts the soft image projection. The Chinese Peaceful rise strategy is focused on peace and development in the international system. Inculcating unification rather than aggressive political competition.
Later, the peaceful rise strategy changed to peaceful development strategy Wu Jianming, China’s ex-ambassador to France, remarked that ‘they are essentially the same concept; We changed the terms because some think the word “rise” sounds a bit aggressive, but the phrase “peaceful development” is more peaceable’. In simple terms, China developed a web of relationships globally, may it be, developed countries or underdeveloped on economic grounds. It mainly included underdeveloped, ignored countries that were living on the edge. That was new, that was different and smart. A move towards reshaping international development through an all-inclusive approach, engaging in every corner of the world.
China’s engagement became a source of friction with the West world. The two approaches from two different sides stood competitive. Because the third world countries have now to choose sides. China touts the idea of mutual benefit on both sides, the win-win scenario. Which, however, favors China is extending its geopolitical stability.
Is China Actually a Second Power?
The rise of China sure exists, is prevailing and in verity, the unipolar moment is in the past. The U.S has a rival and a very close rival in the international system. That has economically surpassed it in the world market. According to the McKinsey & Co, Bloomberg report, the Global net worth of China soared from $156 million in 2000 to $514 trillion in 2020, making the world wealthier than it was at any point in history. China accounted for nearly a third of the increase, the report from management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company stated. Over the past decades, China witnessed tremendous economic growth. The world’s largest nation and now the wealthiest too, leaving the bitter rival U.S behind. Non-European countries believed the U.S to be the leading power economically. However, the Europeans saw China as the economic hegemon.
In early 2021, Simon Baptist, global chief economist at the Economist Intelligence stated, United Stated will remain wealthier than China, measured by per GDP capita for the next 50 years. Additionally, Joe Bidden in his first official conference since taking office said, he will not let China become “the leading country” globally.
“I see stiff competition with China. China has an overall goal — and I don’t criticize them for the goal. But they have an overall goal to become the leading country, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world,” … “That’s not gonna happen on my watch,” said Biden.
Regionally, China already dominates Asia making it difficult for the U.S to linger around. It was the only economy that bounced back quickly from coronavirus provoked economic crisis. China’s economy grew by 2.3%. Asia became a battleground between U.S-China rivalry, when the U.S was retreating Beijing took control of the region not only economically but politically as well. The bit of a milestone China became a matter of grave concern a bit too early. It was believed that China might become ‘the other very large power’ next to the U.S on a global platform. Yet the narrative changed when China surpassed the U.S in becoming the world’s wealthiest state. This swift overtake that too on a global level was expected but never believed. A bolt from the blue, perhaps.
Are we headed to abnormal times?
The international system structure is based on a power struggle that is, undeniable. The system makes states anxiously concerned about their power strength and where they stand. Hence, the international system is competitive. States have always been and will always be struggling to reach the level BEST. I believe it’s the international system that is ever-changing, the bar setter. The unpredictability of the international system brings along unpredictable changes in international power politics.
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The shift from uni-polarity to multi-polarity is one of the features of its hegemonic design. Multi-polarity was foreseen surely, but nobody saw it coming in a jiff moment. This tilt from uni-polarity to multi-polarity might lead us to abnormal times. It may take us back to the ancient times of Sparta and Athens. So who can tell, the emerging multi-polarity in the international system is abnormal or the abrupt arrival of uni-polarity in the system was abnormal? Well, the question is moot and the argument is cynical.