Amreeta Priyadarshini Das
For years now the primacy that US enjoyed post World War II has been gradually eroding, but the high possibility of its further decline might be accelerated with Trump’s commitment to protectionism and isolationism. The Pax Americana or the US-led international order of shared security, resting on market-oriented regimes of liberalization and increased capital mobility, brought more than seven decades of prosperity; but the pre-eminence that US enjoyed in the 20th century might very soon going to be displaced.
Since 1945, US has been the most influential player in world politics rising to the status of the hegemon in the aftermath of World War II as it emerged as the only country with the material capacity to shape the international system to maintain stability. For its own economic enhancement, US needed a multipolar world able to support a multilateral trade regime. Thus, it seemed timely reasonable to use US power and influence to help in the development of the economy of other countries, to enable them to engage in profitable exchange with US and other capitalist countries in an open international political economy, resulting in profit for all concerned. The goal was diffusion of power among powerful states to ensure global stability with commitment to multilateralism. But the collapse of Soviet Union cemented US position as the last remaining superpower and sole dominant player. However, with the very liberal order that US piloted, it was only natural that with rising prosperity of other economies, the relative power of US would slowly wane. China, as has been commonly acknowledged by analysts and the masses alike, has emerged as the biggest rival power standing in opposition to US.
The mounting growth of China’s power – both militarily and economically has led to speculation about China emerging as the new global hegemon. In merely three decades, China has come to occupy a leading position in global affairs. As a result of major economic reforms, China has secured for itself one of the most successful communist economies in history, rapidly emerging as a new superpower. It has been projected that China will displace the US as the world’s largest economy by 2021, given continued rapid growth of the Chinese economy. China has a legitimate need for the perpetuation of a global economic order open to trade and investment – a country with a population vastly larger than it can support on its own resource base and ever growing industries.
Trump’s “America first” isolationist and trade protectionism, is going to hasten the prospect of a power shift in the international political economy. The 12-country Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a major focus during Obama’s presidency, was an initiative designed to strengthen ties between US and Asia and to increase economic growth of Asian countries. It was essentially trying to prevent other Asian countries from trading with the rising powers and focus on US instead. However, Trump plans to discard the TPP to “bring jobs back to American shores”. In the vacuum created by the scrapping of TPP, the alternative free trade deal led by China, the 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will be a viable alternative for those countries. This will prove to be a tremendous opportunity for China to provide global leadership. In his recent talk at the World Economic Forum, Xi Jinping made clear that China is willing to take on a leading role in the global economy, with strong commitment to free trade and open markets, if US closes its economy. Other nations are also slowly moving towards China. Trump’s antagonistic comments towards Mexicans and commitment to redoing NAFTA is problematic for Mexico because it faces the possibility of losing its biggest trade partner. Naturally, it is considering alternative trading arrangements with China, to reduce its economic dependence on US. Mexico and Brazil, two of the biggest economies in Latin America, partnering with China, will further undermine US position in the global order. China is actively seeking opportunities to enhance their influence by investing in African countries for the development of infrastructure, in exchange of resources and political goodwill.
Xi Jinping also expressed strong support for globalization and the 2015 Paris Climate Change Accord while Trump has already dropped Obama’s climate change legacy, with all mentions of climate change and global warming being removed from the White House website immediately after he took over as the 45th President of US. This portends an era of global Chinese leadership on climate change.
It might seem ironic that the general secretary of the Communist party of China is championing free trade and economic globalization, but China became an economic power within the neoliberal order built by the US, and it appears that the CCP is shifting its narrative towards that of global leadership.
As they come to occupy more space in the international political economy, other nations will also move from US to China. Much like Britain post-Pax Britannica, US post-Pax Americana will continue to be important, but not hegemonic. If US allies do turn away from them to China, this will lead to a complete realignment of the current international order and perhaps, the inevitable rise of China as the new hegemon. Alternatively, rather than one hegemonic state, it can lead to a shift to a multipolar international order with China as one power among equals (during the interwar period, US was another power among equals like UK and France), and shifting of power base from Euro-Atlantic core to the new powers (China, India, Russia; maybe, Indonesia, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico). A multipolar world may sound like a desirable goal to maintain a balance of power in the world order, but it might eventually lead to friction between the established and rising powers and the frightening progress into war.
The previous transition in power, Pax Britannica to Pax Americana, took place over two World Wars and a global depression. The prospect of the end of Pax Americana, and perhaps decades of “west ascendency” brings with it uncertainties and it is difficult to predict what the outcome will be. But one thing is for sure – there is going to be a massive power shift in the global political economy, perhaps, with the centre of gravity shifting to Asia with China as the locus of global power.