FeaturedNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 1

Shifting tides in global influence

Since the aftermath of World War II, the United States has strategically pursued global dominance, emerging as the sole superpower with formidable military and economic strength following the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, in recent years, China has risen as a major challenger, propelled by remarkable economic growth and a distinct approach to global influence.

China’s remarkable economic ascent and its pivotal role in the evolving international economic and financial landscape have garnered global attention. This has prompted the United States to recognize that its capacity to wield influence on the global stage is no longer as potent as before. The fundamental approaches employed by the United States and China to project power diverge significantly. The U.S. has traditionally leaned towards geopolitical and geo-military strategies, while China’s focus lies primarily in geo-economic realms. While the United States has frequently relied on military might to advance its perceived national and global interests, China has prioritized economic collaboration and assistance to expand its global influence.

Throughout history, the United States has pursued global dominion by establishing a network of military alliances worldwide. It upholds an intricate web of partnerships and agreements, exemplified by entities such as NATO, Quad, and AUKUS, alongside substantial investments in defense spending. The U.S. also endeavors to preserve freedom of navigation and safeguard its security interests by intervening militarily in the face of perceived threats to national security.

Boasting the world’s most powerful military, featuring an extensive network of forward-deployed bases, a robust navy, and a significant nuclear arsenal, the United States operates on a global scale, projecting power through what has been termed “gunboat diplomacy.” Its military footprint is palpable across diverse regions, including Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia, where it seeks to protect its interests.

In contrast, China’s military strategy traditionally centers on regional defence. The nation consistently modernizes its armed forces and broadens its capabilities, emphasizing its role as a regional power, particularly in addressing territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The strategy revolves around safeguarding maritime interests and establishing a more substantial presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

China also prioritizes economic expansion and regional influence, particularly in Asia, through initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The BRI serves as a prime example of China’s economic diplomacy, aiming to enhance connectivity and spur infrastructure development across Asia, Europe, Africa, and beyond. By investing in ports, roads, railways, and other infrastructure projects, China aims to augment its influence and gain access to markets and resources in various regions. Undoubtedly, the BRI has the potential to reshape regional economic dynamics and pose a challenge to traditional U.S. economic influence.

Additionally, China actively cultivates economic partnerships and invests in projects with like-minded countries worldwide. Initiatives such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the New Development Bank (NDB), and bilateral investment agreements enable China to provide loans and investments to developing nations for infrastructure development and other ventures. These economic ties create dependencies and leverage for China, potentially undermining U.S. economic influence in those regions.

Concurrently, China promotes regional economic integration through initiatives like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with various countries. By fostering strong economic connections and reducing trade barriers, China aims to enhance its economic influence in the Asia-Pacific region, West Asia, and Africa. The establishment of alternative economic blocs poses another challenge to U.S.-led initiatives in these affected regions.

While the United States has traditionally held the position of the world’s largest economy, China’s rapid economic growth has elevated it to the status of the second-largest global economy and a significant player in international trade. The United States has relied on multilateral institutions and alliances to advance its interests and address global challenges. As a global financial hub, it has shaped an international trade and finance system, with the U.S. dollar as the dominant reserve currency. The United States has played a pivotal role in founding and leading international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), using them to influence the economic policies of other nations in alignment with its political and strategic interests. In contrast, China has approached international institutions more cautiously, opting to expand its influence through bilateral relationships and economic partnerships.

Moreover, the United States has historically been at the forefront of shaping global governance structures and establishing international institutions. However, in recent years, China has sought to assert a greater role in global governance and has advocated for reforms in existing international institutions to better reflect the evolving global power dynamics.

Situated in East Asia, China’s primary focus has naturally centered on the Asia-Pacific region, where it contends with territorial disputes, particularly in the South China Sea, and strives to establish itself as the predominant power. China’s territorial claims and the construction of artificial islands with military capabilities in disputed waters have raised concerns among regional countries and the United States.

In recent times, the United States has been actively involved in various activities in the Asia-Pacific region, including deepening its ties with India and Australia. The strategic partnership between the United States and India has strengthened, marked by joint military exercises and defense agreements. The United States justifies its engagement in the South China Sea issue by citing an interest in upholding freedom of navigation and a rules-based international order. However, many analysts perceive the U.S.-India relationship and defense arrangements with South Korea and Japan as efforts to contain and counterbalance China’s influence in the region, particularly considering India’s tense relations and border disputes with China.

The diplomatic approaches of China and the United States differ in terms of emphasis, objectives, and means. China’s approach is primarily positive, focusing on economic cooperation, investment, and development assistance. In contrast, the United States heavily relies on projecting military power to ensure national security and preserve the existing international economic framework, which has often favored wealthier nations and discriminated against poorer ones. China’s alternative model of inter-state relations, centered on economic collaboration, may gradually contribute to the emergence of a more equitable world order.