The Shifting Global Dynamics: Rise of China and the Challenges to US Dominance
Today, scholars of international politics argue that the post-Cold War world order, which relied on United States dominance, is no longer present. China, as a rising power, has significantly encroached upon Washington’s dominance in the world, while Russia, by waging a war against its neighbor Ukraine, has been attempting to regain a central position in world politics as a great power.
Consequently, a new kind of world order has been emerging in recent years, where the US may still be dominant, but China increasingly challenges its supremacy, and Russia alone also poses a challenge to the US-led West. Additionally, India has also made significant strides in becoming a major power. Specifically, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China is attempting to challenge the US through its vision of economically integrating approximately 60 Afro-Eurasian countries via the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), of which the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a crucial component.
Since the end of the Cold War, most major powers have pursued foreign policies focused on geo-economics rather than geo-strategic aims and ideals. The rise of China, along with its state capitalism, has contributed to the emphasis on geo-economics over geopolitics. Geo-economics entails using economic tools such as trade, aid, and investment to achieve geo-political objectives, such as influencing the behavior and policies of other states. Another aspect of geo-economics is employing geo-political tools like warfare, diplomacy, and border management to attain geo-economic objectives, such as GDP growth and improving the economic conditions of people.
China appears to be the main advocate of geo-economics, as evidenced by its mega projects like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to economically integrate the 60 countries across the Afro-Eurasian landmass. The geo-economic focus of Chinese foreign policy has positioned it as a significant global power, and it is on track to become a central power center in the world. However, another important global power, the Russian Federation, remains heavily engaged in the geopolitics of the past. This may be attributed to President Vladimir Putin’s two-decade-long tenure. Consequently, instead of prioritizing the improvement of its economy, Moscow has been seeking ways to expand its territory, a key geopolitical objective, as demonstrated by its continued occupation of Crimea, which historically belongs to Ukraine. While Russia may have some geo-economic aims associated with holding on to Crimea, the strategy is primarily driven by geostrategic considerations, as evidenced by the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world practically became unipolar. In the post-Soviet and post-Cold War era, the United States has nearly dominated the international political scene. However, this dominance has had both advantages and disadvantages. During the Cold War era, the greatest challenge to US power came from non-state actors rather than other states.
The non-state challenge to the US-dominated unipolar world primarily came from Muslim militant organizations, particularly Al Qaeda, which attacked the American mainland on September 11, 2001. In response to Al Qaeda’s attack, the United States launched the Global War on Terror against Muslim militant organizations spread around the world, especially in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and South Asia. This war has not officially come to an end, as the US, after a 20-year-long occupation of Afghanistan, could not defeat the Afghan Taliban insurgency and fully withdrew from the country in August 2021. Washington had been engaged in peace talks with the Afghan Taliban for years to facilitate its withdrawal, which resulted in a historic deal between the two sides in February 2020. It is important to note that the Afghan Taliban were initially non-state actors but eventually gained control over Afghanistan through armed force in September 1996 and again in 2021, transforming the group into a state actor by establishing an authoritarian rule in the country. Moreover, it was the transformed non-state Taliban militia that provided sanctuaries, a rallying ground, and a launching pad for non-state global militant organizations like Al Qaeda, as well as several Central Asian and South Asian militias and terrorist outfits. The activities of these militant and terrorist groups precipitated the Global War on Terror, highlighting the fact that ruthless non-state actors, even when transformed into state actors, pose significant dangers to regional and global stability. For instance, the emergence of the Islamic State in 2014, which rapidly gained control over large territories in Iraq and Syria and declared itself an Islamic Caliphate, profoundly disrupted international peace and stability. It is worth noting that the American revolutionaries in the late 18th Century, led by figures such as George Washington, acted as an armed militia. However, the difference between today’s non-state actors and those of the past is that the latter were often motivated by articulate intellectual movements.
For example, in the case of the American Revolution, intellectual figures like John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington provided the ideological strength, while in the case of the French Revolution, leaders such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, and Montesquieu played a significant role.
Regarding the threat posed by non-state militant organizations to US power and dominance in the post-Cold War era, it has been both ideological and financial. Although non-state actors couldn’t pose a significant financial threat due to their limited resources compared to state actors, as the Soviet Union once did to the US and its dominated international order, America has largely succeeded in overcoming the threat from these non-state actors.
However, the international political scenario has gradually been shifting toward another kind of Cold War, primarily due to the rise of China as a new global power center. China has also adopted soft economic expansionist policies, as evident from President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Through this initiative, as mentioned earlier, China aims to economically integrate the Afro-Eurasian landmass, with Beijing at the center to maximize its advantages. As a result, American global dominance is once again under threat, but this time from state actors, with China posing the biggest challenge. The growing trade standoff between China and the United States, as well as occasional tensions in the South China Sea and disputes over Taiwan and Hong Kong, are symptomatic of this new Cold War.
In this global scenario, India, aspiring to be another power center, is aligning itself with the United States. This is because China, India’s neighbor, is not only a strategic rival to Washington but also a potential economic antagonist. Russia, the successor state of the Soviet Union, is observing this situation.
Like other nations, Moscow seeks to maximize its advantages amidst the rivalry between the United States and China, as evidenced by its actions in the ongoing war with Ukraine. Meanwhile, small countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, and Turkey are aligning themselves with one side or the other, considering their economic and security interests.
The global power landscape has undergone a significant transformation, with China emerging as a prominent power center. This situation presents both opportunities and challenges. On the other hand, the United States recently withdrew from Afghanistan after an unsuccessful 20-year occupation. In light of these developments, it is crucial for policymakers to proceed cautiously, leveraging potential advantages while safeguarding the country from any adverse effects.