Shifting Order

Author Name: Abdullah Rehman Butt      23 Feb 2022     Global view

For the last two decades, the global order has been witnessing a transition. The actors responsible for shaping the new order barely have any areas of common interest and are more conflicting. Consequently, the incompatibility of mutual interests between these global players has resulted in contestation and competition. In this regard, one of the defining features of the emerging global order is the ongoing rivalry between the United States (US) and China for global dominance, especially in the Asia-Pacific region in three domains: political, economic, and technological.

In the political domain, there is a clash of sociopolitical models - the Western liberal model versus the Neo-authoritarian model. The US or the West views China and Russia as revisionist powers that are challenging the US-led order. According to the US National Defense Strategy 2018, ‘China and Russia are seen as aspiring to shape a world that is in-line with their authoritarian model.’ With China rising in economic and military power, the US perceives her as a strategic competitor and rival. This is the centerpiece of the US’ current national security policy as evident from its ‘Indo-Pacific’ tilt and creation of strategic partnerships such as QUAD and AUKUS with its allies.

Since, the majority of the world’s population, natural resources, and economic activity are not concentrated in the Western Hemisphere, rather they are located in Asia – nearer to China, therefore, the latter’s control over resources is believed to threaten the US’ vital interests regionally and globally.

The calculus of dominance also expands into the economic sphere. Considering the manifestation of Sino-Russian strategic partnership in military and economic domains, their bilateral trade increased around USD 140 billion in 2021 as compared to USD 107.77 billion in 2020. On the other hand, China and US’ bilateral trade was more than USD 682.32 billion in the first eleven months of 2021 despite pandemic challenges and war of words between the two states. The changing dynamics of economic corridors connecting Asia and its sub-regions, Europe, and Africa, is consistent with China’s rise and extension of its regional influence. The latter becomes even more clear given how the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has become a global endeavor now with the participation of around 139 countries which account for 40 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, and two regions of energy consumption and three regions of energy production. Every country may not be directly benefiting or hosting any BRI projects, however, their endorsement adds to the credibility of BRI and its dominance over the global geo-economic landscape.

In response to the Chinese attempt to dominate the economic sphere, US President Joe Biden and his G7 counterparts have launched the Build Back Better World (B3W).’ B3W is a mega initiative, worth more than USD40 trillion investment for developing countries’ projects in the areas of transport, infrastructure, health security, technology, and environmental security. The nature of investments in BRI and B3W are different, as BRI is a Chinese government-led initiative and B3W is a private sector led initiative, but the objectives remain political. While many see B3W as an alternative to BRI, it is too early to make such a claim since the former was only just launched. Nevertheless, it has the potential to become part of the ongoing trade war between the US and China.

In the technology domain, both countries are engaged in a cutting-edge tech race for technological supremacy. Both are competing in the development of a number of emerging technologies such as quantum technologies, space technologies, hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, directed-energy weapons, missile defense systems, and other emerging technologies. COVID-19 that decimated the world has barely hindered China’s progress in the technology domain, especially in 5G. The future of tech developments belongs to the fifth generation of seamless wireless communication systems, and China is already sprinting ahead of the US in this domain.

Keeping in view strategic competition between the US and China, both states keep changing their strategies with regard to the geopolitical landscape. The post-pandemic scenario and changing nature of the global order suggests that a new Cold War has begun, and it is going to get intense in the future.

According to the liberalist view, economic interdependence decreases the possibility of direct confrontation by increasing mutual interdependence and trade objectives over political objectives. Nevertheless, state security is a dominant factor and may lead to war as insecurity grows, realists argue. With over USD 559.2 billion trade between the US and China, chances of war between the two are less. However, because of their rivalry, developing countries might face a dilemma to choose either bloc in the future. This could put a strain on them since they depend on assistance from both as compared to developed states who hold autonomous power to navigate through this quagmire. Therefore, developing countries would need to develop strategies that complement their relations with Washington and Beijing and refrain from falling in either of the camps.

Abdullah Rehman Butt is a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Islamabad. The article was first published in The News International. He can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com

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