December 31, 2007
Many wished and believed a decade after the Cold War ended that the future world would be a multipolar one. But at the same time, they also believed that as the overwhelming superpower, US hegemony would persist for at least another 50 years or even longer.
But recent years have shown that this is not the case. Affected by economic globalisation and the pursuit of profit maximisation, and pushed particularly by “borderless information” and “hi-tech’s invisible hand”, the progress of world multipolarity has not been slow, but has accelerated in recent years.
Changes in the international balance of power have taken place faster than some American “futurists” had expected. Who would have ever imagined that China and India could develop at such surprising speed? Who would have thought that China’s (official) foreign exchange reserve could jump to be the world’s No. 1? Who would have thought that Russia would regain its great power status so rapidly?
After the quick rise of “BRIC” (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), 2007 has witnessed the emergence of “VISTA” (Viet Nam, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey, and Argentina).
According to statistics, the foreign exchange reserves of developing countries make up three quarters of the world’s total. Three (China, Russia, and India) of BRIC are all “tycoons” in this area. Emerging countries’ proportion in the world economy has increased from 39.7 per cent in the early 1990s to 48 per cent last year.
Apart from China’s impressive speed, the annual economic growth rate of India has been maintained at six to seven per cent over the past decade, and is expected to be 8.5 per cent this year. Both China and India rank among the top three most attractive investing countries in the world (the US is obviously the other one).
Russia has also been enjoying rapid growth in the past seven years, with an annual GDP growth rate of 7.8 per cent and gold exchange reserves of $404.8 billion. More than $200 billion in debt left by the break up of the Soviet Union has almost been repaid. The country has returned to the list of the world’s top 10 biggest economies. Seeking to be among the top five by 2020, Russia’s GDP per capital may reach $30,000 by then.
Among the five VISTA countries, the annual GDP of Viet Nam has increased 8.7 per cent this year compared to 2006. The country has now become a leading one for trade and investment in Asia.
The total value of external trade of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) exceeded $1.4 trillion in 2006, and its total domestic trade value was about $340 billion. The goal of forming an Asean Community will possibly be realised before 2015. The value of trade between China and Asean is expected to be $190 billion this year. The establishment of the China-Asean Free Trade Zone is accelerating.
Having become the biggest exporter to the Japanese and South Korean markets, the value of trade between China and Japan has exceeded $200 billion, and that between China and South Korea $160 billion. Conspicuous growth was also seen between China and the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia.
Some international economic groups have pointed out that the world economy is experiencing its biggest transformation since the Industrial Revolution. Economic centres have been shifting from the developed world to emerging markets in Asia, East Europe, Middle East, and Latin America. BRIC and VISTA are changing the economic structure of the world. These factors are persuasive.
Obviously, it cannot be said at this stage that BRIC, VISTA, and some other states have become “polars” of the world. But it is an irreversible trend. It also cannot be said that the US, which still dominates international markets, has lost its leading position. But it is a fact that it is going “down hill”, and shrinking in relative power.
These changes, continuous and historical, will significantly affect future international relations. In another development, regional conflicts and wars are likely to continue and intensify because the nature of the global strategy of the US will remain unchanged. The US, whether under the Republicans or the Democrats, will continue to be the main antagonist. At the same time, the development of the international and regional situation will not change according to the whims of Washington. Under such circumstances, contradictions and conflicts are virtually inevitable and are likely to crop up from time to time.
If dealt with inappropriately, it could likely lead to wars. Currently, there is no shortage of international hot spots ~ the “Horn of Africa”, Iran-US, and America’s deployment of anti-ballistic missiles in some East European countries. The number of such hot spots will tend to increase in the future, a cruel reality that none of us want to see.
Conclusion: Development of the international situation requires China to fully make use of the strategic opportunities though tough challenges still exist.
President Hu Jintao’s report to the 17th Party Congress gives a better answer on to how to cope with such a situation. Hu’s words of “constructing a harmonious world”, is highly welcomed by the international community, and has “brought China and the world closer”.
However, we should be prudent and modest, enhance our sense of urgency and never lose our head. Now some people with ulterior motives are singing a “song of praise” for China on the international platform, and are even advocating that “China, US jointly lead the world”. Some domestic media and “experts” are also espousing the belief that China is getting ready to “lead the world”.
China’s long-term strategic principle is peaceful development. We should maintain a balance between the two and avoid overly stressing any of them. Policies and strategies are the lifeblood of our diplomacy, yet we should not confuse their roles. If we do so, we will face a significant loss in the future.
(The author is a researcher on international relations based in Beijing)