Due to the globalized world that we live in it is more important than ever to understand the histories and cultures of countries beyond one’s own. Gaining a sound background of the histories and customs of foreign countries could enable policymakers and international relations students to appreciate why States operate under certain political philosophies and hold particular national ideals and interests (and even empathize with those views). Recognizing these differences could allow for more conducive relations among the nation-states that represent the international community. Moreover, a more conducive environment among states is vitally important in a world where political shifts and crises in one country can have repercussions on countries and regions across the world. The Syrian Civil War, the invasion of Iraq, the proliferation of terrorism and migration are notable cases. In the 21st Century international politics: where the global spread of communication and technology have created an interconnected world; have diminished the protective role of borders, the former bastion of the nation-state; and made it easier for humanity to destroy itself – the idea of one country acting as the sole global policeman is near on impossible, the days of Rome are long gone.
Introducing Today’s World
The world of International Relations and geopolitics is beset by many challenges that have created an atmosphere of unpredictability; whose challenges are even harder to overcome due to a fast-changing world beset with numerous perilous conditions. These conditions range from dangerous and fanatical ideas to terrorism, to illegal arms sales, to wars, to economic, political, and financial crises, to health and environmental crises, to vast human migrations, and finally, to social decays taking place throughout the world. Policymakers and analysts will obviously have different views regarding the state of the world and how to solve current national, regional, and global affairs. This article will discuss the reasons and try to provide solutions to the world’s problems by focusing on the U.S. and Chinese visions for global cooperation and integration. It will be up to the individual reader to decide which model they believe provides greater potential for global collaboration.
The Rise of Our Globalized World and Its Roots
Globalization is a divisive term splitting those who believe in a unified world and those who adhere to the nation-state concept. However, if we examine the history of globalization we would find that it is rooted in colonialism. In other words, colonialism paved the way for globalization (Dirlik, 2002). It was European colonization and the European empires’ competition for wealth and economic power (which arguably became a priority of history with the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Western Europe) in far-flung regions that resulted in the global spread of Western political-economic ideas which form the basis of our modern political world. In other words, colonialism dragged capitalism with it to all four corners of the world. The importance of the spread of capitalism in creating a globalized world cannot be understated. Despite its many shortcomings, the capitalist system drove“an enormous increase in world productive capacity and in world population” (Wallerstein 1992, p. 564). The substantive rise in world production was due to the emergence of the industrial revolution and the shift from agriculturally based economies to industrial-based economies. Furthermore, this new global productivity created new wealth and new scientific and medical discoveries which helped fuel a world population expansion to such an extent that some people have proclaimed that overpopulation is an existential threat to the Earth. Another vast problem facing humanity today is the growing economic gap between the wealthy classes and the rest of the world’s population. What makes this situation unique is that the wealthy strata are truly globalized, and the rest of society is also very universal in scope. For example, it is no longer a question of a rich European economically controlling the lives of the colonists. Nowadays there are super-wealthy Arabs, Asians and Africans, and poor Westerners and vice versa. Therefore, it is such threats that require us as a global society to collaborate and cooperate more soundly and with greater vigor, understanding, and most importantly with human compassion.
Relationships during Times of Crisis
It is easy for us to work together when things are going smoothly, but the mark of a healthy international and cosmopolitan civilization is both learning and trying to cooperate as one entity in times of crisis. The Covid-19 Pandemic was the perfect opportunity for the world to come together for arguably the first time in human history. This is unique, albeit it is a tragic moment in our history that rarely occurs (the last time was 1918-1920 in form of the Spanish Flu). The Coronavirus Pandemic is original in its context because we are not living through an ordinary or mainstream war fought among nations, empires or other forms of polities or even armed organizations; instead the global community consisting of nation-States, Intergovernmental Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations, financial institutions, and business-corporations all face a common threat that affects every human being, rich and poor, King and Pauper, powerful States and weak States, Big and Small Businesses, peacemakers and terrorists; no corner of the world is immune or safe from this ravaging pandemic; and yet what do we see, we see blame and figure pointing. America blames China while China blames the U.S. military for initiating and thus presenting this deadly pandemic to the entire world (Horsley 2020; Jaworsky and Qiaoan 2020). In a situation where the rest of the world looks to China and the U.S., the two most powerful and influential countries on earth, for guidance – the two great powers instead continue to place the majority of their efforts into blaming each other for the inhiation and spread of the virus rather than trying to bring the international community together to discover a common solution to ending this lethal crisis.
Is the America-China blame game the result of a genuine belief from both sets of Governments that the spread of the virus lies on the door-step of one of these two major powers (the first theory); or is it based on sinister rival politics which can be explained by the power transition theory (the second reason)? This article takes the view that it is the latter reasoning that influences the current policy stances of the U.S. and Chinese Governments visa vie each other; and that Covid-19 is just another policy tool used by both countries to discredit each other’s power, influence, and prestige as a reliable global partner in times of crisis. In other words, the Covid-19 Pandemic blame game is just like the U.S.-China trade war, it forms a key component of the powerplay that is occurring between China (the world’s rising economic and military power) and the United States of America (the global hegemon). This is a rivalry that has so far seen economic, trade, diplomatic, and military disputes (thank God short of military confrontation) and now we are witnessing a dispute over the origins of a deadly virus. If this is not a classic case of competition taking place between the hegemon and the emerging threatening power, then I personally do not know what is.
According to numerous sources and statistics, the United States currently operates a global military ‘empire’ that stretches across all continents and is currently the biggest the world has ever known. In fact, the United States army, navy, and air force overseas can be compared to the Roman Imperial garrisons that were stationed across the Roman imperial provinces. This comparison can be made due to the de facto perpetual presence of U.S. military bases and troops in countries such as Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Japan, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Germany (Morgan, 2006). Overall, the U.S. armed forces are present in 165 countries (Morgan 2006), which means there are more countries currently part of rather than excluded from the U.S. global military ‘empire’. That is the extent of the outreach of American hard power, it is a truly global ‘empire’, with the ability to influence and even determine major events throughout continents. However, it would be unfair to only call the United States a military ‘empire’. The USA is much more than an empire, in fact, it is no ordinary empire. Perhaps no power in history has understood the importance of global cohesion and the benefits of alliances than the United States of America.
Despite all the problems the U.S. has created with its endless military adventures and wars especially under hawkish and even weak leadership in the 21st Century; there can be no denying that no country in modern times has taken the world closer to global cohesion and unity than the United States. Under U.S. leadership, the concept of the permanent alliance has practically been engrained into international society. The perfect example is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO): a fixed multilateral military alliance with 30 member States scattered across North America, Europe and the Middle East (Turkey); and the only known alliance with an internationally recognized charter, the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty/Washington Treaty(The North Atlantic Treaty 2009). NATO with its concept of collective defense, which I call the law of inclusion, is arguably the crown Jewel of the U.S. devised and led a global alliance system. This is due to the official permanence that the Organization has derived from the North Atlantic Treaty. For example, Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which gained its inspiration from Article 51 of the United Nations (UN) Charter (another U.S. concept of international cooperation): obliges all its member States to adhere to a policy of protecting each other when one of them is attacked and embraces a spirit of solidarity between its members (The North Atlantic Treaty 2009). Moreover, the worldwide alliance networks formed by the U.S. are not only fundamental to the collective defense of its partners; they also form the cornerstone of the liberal international system (Center for Strategic & International Studies 2016) that the U.S. set up at the end of the Second World War. In addition, while there is no doubt that in terms of small-scale wars such as invasions and both intra and inter-State conflicts the world has witnessed a tremendous human and economic loss of life. Yet, there is no denying that the international liberal regime and its heart and soul the permanent alliance system has been fundamental to providing the world with overall security, stability, progress, and prosperity- not seen since the period between 1815 and 1914 (the period between the Napoleonic Wars and the Great War).
China, on the other hand, is developing geopolitical and geo-economic clout through the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) on both land and sea with the aim of connecting the Far East, Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. This policy of global expansion by China has not been seen the ancient Silk Road was abolished in1453. If the BRI’s purpose is similar to the ancient Silk Road’s then humanity could reach a new age of prosperity based on direct interaction between civilizations beyond the confounds of State-led institutions like the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund. Why is it important to refer to the Silk Road, it is important because history can help us analyze a possible future for humanity. The ancient Silk Road or silk roads (since there was more than one trade route) were a network of commercial routes that linked East with West from 130 BC to 1453 AD. For example, a network of caravanserais was built to connect “China, the Indian subcontinent, the Iranian Plateau, the Caucasus, Turkey, North Africa, Russia, and Eastern Europe” (United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). This cross-continental connectivity which was realized infrastructural means not only resulted in the first-ever global trade network but was also the first moment that the world experienced globalization. This because, the Silk Roads allowed for interaction between populations across Eurasia which eventually resulted in the dissemination of ideas, beliefs, cultures, and knowledge (United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). The importance of these exchanges resulted in the proliferation of scientific ideas, technology, arts and crafts, literature, language, and religious and cultural beliefs. For example, because of the ease of disseminating ideas across the Silk Road, Islam was able to spread relatively quickly from its home base in Arabia to areas as far as Malaysia and Indonesia (United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). The spread of ideas was assisted by the development of trade between civilizations and specifically between peoples not only between nations. This is because direct trade between people allows for greater interaction which is a pre-requisite for greater understanding of each civilization or culture or religious ideas.
The Rise of A Global China in Our Time
China’s Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) is arguably the greatest geopolitical infrastructural project since the ancient Chinese Silk Road. The BRI is the crown jewel of China’s new international policy, a policy that will allow China to venture beyond the confines of the Asia pacific. In other words, the BRI is a geopolitical strategy that could transform the world’s second most powerful nation from a purely Far East participant into a true global player (China is already involved in the world economy since it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 (World Trade Organization 2020)). However, the BRI will allow China to participate in world affairs as a global geopolitical player. This is because China through the BRI seeks to connect Asia, Europe, and Africa through land and maritime infrastructural networks. For example, China’s strategy includes the formation of “deep ocean-related cooperation by fostering closer ties with countries along the Belt and Road, by drawing support from the coastal economic belt in China” (Niblock et al. 2018, p. 75). In other words, the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ is a combination of a land and maritime geopolitical strategy: the land-based ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ and the marine-based ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’. This is seen in China’s pursuit to develop the ‘China-Indian Ocean-Africa-Mediterranean Sea Blue Economic Passage’, which would then connect with the land corridors of China’s ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’: ‘the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor’ (Niblock et al. 2018, p. 75). Another example, that illustrates China’s determination to link Afro-Eurasia together into the one geo-economic sphere of cooperation is the ‘ “Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative” ’. This vision is based on the notion of developing an economic passage that extends “from the South China Sea into and across the Pacific Ocean, and to Europe via the Arctic Ocean” (Niblock et al. 2018, p. 75). Therefore, it can be argued that China seeks to reintegrate the ‘old World’ into one commercial sphere of cooperation just like the days of the ancient Silk Road, which contributed to the development of human contact across Eastern and Western civilizations.
Conclusion: China and America’s Different Visions for Global Inclusion
Based on the evidence of the previous paragraph, it is not beyond the realms of reality to suggest that China is developing a policy of inclusion similar to the liberal international order set up by the United States in the aftermath of World War II. While, America’s global liberal order was based on the creation of inclusive international institutions with the aim of bringing the world to cooperate together through liberal institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, and the International Monetary Fund; China’s inclusive policy is based on geographical rather than institutional inclusion and cooperation (although China’s policy is also global in scope since the BRI seems to be based on the notion of cementing Afro-Eurasia into practically one continent through the construction of infrastructural networks). In fact, the BRI was originally called the ‘One Belt One Road’, an indication of China’s desire to expand its power and influence through geographical-economic means. This desire is not hearsay or conjecture, it comes straight from the horse’s mouth, from the Chinese Government itself. More specifically, it is a project jointly proposed by both the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission (which is part of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, who is quoted saying “ “We push forward port infrastructure construction; build smooth land-water transportation channels, and advance port cooperation; increase sea routes and the number of voyages, and enhance information technology cooperation in maritime logistics” ” (Niblock et al. 2018, p.74). This proposed project is officially known as the “ “Vision and Actions on Jointly Building the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road” ” and was proclaimed in March 2015 (Niblock et al. 2018, p.74). Therefore, the evidence shows that China like the United States desires global connectivity and inclusion. The difference is that the U.S. did so through establishing international liberal institutions and alliances while China seeks to realize global cooperation and collaboration through more direct means of the country to country trade and economic exchange on land and sea.
writer Simon Nasr MA, King's College, University of London, UK.
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