By John Bachtell
Change is taking place exponentially in today’s world. One unmistakable trend is the rapid rise of China and decline of the U.S. as the dominant global power, a place it has held since World War II. What does this portend for global economic and diplomatic relations? What new international order might prevail in a multi-polar world? Will it occur peacefully or will the coming years be marked by heightened tensions, turmoil and increased danger of war?
Since China introduced socialist market economic reforms in 1978, it has experienced staggering growth rates, lifting 700 million people out of poverty. Last year, China’s growth accounted for one-third of all new global wealth creation. China is now the world’s second largest economy, has surpassed the U.S. in domestic retail sales and has built a modern infrastructure. Chinese government officials insist, however, that they are still a developing country in the “primary stage of socialism.”
The country is embarking on a new era of ambitious economic and social reforms based on raising productivity through innovation and advanced technology, prioritizing production for its domestic consumer market, modernizing education and governance systems; extending democracy and grassroots participation in decision-making; and shifting to sustainable development. They see these reforms as essential to meeting the goal of a “prosperous, modern socialist society” by 2050 which in turn depends on “opening wider and wider” to the global economy, a stable global trade system, partnerships and peace.
By sparking a trade war with China, the Trump administration is signalling its intent to thwart China’s ambitious plans while maintaining its own economic domination. By contrast, China believes the world is entering a fourth era of globalization that requires a new international order of multipolarity, shared development and cooperation.
The U.S. emerged as the world’s sole economic and military superpower with the introduction of capitalism into the former USSR and Eastern bloc socialist economies in 1989-91. The U.S. sought to ensure its long-term dominance and preempt future rivalries by integrating a prostrate Russia and underdeveloped China into the global capitalist system. At the same time, it continued its Cold War-like foreign policy by expanding NATO eastward and militarily encircling Russia and China. But things have changed dramatically for both countries. An oligarchic ruling class took power in Russia pursuing its national and global interests. And China emerged as a leading economy with global trade ties.
Mounting crises have shaken the global capitalist system, including the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000, the 2008 global financial crisis, deepening structural crises, deindustrialization, stagnation, the impact of severe austerity measures and a mounting refugee crisis. The richest 1 percent owns half the world’s wealth and the industrial and banking sectors are oligopolies leading to huge imbalances. The mass communications and technological revolutions are facilitating globalization. U.S. experienced strategic setbacks when the neo-con policies of wielding U.S. military preeminence to impose economic pre-eminence began to fail, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq and other places.
Economic nationalism in the U.S. and Europe is threatening to disrupt the global trading system and effect China’s drive for what it counter poses as openness and reform. Ironically, however, the economic nationalism pushed by the Trump administration, for example, is actually diminishing U.S. influence and facilitating China’s rising influence over the world economy. In short, the global governance system dominated by advanced capitalist countries in place since WWII is now fraying.
Up until now, China had followed the late Communist Party of China chair Deng Xioaping’s axiom to “keep a low profile and hide one’s brightness,” while tending to its domestic economy. Things are different today. China is engaging the global community economically and diplomatically and increasing its influence. In the recent period China played a key role in brokering the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Paris Climate Agreement and in efforts to defuse tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.
China’s “opening policy” is a recognition that globalization is a fact of life. No country can develop in isolation and must engage in the globalized economy even when the U.S. and other imperialist powers dominate for the time being. China realizes its state-owned companies and private corporations must play by the rules set by the global market. But China is also projecting a new governing concept that fits the coming stage of globalization called “building a community for a shared future for humankind.”
The concept was first introduced by Xi Jinping in 2013, then newly elected chair of the CPC. It involves “two guidelines”: build a more just and reasonable new world order and jointly maintain international security. The concept shares aspects of the USSR foreign policy of peaceful co-existence between different social systems but differs in some important respects. It calls for increased multi-lateralism, relations based on mutual respect regardless of size, social system, fairness and justice in the global economy, and win-win economic cooperation. The new approach to globalization should take into account protection of both the environment and workers’ rights.
Trump’s declaration of a trade war is one aspect of a larger strategic approach toward China. Trump’s protectionist foreign policy is designed to appeal to his base, grow his financial empire and build a white nationalist Christian alliance stretching from the U.S. to Russia. The aim is to preserve the domination of white-ethno states and build a global alliance against China, a racist strategic concept pushed by Steve Bannon.
The Trump administration declared China a strategic rival and largely junked the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia which emphasized engagement and cooperation. Trump is also abandoning the “One China” policy with respect to relations with Taiwan.
U.S. has long attempted to shape China’s development path and restrict its maritime access to the Pacific with a string of military bases. China is now challenging this containment by increasing trade and building its military presence in the South China Sea. This has led to territorial and maritime disputes with its neighbors including Vietnam. While tensions remain, Vietnam and China are seeking a diplomatic resolution to their differences.
The world can ill afford a conflagration between China, the U.S. and other powers that could turn into a nuclear catastrophe. Delaying cooperation to address the climate crisis or continuing to allow vast economic inequalities between nations and people leads to nothing good for the human race. “Building a community for a shared future for humankind” seems to make a lot more sense.(IPA Service)
The writer is national chair of the Communist Party USA