The world is witnessing a global power shift as unipolarity is being replaced with varying degrees of multipolarity. Global power and economic landscapes are under transition. There was a time when capital followed labour, supplanted by a time when labour followed capital; and now once again capital is following labour. Hitherto, weaponry was dependent on human cognition but now it is developing its own cognition. Cohorts of global politics are becoming antagonistic as some are divided by visions and others by missions. Nationalism is lapping in globalisation: confusion is new clarity, chaos is stability, war is peace, slavery is freedom, fallacies are arguments, events are ideas and discontent is new contentment. Nonetheless, the world works on the laws of nature, not on superficial rhetoric. Cogently and coherently, the world is transforming in totality. Realists are expecting another bloody contest while the liberalists are hoping for liberal triumph. Some are labelling it as the rise of China and decline of west while others are arguing for one world and one government. For rational understanding, it is essential to analyse the conceptions about the role of the hegemonic and rising powers in world system.
Historically, the direction of relationship between rising power and hegemonic power is always determined by military might, wealth, technology and quality of leadership.
Historically, the direction of relationship between rising power and hegemonic power is always determined by military might, wealth, technology and quality of leadership. Victory of Sparta over Athens, rise and fall of colonial powers of Europe, and repulsion of the British Empire from western hemisphere had all these elements. But the nature of relationship is different in case of China and America because of two reasons. First, the Chinese take calculated steps and prefer to retreat for some time if defeat is certain. Secondly, their focus is on massive economic growth through trade and keeping a low profile by avoiding global leadership. This is why Deng Xiaoping said, ‘Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership’. China is following the rules of ‘go-game’ while America plays by the principles of chess.
In retrospect, the US never accommodated any rising power to become its peer-competitor. In the words of John Mearsheimer, the US never allowed and will never allow any power in the world to become a regional hegemon. To meet this end, the US has four-column formula; a collective brainchild of Kissinger, Schelling and Brzezinski. The formula includes regime change, political instability, internal destabilization and regional destabilization. The scenario becomes clears if the history of US interventions is studied. First three strategies cannot be used because China has developed an envelope around its physical as well as virtual geography by promoting nationalism, censorship of media and giving absolute powers to the communist party. The regional destabilization is even more difficult because of two factors. First, the Pacific region particularly East Asia has relative political and economic stability. Secondly, the clout of China in the web of regional organizations like ASEAN, SCO, BRICS, PIF, APEC, and EAS has dithered the US from taking any significant lead. History is erratic; however, the inevitability of war between US and China is difficult till the end of second half of the 21st century.
Different ages experienced different world orders. Eras when the world was free of great powers, conflicts stood out. Epochs in which world had great empires, confluence of war and peace gurgled. In the ancient times, there was Pax-Romana when the Roman Empire extended to Europe. During the medieval times, Pax-Britannica was prevalent when the sun never set on the British Empire. In the modern times, Pax-Americana was born out of the preponderance of power in the aftermath of Second World War.
Today, Pax-Sinica is threatening to upend Pax-Americana. But this time, the forces of rise and fall of empires have changed in varying degrees of statecraft of geo-economics, geo-politics, geo-strategy, diplomacy, warfare and technology. Each time, when one Pax was replaced by another, it brought two-fold changes. One, it changed the nature of the system. And two, it became the part of the previous system by advancing the contours of that system. That is to say a new system with new rules or new system with old rules.
Eight rules will play the role of kingpin in this regard. These are artificial intelligence, ideology (identity, ethnicity and nationalism), energy, overtures of free trade, hegemony of currency, power sharing in economic institutions, spoils of modernity and postmodernity; capacity of accommodating differences, and the domain and nature of military might. Artificial intelligence will be the engine of military might, trade, and economic progress. Elements of ideology will increase national integration and identity factor which shall eventually determine the direction of human capital. A combination of well-concerted approach of technology, economy and politics will be crucial to ultimately rat-hole the existing system for maximum benefits just as China used western trade system. The behaviour of the major states shall depend upon their share of power and wealth in world system which will also reflect in their capacity of accommodating differences.
In the last four decades, China has turned the rules of ‘new liberal world order’ upside down, but the American order has not self-actualised yet. An aeon of contest is ahead. Napoleon once said, ‘China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world’. That time has come, as the sleeping giant has awakened but the watchman is standing with stick.
Khaqan Chughtai has done M.Phil in International Relations from the National Defense University, Islamabad. His areas of expertise are Indo-Pacific region, Middle East, European Affairs, International Political economy, Foreign Policy of USA, China and Russia, Philosophy, Theories of IR and Artificial Intelligence. Currently, he is working as an Outreach Associate at the CSCR.