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China And The New World Order

China and the New World Order

Session Report
Ananya Anand

Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute organized a One-Month Immersive Online Certificate Training Course on Diplomacy and Foreign Policy. On day 5 of the course Prof Srikanth Kondapalli, Dean, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India gave his presentation on China and the New World Order.

As the global geopolitical landscape continues to evolve, China emerges as a key player shaping the trajectory of the world order. Contrary to the assumption that a new world order is already in place, a closer examination reveals that the world is still navigating the complexities of the 1945 liberal old order, marked by the establishment of the United Nations and various international organizations. In his presentation Prof Kondapalli explored China’s role in this transitional phase, analyzing its economic prowess, geopolitical strategies, and the challenges it faces in shaping the new world order.

To understand China’s current position, Prof Kondapalli traced the historical context. The post-Cold War world order, prevailing from 1945 to 1991, witnessed the United States and the Soviet Union as major players in a bipolar system. The end of the Cold War ushered in a post-911 world order, marked by the rise of terrorism as a global threat. Subsequently, the world entered what some refer to as a post-post-Cold War era or Cold War 2.0, characterized by the U.S.-China confrontation since the decoupling process began.

China’s Economic Ascendancy

At the heart of China’s influence lies its economic strength, according to him. As the world’s second-largest economy, China boasts a GDP of $19.6 trillion, surpassing Japan in 2010 and, according to purchasing power parity, even eclipsing the United States. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, China’s economic prowess remains formidable, with nearly $3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and investments in organizations like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank of BRICS nations exemplify China’s commitment to reshaping the global economic landscape. With over 30,000 Chinese companies operating abroad and investments exceeding $2 trillion, China’s economic footprint reaches far beyond its borders.

However, Prof Kondapalli pointed out the economic challenges, including declining growth rates, disruptions in global supply chains, and the recent decoupling from the United States through tariff wars. The Biden administration’s imposition of a $130 billion semiconductor ban underscores the economic complexities that impact China’s aspirations for a leading role in the emerging world order.

China’s Role in Global Governance

China’s influence extends beyond economic spheres to global governance structures. Active participation in United Nations bodies and advocacy for reforms reflect China’s ambition to contribute to shaping the evolving world order. However, its interventionist stance in regional matters, such as Sri Lanka and Nepal, raises questions about adherence to non-intervention principles.

The South China Sea dispute exemplifies China’s assertiveness on matters of sovereignty. Despite being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), China walked away from the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling, challenging established maritime norms. This raises concerns about China’s commitment to the rule of law in international affairs.

Multilateralism and Global World Initiatives

China’s approach to multilateralism is evident, according to Prof Kondapalli, in its active participation in organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), BRICS, and the Belt and Road Initiative. The Belt and Road Forum, now in its third iteration, has seen significant investments in transportation, energy, and telecommunication projects globally. China’s engagement in peacekeeping operations and forums like the Global Civilizational Initiative demonstrates its quest for influence beyond economic realms.

However, concerns arise regarding China’s commitment to certain principles, such as human rights and non-interference. Its reluctance to take a leadership role in addressing global crises, as seen in its muted response to the Israel-Gaza conflict, raises questions about its ability to provide public goods on the international stage.

Strategic Considerations and Military Posture

Prof Kondapalli added another layer to China’s military capabilities by referring to its role in shaping the new world order. With the largest naval force globally and ambitious plans for further expansion, China seeks to strengthen its influence in maritime regions. The Belt and Road Initiative’s maritime projects and involvement in counter-piracy operations underscore China’s strategic considerations in securing its interests.

China’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations, while emphasizing non-combat roles, reflects a nuanced approach to global security. However, as tensions escalate in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly with the Quad initiative gaining momentum, China’s military posture becomes a crucial factor in understanding its role in the emerging world order.

Emerging Fields and Technological Hegemony

China’s focus on emerging fields like artificial intelligence, hypersonic vehicles, and 5G technology positions it as a potential technological leader. Initiatives like the 14th Five-Year Plan underscore China’s commitment to becoming a superpower in high-tech manufacturing, cyber technology, education, and transportation.

However, challenges exist, especially as Western nations express concerns about China’s practices in areas like intellectual property theft and unfair trade practices. The ban on rare earth metal exports to Japan and the U.S. adds another layer of complexity, reflecting a growing struggle for technological dominance.

Challenges and Uncertainties

In his concluding remarks Prof Kondapalli indicated that while China is trying to shape the emerging world order, several challenges and uncertainties loom. Economic challenges, including a potential decline in GDP, geopolitical tensions, and the need to balance major power status with developing country categorization, pose significant hurdles. China’s adherence to established international norms, particularly in areas like human rights, remains a subject of scrutiny.

The Quad initiative, challenging China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific, indicates the growing complexities of global power dynamics. It is suggested that China’s ambitions for a new world order may face constraints, especially given its evolving economic landscape and geopolitical tensions.

China’s role in shaping the emerging world order is multifaceted, encompassing economic prowess, geopolitical strategies, and technological advancements. As the global landscape evolves, China’s influence continues to grow, impacting international institutions, regional dynamics, and the quest for a multipolar world.

However, challenges and uncertainties persist, requiring careful consideration of economic, geopolitical, and strategic factors. The evolving world order demands a nuanced approach from China, balancing its major power status with a commitment to global norms and principles. As the complexities unfold, the global community watches closely to see how China’s role will shape the new world order in the years to come.

Posted by Reet Lath, a Research Intern at IMPRI.

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