11 Jan, 2013
2013-01-11 – Now China is the world’s second-largest economy, some have argued a bipolar world is more likely than a multipolar one. However, China should not seek to establish a bipolar world.
Choosing not to seek hegemony demonstrates China’s foresight and clear thinking. After its reform and opening-up, as its national power has improved, China has repeatedly clarified that its peaceful path of development and not seeking hegemony are strategic choices.
This is a judgment based on historical experience of a multipolar world, recognition of the principle that win-win cooperation is the inevitable global trend and the correct road to defend China’s national interests.
A bipolar world would mean other countries would have to make a choice between China and the United States, which will at times hold opposite stances on important international issues and compete with each other in an all-round way. This situation would be no different than the competition between two superpowers. There is no necessity or rationality for China to strive for hegemony or to take the lead, so its strategic choice should be a multipolar world.
In fact, even if China did want to create a bipolar world, it would not be able to realize it.
The US’ hegemony is decided by its economic, military and soft power. It provides military, economic and “moral” assistance to those who support its hegemony. It was only after the US’ economic power dwarfed others that it was able to consolidate its hegemony.
The situation today is very different from the one in which the US rose to prominence. The new historical conditions mean the possibility of hegemony is decreasing. With the development of globalization, the democratization of international politics and global information network, peace and development have become the dominant themes. And with the collective rise of a group of powers, the US’ hegemony is declining. Relations among these rising powers, and relations between them and the US, are a combination of cooperation and competition.
Hegemony is the special characteristic of a historical stage, which will end. China should refuse the temptation to establish a bipolar world. If it does, it will make a big contribution to bringing to an end the history of hegemony and best defend its own national interests.
Another reason why China should reject the temptation of forming a bipolar world is that Sino-US relations are not completely confrontational. Sino-US ties will develop into a close interdependence model in the future, rather than a winner-takes-all fight.
The US’ concern and doubts about China’s rapid rise are obvious. So there will be frictions in Sino-US ties and the “structural contradictions” are unavoidable. Yet, since the 1970s, despite the dramatic changes in both the international situation and both countries’ domestic situations, Sino-US ties have become closer and more mature. Their national interests have become entwined and both countries regard the relationship as their most important one. It is already a consensus among the leaders in China and the US that developing ties healthily and steadily is in line with the national interests of both countries.
As China’s national power grows, it will be more costly for the US to contain China’s rise and more beneficial for the US to strengthen cooperation with China. China will have a bigger influence on US policy, so the confrontational side of Sino-US ties will become smaller and smaller.
In a multipolar world, countries will organize “issue alliances”. A multipolar world will necessarily have a number of core countries, which will align themselves differently depending on the issues, the allies on one issue may be competitors on another.
For example, BRICS, which groups together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is just an alliance of the leading emerging economies seeking a new order of international economic governance. Although China and India play important roles in the bloc and make joint efforts for the bloc’s common goals, they also have some big divergences in many other fields where India is seeking to align itself with the US to contain China.
There are no eternal allies or eternal opponents in a multipolar world. Indeed, what it means to be an ally or opponent has also changed considerably since the Cold War era.
China should adhere to its anti-hegemony stance, but it is not China’s mission to terminate the US’ hegemony. The US’ hegemony will decline as a direct result of the rise of many countries and the further development of a multipolar world. Certainly, a stronger China will play a bigger role in international affairs, sometimes a leading role, but the rational option for China is to organize strategic partnerships with different countries on different issues.
The author is vice-chairman of the China Reform and Development Forum. The article was first published by World Affairs magazine.