Great power rivalry and global power contestation is witnessing a new phase. Usually, the race for global leadership precedes a conflict involving a large number of countries categorised as allies of one or the other party to the conflict. The rise of Germany after the First World War eclipsed France, and to a very large extent Great Britain, which was by then the largest coloniser in the world. The end of the Second World War tilted the power balance against Germany and the US emerged as the leader of the new world order. The ensuing Cold War signalled the beginning of another round of global power struggle seeking to divide the world into two ideologically divergent groups.
The political style of governance and the economic fundamentals of these two groups set them so apart that their allies reflected the colour of their leader. The erstwhile Soviet Union and the US fiercely contested for the apex position in the world which entitled them to frame rules for the winners and losers alike. The Cold War also ended and the Soviet Union disintegrated but the power contestation seems to be continuing with new set of players in a world promising to be multipolar.
It is in this background of race for supremacy that the talks between two leaders, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping took place about a fortnight back. The results of the talk are not yet clear or the world privy to the finer nitty-gritty of the virtual conversation, dubbed ‘summit’. Ironically, even before the talks were scheduled both sides made public their contempt for each other. China issued a serious warning to the US to “step back” on the Taiwan issue. The ruling Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily’s Global Times had editorially commented that “The Taiwan question is the ultimate red line of China”.
It is evident that the much publicized agreement between Washington and Beijing on climate change during the COP-26 in Glasgow has vanished sooner than expected and was also unable to cover all the hostilities that have multiplied over a time between the two. Not to be outdone in the series of hostilities, the US reiterated the issue of violation of human rights in the Xinjiang province where the Uyghur population has been systematically subjected to inhuman treatments by the PLA and the Chinese state machinery. Needless to say, Beijing dismissed these charges as baseless allegations and dumped the protests into the dustbin with contempt.
The trade war in the meanwhile seems to be continuing with Beijing issuing a stern warning to the US not to ‘oppress Chinese companies’ under the garb of protecting American industry and labour from unfair trade practices. The pandemic has ruined the American economy as much as it has done to other economies, big and small. While the emerging economies are recovering at a much faster pace, the pace of American economic recovery seems to be woefully slow. The US voter would not mind the embarrassment of hasty withdrawal from Kabul and handing over power to the Taliban that seeks to avenge the American boots on Afghan soil. But the marginal increase in gas prices and some insignificant discomfort can result in a steep fall in Biden’s popularity ratings.
The US seems to have spread itself too thin while extending the global security umbrella but at home the economy has taken a hit. At such a juncture the larger question is how the US would be able to lead the global democratic alliance and support the international economic institutions. The post pandemic world order needs stronger value and supply chain systems, better technology transfers and a stronger democratic coalition to ensure free and inclusive sea lanes of communication (SLOC) for seamless trade.
In the event of the US abdicating its global role, albeit reluctantly and temporarily, there will be greater need for a global democratic alliance against the hegemonic designs of Beijing under a powerful autocratic leadership and a party with an iron grip over the governance system. The White House has conceived of a democratic conclave of more than hundred countries. The purpose and the agenda of the conference is a work in progress but it is doubtful if such a conference will be able to resolve existing conflicts, the emerging flashpoint in Taiwan or prevent newer conflicts.
India has far more serious challenges than to spend time over a democratic conference and wait for a collective response which might never come. The Indo-Pacific requires more attention and regional trade forums need to gear up for the revival of the economy. Traditionally, there are greater number of democratic dispensations to India’s East than to the West. But ironically, the US has not invited Bangladesh to the democracy conference and instead is rolling out a red carpet to Pakistan whose democratic credentials are doubtful, to say the least.
The last month of this turbulent year is likely to be eventful as new alignments are on the cards. There is little doubt that a cooperative and coordinated global partnership framework of democracies and emerging economies should be fabricated to face global challenges. New Delhi should take a lead in forming such a partnership.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.
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