As rightly claimed by a majority of prominent observers, the global political economy has been going through a period of flux since the global crisis. While debates concerning the transition to a multipolar order and trade wars intensify in the wake of successive neo-protectionist salvos coming from the U.S. and other actors, the future of the global economic and political system is largely unknown. Such periods of systemic transition typically witness harsh competition between established and emerging global powers to shape prevailing trends, as well as alternative visions of global transformation embraced and propounded by their political elites.
If the recent approaches of the U.S. towards neo-protectionism, withdrawal from liberal political and economic principles, as well as the pursuit of pure power politics in a chaotic and poorly managed international system represent a long-term state strategy, then we could safely argue that the vision of a global system based on Pax Americana is well and truly over. At a time when the American president bluntly talks about withdrawing from the World Trade Organization (WTO) and rejects to underwrite global public goods required for a liberal international trading order, it does not require tremendous expertise to conceive that the form of globalization envisioned by Washington D.C. is going through a qualitative change. Intuitively, we believe that the new vision of globalization will be based on a form of "selective integration" on the basis of bilateral engagements with those countries categorically accepting the neo-protectionist, aggressive, discriminatory and occasionally destabilizing nature of U.S. policies. Rather than maintaining international regimes based on clear international rules and norms, the U.S. will prefer to move forward via issue-based, conjunctural and flexible alliances with several country groups in the form of the "coalition of the willing" formed during the Iraq War.
Against this rather exclusionary vision of global transformation, China, as the rising global archrival of the U.S., proposes a completely different perspective based on non-interference in domestic affairs, uninterrupted trade flows and substantial foreign direct investment. Obviously, the Chinese vision shaped by Xi Jinping reflects the long-term strategic interests of China as it tries to close the economic and technological gap with the U.S., but at the same strives to offer more balanced "win-win" deals for participant actors. The giant "New Silk Roads,"or the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) constitutes the backbone of China's global integration strategy on the basis of integrated energy, logistics, transport and communication linkages across Asia and the Eurasian axis. Ambitious economic corridors towards Europe, the Middle East, Pakistan, Myanmar, Central Asia and Indochina aim to ensure safe and cheap transport of energy, goods, services and people to and from the mainland. Meanwhile, generous development credits supported by the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) provide comprehensive sweeteners for developing countries and emerging powers to take part in the initiative, despite their various reservations.
Russia, India and Japan are somehow involved in the Grand BRI Project of China through their state initiatives or companies trying to take advantage of giant infrastructure projects across Asia. This trend continues in spite of their diverging national interests and alternative views of regional and global integration. These powers all have serious reservations about the expanding Chinese influence in Asia and the globe, but the kind of project-based and pragmatic integration that Beijing pursues gives them enough room to be part of the broader agenda. Yet the kind of discriminatory, ad hoc and protectionist policy style complemented by the diplomatic blunders of Donald Trump deprives the American model of unilateral globalism of these opportunities. As the rhetoric of participatory global economic governance articulated during the successive terms of Barack Obama and reflected in multilateral platforms such as the G20 has almost become obsolete, most global and emerging powers are forced to redefine their bilateral relations with the U.S. This is valid for Canada and Mexico as NAFTA countries; the EU in its totality as well as Germany, France and the U.K. as individual powers; China, Russia and India as global contenders; Japan and South Korea as the main U.S. allies in the Pacific; Turkey and Iran as regional powers facing U.S. sanctions; and other developing countries somehow subjected to pressures from Washington D.C.
Time will show whether the unilateral globalism of the U.S., or pragmatic integration model of China will prevail in the global political economy in the long-term. But the prospective outcome will have significant systemic repercussions.
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