Towards the end of the 1990s, some of the serious American political scientists had already more or less decided on the answer to two interrelated key questions: how long would the “beautiful moment” of the unipolar world last and who would be able to challenge its leader, who found itself at the top of the world hierarchy with the end of the Cold War.
Back then an extensive article by M. Mastanduno, published in 1997 in the International Security journal under the notable title “Preserving the Unipolar Moment: Realist Theories and US Grand Strategy After the Cold War”, came into the spotlight.
It was a fundamental work in which the problem formulated in the title of this article was considered from different theoretical positions. But, as far as one could understand, the final answer was influenced by the practice, which was identified by that time in the form of two remarkable facts that still remain relevant. Of these, the first was related to a challenge that had been thrown out two years earlier (for the first time since the early 1970s) by Beijing to Washington in connection with the so-called “Third Taiwan Strait Crisis”.
The second, much more important fact was due to the impressive pace of economic growth in China, which had been emerging since the late 1970s, as a consequence of the so-called “reforms of Deng Xiaoping”. The method of linear extrapolation used by M. Mastanduno in relation to these growth rates showed that in about ten years China would have the second economy in the world. And that would become a reliable basis for it to claim one of the privileged positions at the table of the “Big World Game”.
Thus, the main result of this work was the forecast concerning the question of who and when will interrupt the “beautiful moment” of the unipolar world. This forecast proved totally true, because by the end of the 2000s, not only high-minded scientists, but absolutely everyone saw quite obviously the process of forming another global power represented by the People’s Republic of China.
Note, by the way, that both the above-mentioned and subsequent works by the aforementioned M. Mastanduno (in collaboration with other equally well-known scientists) completely overturned the previously (quasi)philosophical fake concept of the “End of history”.
As elsewhere, the US political elite did not immediately pay the necessary attention to the noted conclusions of their own domestic science. At the same time, an artificial construct called “international terrorism” appeared (very likely in the depths of special services). In addition, a fierce dispute broke out within the scientific community itself between supporters of the continuation of armed expansion on the world stage and those who considered it necessary to “return to the origins” of the concept of the “City upon a hill”. Which may be of interest to other nations by its very appearance, and not by “aircraft-carrier strike” argumentation.
That is, by the beginning of the 2000s, the US political leadership found itself facing a very wide choice of initial (contradictory) concepts in the process of forming a strategy of behavior on the world stage. The simultaneous influence of all of them on American political practice could be seen over the next two decades.
And only at the initial stage of the Joe Biden administration there was a sacramental “So that’s what my doom was foretold to portend” moment when the success of the global Chinese Belt and Road Initiative project became apparent. Moreover, this success manifested itself mainly in the countries of the so-called “third world”, in which the majority of the human population is concentrated.
By the way, it seems appropriate to note that the growing influence in the world of both the main losers in World War II – Germany and Japan, is also due to the same factor. The nature of their current behavior in the international arena (for example, regarding the “Ukrainian crisis”) is not determined by the notorious “American occupation”. Which has nothing to do with the motivation for Berlin and Tokyo to make certain foreign policy decisions. The health of the economic organism (that is, we need to repeat it, of the main foreign policy instrument) of both these countries is essentially ensured by the enormous American market. For continuing to stay on it, one needs to pay some kind of price on the world stage. In this regard, the issue of personalities who are currently in power in Germany and Japan is often given excessive attention.
It should also be noted that Beijing itself is in the process of getting used to the heavy, unusual burden of leadership in global politics (as an inevitable consequence of its economic success) and searching for the most optimal behavior strategy in it. Today, there is no longer the “assertiveness” that manifested itself in the middle of the last decade in China’s relations with its neighbors in Southeast Asia, the costs of which are still being used by Beijing’s main opponents. The “political assertiveness” is being replaced by the aforementioned factor of the development of economic cooperation and taking into account the interests of China’s neighbors.
Be that as it may, but Washington has finally realized the situation with China (apparently rather late) and today it is trying, firstly, to form international economic projects alternative to the BRI, and also, secondly, to exclude China from the system of international division of labor in currently the most important field of IT technologies.
The first component has been commented on more than once in the New Eastern Outlook in connection with the B3W, GG, Quad, I2U2 projects. This list of acronyms was supplemented with a new one, which appeared during Joe Biden’s trip to South Korea and Japan that took place in the third decade of May. We are talking about the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEFP), the formation of which the American president announced in Tokyo.
On May 23, the White House released a statement, which lists all 13 countries that have so far agreed to enter the IPEFP format, as well as its goals and priorities to be addressed. Among the participants, the presence of India (also part of Quad and I2U2), and half of the countries of the Southeast Asian subregion (such as Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines) came into the spotlight.
As for the question as to why “all of us have gathered here (again) tonight”, the most general answer to it in this document looks like this: “We share a commitment to a free, open, fair, inclusive, interconnected, resilient, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.” Hardly anyone can get negative emotions from this long list of positive descriptive words.
But the fact is that countries in the aforementioned IPR have long since moved from good wishes to concrete and large-scale cases. One can cite, for example, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), that is, so far the largest element of the BRI project. As part of the general attempts to improve Pakistani-Indian relations, calls for joining the CPEC were made from Islamabad towards New Delhi at the time, which remain unanswered so far. In this regard, China expresses considerable disappointment.
This fact, as well as the fact that the United States declares its intention to perform in the aforementioned region the same activities that BRI participants have been doing for a long time, is another indication of the unfavorable, to put it mildly, state of the general political situation in the world. It will worsen even more if information attacks about the possible accession of Taiwan to the IPEFP format turn out to be a reality. Which is, again, obviously competitive in nature (again, to put it mildly) in relation to the BRI project.
Washington’s intention to form (again, without Chinese participation) a logistics supply chain in the extremely important field of production of various semi-finished semiconductor products, which serve as a base for the “high technology” industry, fits into the general course of ousting the People’s Republic of China from important sectors of the international economy. In the media, the future international conglomerate has already received the designation Chip 4, which is expected to be formed by companies specializing in the production of “chips” in the USA, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan.
Of these, China paid particularly close attention to the last two (potential) participants. As for the Republic of Korea, after the election of the new president, there was an element of some uncertainty about the foreign policy course of that country. The aggravation of the US-Chinese struggle for influence on the Republic of Korea has already been noted. The fact of ongoing negotiations with Seoul on the conclusion of a bilateral Free Trade Agreement remains one of Beijing’s weighty tool in it. This is one of the factors that, apparently, are causing the hesitation of the current leadership of the Republic of Korea on the issue of joining the Chip 4 conglomerate.
Beijing’s wariness about the possible involvement of Taiwan in this project is explained both by the aggravation of the problems of the international status of the island, and by the fact that today at least two-thirds of the total volume of chips manufactured in the world are produced on its territory.
Finally, all this fuss of Washington in connection with the growing weight of the People’s Republic of China in the global economy seems to be significantly irrational. And, on the contrary, an adequate assessment of the objectively developing situation at the present stage of the “Big World Game” would look rational, at the table of which the United States may well claim a completely worthy place for itself.
Along with other leading players.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.