China in the World of Struggle

The sudden escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has once again stirred up the unstable elements of the international situation. How can we see clearly the complicated and insoluble contradictions and conflicts in today's world? Is the post-WWII international order facing a brutal reshaping? Is the world's "chaotic era" coming?
November 30, 2023
Expert on international issues. Professor at the School of International Relations, Renmin University
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First of all, let’s talk about what the meaning of the “World of Great Struggle”? Recently, a lot of things have happened in the world: the Russian-Ukrainian war has not yet ended, Azerbaijan shelled Armenia, and now there is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the world as a whole is in a state of confrontation. A few days ago, India and Pakistan went to war in Kashmir, and the United States bombed Syria.

My personal opinion is that, despite all the chaos in the world order, by far the most dangerous thing is the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Ukraine is a proxy and puppet of the United States, and American politicians and media people openly call the Russian-Ukrainian conflict a “Proxy War”. Of the 193 United Nations member states and more than 200 countries and regions on the planet, the only ones with real strategic autonomy and the ability to completely destroy each other are China, the United States and Russia, two of which are in a state of military confrontation.

The U.S. is almost fully militarily involved in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, except that it has not sent troops directly. Ukraine’s intelligence is given by the U.S., and part of the Ukrainian army is directly trained by the U.S. Herein lies the danger of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, which is essentially a Russian-U.S. conflict in the form of a direct military confrontation.

In addition to the war, there is also too much uncertainty in the world economy. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have revised down their economic growth rates for this year and last year, and international trade is not good right now. Climate change is still accelerating, and natural disasters are now more frequent than ever, with frequent droughts and floods. This is the situation facing mankind – the big countries are not cooperating, and the middle countries are out of order, which is what President Xi Jinping said, “The world has entered a situation of great change not seen in a century.

The “great change not seen in a hundred years” is summarized by another phrase: “The world has entered a world of great struggle”.

We read Chinese history books sometimes come across the term “the world of great struggle”, the world of great struggle in Chinese history refers to two situations, one situation is the Spring and Autumn period to fight for hegemony, the Warring States to fight for supremacy, from the early Spring and Autumn period of China’s land of ten thousand countries, into the Warring States twenty into seven, the Warring States seven males finally into one, the process is very bloody, although from the story point of view it is wonderful, but the people who lived at that time were miserable, so Confucius said “there is no righteous war in the Spring and Autumn Period”.

The common feature of these two situations is that the old order is collapsing, and in the process of exploring the new order, and I think that today’s world has entered into the World of Great Struggle as well: the old order previously dominated by the West is disintegrating, but the new order has not yet been established, and this is a typical transition period of the order.

The past 40 years is relatively safe, the big powers never consider war, mainly engaged in competitions in trade. We do not think about war, but think about making money. I personally have a point of view that, in fact, a trade war shows that the two countries have good relations – North Korea and the United States will never have a trade war, because they have no relationship with each other completely. This state of affairs between China and the U.S. is another indication that the two countries have better and closer economic ties, otherwise there wouldn’t be a trade war.

Trade wars in the past reflected the world’s positive situation at the time, but that’s not the case today.

Russia and the U.S. are in a state of military confrontation, and at the same time the entire West is being led by the U.S. to confront Russia, and the risk of war between China and the U.S. has increased, with the U.S. treating us as a competitor to be fully suppressed, and playing the very dangerous card of Taiwan. The United States made it clear that China is the first opponent, in fact, our military also considers the United States as the first opponent.

“The great change not seen in a hundred years” is President Xi Jinping’s generalization of the world situation, but what exactly does it mean? Personally, I suggest four new ways to understand it:

The first is that a new international landscape is taking shape; the second is that a new model of modernization is beginning to be established; the third is that a new industrial revolution is on the way; and the fourth is that the Belt and Road Initiative represents a new approach to global governance.

The new international pattern refers to the changing balance of power among countries, especially among the major powers. The basic rule here is that whoever has the most power dominates the international landscape. The basic historical fact of the past 500 years or so is indeed that the West is more powerful. In the words of Mr. Liang Qichao, the basic characteristic of modern human history is the domination of the West. Why has the West been able to dominate the world for 500 years? There are two reasons, one is the Great Discovery and the other is the Industrial Revolution – the West, through the former, surpassed us; through the latter, they crushed us.

Entering this century, the world pattern has seen a trend of “East rising and West falling”. East rises, first of all, China rises. China is definitely rising, and no one can deny this except those “country-hating parties”.

India is also on the rise. Under Modi’s leadership, India’s economy is doing well, and it is particularly noteworthy that Modi has reorganized the Brahmin People’s Party in a Hindu way, similar to building branches in villages to alleviate poverty for millions of people. Emphasizing nationalism and uniting Hinduism in a way that creates social conflicts.

There is another place has also risen – ASEAN. In 2000, ASEAN GDP was less than 600 billion USD, now has reached more than 3 trillion USD. Kishore Mahbubani, a Singaporean scholar of Indian descent, coined the term – humanity has entered the “CIA era”, the CIA is not the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the C is China, the I is India, and the A is ASEAN. The coming of the CIA era is the rise of the East.

After saying “East Rising”, let’s talk about “West Falling”. Western decline is the decline of Europe and Japan. Everyone keeps talking about the West, but what exactly does the West mean? The West refers to the three big ones and the four small ones, the three big ones being the United States, Europe and Japan, and the four small ones being Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Israel, which are closed circles that other countries cannot enter. A group of right-wing intellectuals in China still fantasize about joining the West today, but in fact, even if they demolish the Forbidden City and build a second White House, they will not be able to get in, and they will just be the subordinates of other people’s guardians, such as Japan and South Korea, and will not be able to become a member of the Western family.

Now the situation is: the United States of America’s overall strength is still good, but its limbs – Europe and Japan, are really not working.

First of all, Europe is not working, the EU was founded in 1992 with 15 countries, when its GDP was the world’s first. By 2022, the EU has expanded to 27 countries, but the EU’s GDP is not as good as China’s, ranking third. In addition to the decline in economic output, a big problem in Europe is that new technologies can’t keep up.

Take artificial intelligence, a current focus of great power competition, for example. Artificial intelligence now has a latest technology called Chat GPT – large-scale language learning model. This is what the Americans have come up with, and outside of the United States it is China that is catching up. No company in Europe can.

Japan was originally the worst among the United States, Europe and Japan, and now it is even worse. First of all, the total volume can not, 2021 Japan’s GDP is 5.1 trillion , China is 17 , we are three and a half times it, last year the yen serious depreciation, shrinking to 4.23 trillion, we are 18 trillion, reaching four and a half times, this year it should continue to shrink, it is very likely to be overtaken by Germany. This year, Japan’s GDP will rank fourth, and the gap between us and it may widen slightly on the basis of 4½ times.

Second, Japan’s competitive industries have suffered two serious strategic miscalculations in the past 20 years, and the last two trillion-dollar markets are gone.

The brunt of this is smartphones. Older friends should know that in the analog phone era, Japan’s cell phone is the best. But Japan refused to enter the smartphone era, it was surpassed by others, Samsung, Apple and a group of Chinese cell phone companies, etc., Japan has long since lost its competitiveness.

Then there is the EV, in fact, Japan is an early engagement of EV, but it took the wrong technical route: hydrogen. On this January 27 this year, Toyota chairman admitted that they have missed the opportunity.

The rise of the East and the fall of the West have affected the world pattern, and the history of the West dominating the world for 500 years is coming to an end. This is the most basic meaning of the century of change or the age of great struggle.

As the ratio of physical power changes, the psychology of the West is also changing. The West has done very well in the past 500 years, so the West has an arrogant mentality that says there is only one path to modernization – the Western model. If you don’t follow this model, you will be regulated, but in the past 10 years, their arrogance has been broken. The West says that China has risen and has threatened the West, recognizing China’s rise in the form of the China Threat Theory, and recognizing that China’s path is not the same as his, which breaks the arrogance of the West’s psyche, and the uniqueness, absoluteness, and exclusivity of the Western model is broken.

Humankind is moving towards the fourth industrial revolution, which I think is the greatest event for the future of mankind, unlike the previous three, to which China did not contribute, but to which China must have made a decisive contribution in the fourth, which is one of the characteristics of the great change that has not been seen for hundreds of years.

The essence of modern history is industrialization. Only when the industrial revolution brings about the progress of productive forces, human civilization has an overall enhancement, and our social, ideological, institutional, managerial, and artistic revolutions are all its products. It was by virtue of dominating two and a half of the three industrial revolutions that the English-speaking Anglo-Saxon nations came to hold the lion’s share of the world’s power.

Now the United States and its allies still have hegemony in the world. 90% of the international trade go in the ocean, who controls the ocean who controls the world, the ocean is now the United States control of the military hegemony; and then the hegemony of the dollar. Everyone curses the dollar, all still earn dollars, this is the economic hegemony. There is also scientific and technological hegemony, most of the Nobel Prizes in science and technology belong to the United States.

In terms of soft power, most of the ideology is Anglo-American liberalism, and all of the media discourse and social science discourse is here. For example, we can think of disciplines such as law, political science, international relations, sociology, demography, education, journalism, psychology, and so on, and the mainstream theories in China are the same. This is the reality we are facing.

China’s modern history began in 1840, and has gone through a century of humiliation from 1840-1949 and national rejuvenation from 1949 to the present. After 1949, the New China has successfully achieved industrialization in just 74 years. The greatest achievement of New China in 74 years is that it has turned this country from an agricultural country into an industrial country, and has become one of the very few countries in the world that has mastered the industrial system completely.

Last October the World Bank had a report to study the distribution of industrialization in the world, and the conclusion was that only 30 of the 233 countries and regions on earth had achieved industrialization, 28 of them before World War II, and only two of them, South Korea and China, had achieved industrialization after World War II. Korea was semi-colonized and pushed by the US, China came out on its own.

After missing the first two industrial revolutions, China caught up during the third industrial revolution phase. As for the four tracks leading to the current fourth industrial revolution: artificial intelligence, life sciences, industrial materials, new energy, China and the United States are in the race, Japan is basically lying flat, Europe gradually withdrew, India has just noticed, and Russia has no time to worry about that.

The conclusion is that the future of the fourth industrial revolution must be the contribution of China and the United States, which is a great change that has not been seen for hundreds of years. After the Great Discovery, mankind became a whole, globalization began, and it will inevitably produce global governance. In the past, global governance was all about Western governance, but since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, we have been actively involved. Before that, we were involved, but not nearly as much as we are now. The reason is that China has entered a stage of development that requires deep participation in global governance: New China has gone through three stages: standing up, getting rich and getting strong, and a strong China must participate in global governance, and global governance has changed from being dominated by the West to being jointly governed by the East and the West, which is the last meaning of the century-long change, the “World of Great Struggle”.

There is no trick to dealing with the momentum of the great struggle and the rising Sino-American conflicts. Be solid, always focus on economic construction, grasp the domestic economy, seek high-quality development, achieve industrial breakthroughs, realize internal circulation as the mainstay, and internal and external circulation as mutually reinforcing. Seek strategic economic autonomy and take the initiative in the US-China game. This is my final conclusion.


Expert on international issues. Professor at the School of International Relations, Renmin University
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