China, the “Xi Era” and the global order – (2)

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The day after the 19th Congress of Chinese communists (25 October 2017), American President D. Trump wrote the following on Twitter: “Spoke to President Xi of China to congratulate him on his extraordinary elevation. Also discussed NoKo & trade, two very important subjects!” I mention this for the symbolic significance included in the narrow space of the more than 100 signs allowed by the Twitter account. Firstly, the President of the planet’s most powerful state, the U.S., writes to his Chinese counterpart immediately after the end of a summit of the Chinese communist leadership, mentioning his “extraordinary elevation.”

This mention of President Xi’s real success at the Congress reflects that the White House considers him the architect of China’s current posture within the international system of states. Of course, the phone conversation itself was not occasioned solely by the end of the Chinese summit, but also by the upcoming visit that Donald Trump will pay to China. Secondly, more important as symbolic projection is the fact that Trump shows he also talked with Xi about two dossiers that basically represent the most important issues of the current global order. We are talking about trade, a field in which the positions of the two leaders are different in what concerns both bilateral relations and the ensemble of economic ties at global echelon. On one hand, D. Trump is the one who promotes a new international trade paradigm, which some call “neo-isolationist,” consisting of a withdrawal from the recent regulations of globalisation (he abandoned the Trans-Pacific free trade agreement concluded by the previous administration – the TPP, similarly he suggests he will change NAFTA too) and his tweets often blamed Beijing for resorting to manipulation of the currency market and pointed out this issue will have to be discussed. On the other hand, President Xi is considered the most loyal partisan of free trade, uncontained at global echelon, an undeniable neo-liberal position for which he has garnered obvious international sympathy (for instance, at the Davos Global Forum early this year).

Secondly, the two also discussed – probably the most – about the worst nuclear crisis since the Cuban crisis of October 1962, back when the USSR defied the U.S. Namely the communist regime of North Korea’s recent challenges to international security via its recent testing of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. We point out that at the White House the solution to this crisis is seen through a close connection between the U.S. and China.

We can say that, symbolically, the agenda of the phone conversation between the two statesmen, occasioned by the end of the summit of China’s political leadership, included global issues of such a span that it can be considered that the “Big Two” duo (reference to the current systemic order created by the “Big Three” – Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin – at the end of the Second World War) has already taken shape in systemic affairs.

In fact, for several years now, experts argue that through China’s exponential growth in the ensemble of the system – in 2013 it took the top position in the global economic hierarchy, volume-wise – the international system is already registering a trend of the bilateral U.S.-China relationship being selected as the most important at global level, basically a barometer of systemic evolution. The predictions made about the future aspect of the international system of states outline “alternative worlds” in which the U.S.-China relationship is decisive for “systemic health,” in other words whether economic growth and international stability is registered (the case of cooperation between the two superpowers) or on the contrary (the case of competition/confrontation).

Two other elements worthy of mention have been lately added to this trend, as shown by the perceptions noted in international-level opinion polls conducted by prestigious U.S. sociological institutes. The first is the one according to which the share of those who assess China as being the top global economic actor has grown significantly, according to opinion polls conducted in the first part of this year.

Thus, at general European level, public opinion considers that China is the top global economic actor, surprising developments being registered, such as: while 43 percent of UK respondents considered the U.S. to be the top global economic actor in 2014-2016, in 2017 that percentage dropped by 12 percentage points, which is considerable for such a short period; similarly in Germany, from 34 percent in 2014-2016 to 24 percent this year; in Israel, from 63 to 52 percent; in Hungary, from 59 to 51 percent. Correspondingly, the number of respondents who consider China to be the top global economic actor and who look favourably on its international role has grown. Secondly, maybe even more significantly, in certain states of the West, respondents from the 18-29 age bracket have a more favourable view on China than those who are part of older age groups.

Thus, in the UK, while 46 percent of respondents from the 30-49 age bracket have a favourable view on China, the 18-29 age bracket registered 62 percent; in Canada the difference between the younger and older respondents stood at +17 percent for the former on this issue; in France and Netherlands, +16 percent; in Italy, +14 percent. Today’s young age brackets will elect in the following decades the leadership of those states, which will devise international policies. Of course, such figures, even though seemingly outlining a trend, are not at all categorical for the aspect of the future system. Sudden changes can occur at any moment, changes of substance, what experts call “game change,” just like, for example, Trump’s management of international relations has led, at international level, to a drop in confidence in the U.S., especially in Europe. But it is just as true that, at this moment in history, the world looks more favourably upon China as a global actor than it did in recent years.

Which could be an explanation for Xi’s success at the recent summit of the Chinese political leadership and likewise an indicator of the fact that the path is open for a trend of cooperation between the “Big Two,” including in devising long-term international stability.