Can China overtake US to lead the world?
Discussions were running high on global governance among Western public opinion on the eve of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders meeting in Lima, Peru. Some Western media outlets hold the US is giving up its global leadership following Donald Trump’s election as US president on promises to abolish the Trans-Pacific Partnership and withdraw from the Paris climate deal. They believe a rising superpower, China, will replace the US to lead the world.
Trump’s campaign remarks do reveal his intention to retract US global strategy. He seemingly wants to focus more energy and resources on reviving the US economy and social development. But as the US has been central to globalization, Trump is unlikely to take on the traditional isolationist road.
The West likes to use "leadership" to define the function of a major power. Admittedly, different countries have different powers and obligations due to varied national strength. The world after the Cold War was dominated by US leadership. Washington designed and maintained a string of systems, including the world trade system, the financial system, the Internet system, the security pattern and so on.
The US has invested much into maintaining this leadership and also gained considerable benefits. In the foreseeable future, it’s impossible for the US to abandon its global leadership.
The US sought supremacy over everything in the past few years. However, it didn’t have enough national strength to bolster this unrealistic goal. Trump appears to be redesigning the US leadership, withdrawing the country from fields in which he thinks resources are being wasted. China thus will gain some room to exert its influence, but is China ready?
China still cannot match the US in terms of comprehensive strength. It has no ability to lead the world in an overall way, plus, neither the world nor China is psychologically ready for it. It’s beyond imagination to think that China could replace the US to lead the world.
But as China is rapidly developing, bringing about changes to the global power structure, its participation in global governance will be a natural and gradual process, which Beijing cannot rush or escape.
If Washington withdraws from the Paris climate deal, China can stick to its commitment, yet it won’t be able to make up for the loss caused by the US. Or if the US takes on an anti-free trade path, the messy consequences will be beyond China’s ability to repair.
But on the other hand, the US, under the leadership of Trump, cannot rope in China’s neighboring countries to contain China or isolate China from the world trade system. Obama’s administration had worked to undermine China-initiated projects, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the "One Belt and One Road" initiative, but to no avail.
So Sino-US cooperation is the only choice for future global governance. For a long time to come, the leadership of the US will be irreplaceable, meanwhile, China’s further rise is inevitable.
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