In the response to the debt ceiling battle in the US, Beijing has called for the world to become more independent of Washington. But the emerging global powers have no vision for what a post-American order should be.
In an editorial published by China’s state news agency Xinhua, Beijing has lambasted US global leadership, calling for emerging economies to forge a new world order that is less dependent on the volatilities of American domestic politics.
China, the largest single-holder of American Treasury securities, has a particularly strong national interest in how the US reacts in the wake of the resolution of the shutdown and the decision to raise the debt ceiling, albeit temporarily. A US default could have devalued the billions of Treasuries that Beijing holds.
The Chinese government has used the opportunity to question the legitimacy of US global leadership, saying that “it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.”
“Such alarming days when the destinies of others are in the hands of a hypocritical nation have to be terminated, and a new world order should be put in place, according to which all nations, big or small, poor or rich, can have their key interests respected and protected on an equal footing,” Xinhua author Liu Chang wrote.
But according to foreign policy expert Charles Kupchan, China’s response to the political crisis in Washington is largely a rhetorical one.
“China is taking advantage of the troubles in Washington to advance its desire to create an international order that diminishes the influence of the United States,” Kupchan, with the Council on Foreign Relations, told DW.
While China’s response to events in Washington may be rhetorical, the shift away from the US and Europe and toward emerging powers is real, according to the UN. In its annual human development report, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) laid out the global rebalancing of economic power in stark relief.
For the first time in 150 years, the combined economic output of Brazil, China and India has reached near parity with the traditional industrial powers: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“In 1950, Brazil, China and India together represented only 10% of the world economy, while the six traditional economic leaders of the North accounted for more than half,” the UNDP wrote in its report.
“According to projections in the report, by 2050, Brazil, China and India will together account for 40% of global output, far surpassing the projected combined production of today’s Group of Seven bloc,” the organization wrote.
Kupchan believes that this global shift in economic power has sparked the very early stage of a debate about what the future international order should look like.
“It’s safe to say that we are beginning to see the fraying of the Western dominated order that opened with the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815,” he said.
Discord among emerging powers
According to China expert Francois Godement, Beijing sees an opportunity to increase its global influence as the Western system frays. But Chinese leaders have no comprehensive vision for what a “de-Americanized” world should actually look like.
“What the Chinese leaders and the propaganda machine are perceiving, is that the West is continually getting weaker in their view,” Godement, with the European Council on Foreign Relations, told DW.
“That’s what gives them this boldness in asserting themselves,” he continued. “They are asserting themselves, but I don’t think they know for what.”
Although Brazil and India are often lumped together with China as emerging powers, they are separated from Beijing by conflicting national interests in important policy areas. Both Brasilia and New Delhi, for example, have campaigned for permanent seats on the UN Security Council. The US openly supports India’s candidacy and has signaled it may do the same for Brazil.
“The country that blocked the negotiations to reform the Security Council – to expand its membership – was China. It was not the United States,” Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Wilson Center, told DW.
The West turns inward
Many in Europe and the United States are skeptical of this global shift, particularly as it regards China. According to the 2013 Transatlantic Trends Survey, published by the German Marshall Fund, 47 percent of Americans and 65 percent of Europeans found the idea of Chinese leadership in the world undesirable.
“It matters if you’re a democracy or not,” Stephen Szabo, executive director of the Transatlantic Academy, told DW. “The fact that China is not a democracy does cause concerns in Europe and the United States.”
Meanwhile, Western commitment to the transatlantic alliance remains strong. Some 55 percent of Europeans and 77 percent of Americans still view US leadership as important. Similarly, 71 percent of Europeans and 57 percent of Americans believe that strong leadership by the EU is desirable.
But with the US and EU focusing largely on domestic issues, it’s unclear whether or not they have the capability to shape the increasingly multipolar world.
“As a consequence, little attention has been devoted about how to go about crafting a new rules-based order,” Kupchan said.