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Over the long haul

By ZHANG YUYAN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-03-17 07:56
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Editor's note: The world has undergone many changes and shocks in recent years. Enhanced dialogue between scholars from China and overseas is needed to build mutual understanding on many problems the world faces. For this purpose, the China Watch Institute of China Daily and the National Institute for Global Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, jointly present this special column: The Global Strategy Dialogue, in which experts from China and abroad will offer insightful views, analysis and fresh perspectives on long-term strategic issues of global importance.

The world is undergoing profound changes, but the underlying trends of peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit will define the future

The world is undergoing fundamental changes, in comparing these with the continuous evolution of human history, it has a distinctive feature of the times. According to the length of time and the nature of the variables that affect the course of history, the French historian Fernand Braudel divides history into long, medium and short periods, corresponding to the three periods are geographical time, social time and individual time.

Geographical time, social time and individual time are interchangeable. For example, revolutionary events could change the structure of a society, and technological advancements could impact structures and foster new events. From the perspective of the historical framework of Braudel, today we are witnessing an overlapping of history at the three time-scale levels. It explains why "we are experiencing changes of the world, our times and history like never before".

Global challenges confronting humanity such as climate change and ecological degradation, the social and economic restructuring driven by the development of internet technology, the stagnation of the global economy due to aging populations, the profound changes in the global landscape marked by the rise of the East and the decline of the West, as well as the middle- and long-term implications of sanctions imposed by the West on Russia all point to a fact: "The world has once again come to a crossroads in history, and its future course will be decided by all the peoples of the world."

One of the most profound changes is the differences in the economic growth rate of countries. In the over 1,000 years before the 18th century, the per capita economic output of the world increased at a slow pace — about 0.1 to 0.2 percent a year. Economic growth began to pick up speed with the Industrial Revolution, and since then, the disparities among countries have been widening, particularly over the past half a century, which has seen the rise of the East and the decline of the West.

In terms of GDP, the Chinese economy was less than 7 percent that of the United States in 1978. In 2021, China's GDP had grown to 77 percent the size of the US. And despite the nominal per capita GDP of the US increasing from $10,000 to $75,000 during that period, China's rejuvenation has sparked fears, and the Thucydides Trap has once again emerged as a hot topic in global relationships.

Countries that benefit most from the current international system are seeking to preserve and expand their interests while using every possible means to contain potential challengers. They use global governance as a tool to suppress competitors in disregard of the pressing challenges confronting humanity. They are also seeking to maintain the non-neutral international system of rules to lock competitors in the middle and low-end of global supply and value chains to cement their dominant status in the global trade, technology and financial fields.

Moreover, these countries are trying to build exclusive systems based on political, ideology and civilization models, aiming to marginalize or isolate competitors. In the process, they dump economic laws and efficiency principle and instead, opt for so-called friend-shoring to move supply chains to "like-minded countries". The EU-US Trade and Technology Council and the "Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity" are two prime examples of "building high fences and walls "with the aim of decoupling from China.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict that broke out in February 2022 is no doubt a relatively short-term event, but one that will have a far-reaching influence on world history. Since the outbreak of the conflict, Western countries have unprecedentedly imposed over 10,000 sanctions on Russia. Hit by the sanctions, the Russian economy contracted by 3.4 percent in 2022, according to an estimate of the International Monetary Fund. But the impacts of the conflict are being felt in many other fields. According to the New Development Bank and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, financing activities in US dollar and euro have met tremendous obstacles because of Russia's involvement and financing costs have risen sharply due to the downgrading of credit ratings. Also, enterprises having close ties with Russia have had to disinvest from Russia over concerns of possible sanctions imposed by the US on them.

The middle- and long-term impacts of Western sanctions on Russia are also noteworthy. The price cap put on Russian crude oil and even trying to banish the country from the global energy market will not only change the structure of the global market of oil and gas, such as augmenting the discourse power of major oil producers, but also accelerate the energy transition of the world, particularly in European countries. It may also disrupt the global efforts to achieve carbon neutrality, which is evidenced by the resumption of operation of many coal-fired power plants in Europe.

Among the myriad of sanctions the West has imposed on Russia is the freezing of the country's overseas assets and foreign exchange reserves and restricting its access to SWIFT, a global financial transaction system. Politicizing and weaponizing the global financial and monetary system not only disrupts the normal operation of the global financial market, but also shakes the confidence of people in the future. If the sanctions go unchecked, the world economy will suffer immensely and the global monetary and financial system will be rocked to its foundations.

That the US and Europe have the courage to and are capable of imposing sanctions on such a massive scale on Russia demonstrates that the historical process of the rise of the East and the decline of the West will continue for a quite long period.

Despite the challenges humanity faces, we should see that the historical trends of peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit are unstoppable. The will of the people and the general trends of our day will eventually lead to a bright future for humanity.

Although this is an era fraught with challenges, it is also an era brimming with hope. We should stand firmly on the right side of history, follow the trends of the times, earnestly implement the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative, and be committed to building a world of common prosperity and a shared future by advancing the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

The author is a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a chief expert of the National Institute for Global Strategy at the CASS. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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