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Struggle underway between unipolar, multipolar orders

By Song Luzheng | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-08-21 09:00
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Russian President Vladimir Putin and a number of African leaders hold a meeting on Ukraine at the second Russia-Africa summit in Saint Petersburg on July 28, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

The United States has been going all-out to sanction and isolate Russia, ever since the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out in February last year. However, this did not deter 49 of the 54 African countries from attending the Russia-Africa Summit on July 27 and 28.

Latin America and the majority of Asian countries also did not join US sanctions. Even some Western European countries initially did not totally agree with the US regarding the conflict.

The Ukraine crisis once again shows that the unipolar world order established by the US after the Cold War has found itself in a tight spot — for the simple reason that all countries are victimized or losing out under the US-dominated unipolar order.

Europe traditionally has been an ally of Washington, fighting side by side with the US in the two world wars and the Cold War. Once the Cold War ended and the US-dominated unipolar world order resumed, Washington no longer respected its allies, but practiced unilateralism instead. Nothing has better exposed Washington's arrogance than then secretary of state Madeleine Albright's declaration in 1998 that "if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future".

In just over two decades, two unilateralist US presidents — George W. Bush and Donald Trump — emerged. In 2005, Bush appointed John Bolton as the US ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton was remembered for his assertion that the relationship between the US and the rest of the world should resemble that between a hammer and a nail, and that the US can bash whomever it likes.

The developing world is also a victim of the unipolar world order. Take Africa as an example. The US and the Soviet Union competed for its support during the Cold War by offering aid to the continent. But after the Cold War came to an end, Africa lost its geostrategic significance and was subsequently abandoned and neglected by Europe and the US.

The US monopolized the fruits of the Cold War and did not reward its allies according to merit. The US-dominated unipolar world thus rapidly lost support in the international community. Europe was the first to come to its senses, standing up against the unipolar world order. France, for example, was opposed to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Stepping into the 21st century, however, in the wake of the rise of Russia and the emerging economies typified by China, the US has gradually revised its unilateralism and returned to its Cold War diplomacy. This once again allows the world to see the benefits of a multipolar world, and there is no shortage of such examples.

Africa, which had been neglected after the Cold War, is once again a key player in global geopolitics. The Russia-Africa Summit aside, there are also summits between Africa and China, India, France, Europe and the US. The United States-Africa Leaders Summit, in particular, was held for the first time in 2014 when China was seen as the key rival of the US. At the third US-Africa Summit in 2022, Washington announced that it would invest $55 billion in Africa over the next three years, and the US signed trade and investment agreements worth $15 billion with African countries.

A multipolar world not only benefits developing countries, but also developed nations, including the US. When Italy became the first country in Europe hit by COVID-19 in 2020, none of the European Union members responded to its request for help, with France and Germany even refusing to export masks to Italy. China was the only country that lent a helping hand. The EU eventually apologized and offered assistance to Italy out of public pressure. Therefore, it is no surprise that Europe, Russia, Africa and emerging countries all vote for a multipolar world.

Washington has been resisting a multipolar world order out of self-interest. Indeed, US international relations scholar John Mearsheimer has repeatedly said that Washington was responsible for the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 and the current Russia-Ukraine conflict. The two events are the results of Washington's strategy to sabotage the multipolar world order.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict will not only significantly weaken Russia, but also render Europe more dependent on the US. This explains why the US still maneuvers in Europe to prolong the conflict despite treating China as its chief rival.

The apparent competition between Beijing and Washington, therefore, is in essence a struggle between a multipolar world and a unipolar one. Conceivably, those who are victimized by the unipolar world order dominated by the US will all choose to stand against the US.

The author is a political scientist based in France and a research fellow at the China Research Institute of Fudan University.

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