JIA Qingguo: The Impact of Nationalism and De-globalization on Global Security

May 24 , 2021 05:14 PM by JIA Qingguo


By JIA Qingguo

Director of the Institute for Global Cooperation and Understanding (iGCU), Peking University

Member of the Standing Committee of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference

Former Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University

Remarks at the seminar "A strategic nexus: the Euro-Mediterranean Region and China"

May 24 2021


Thank you very much, Hon. Emanuela Del Re. It's a great honor for my institute, the Institute of Global Understanding and Cooperation (iGCU) at Peking University, to partner with the Formiche and ChinaMed project tohost this conference. It is a privilege to speak on this distinguished panel. The topic of this panel is “Looking at Future Trends and Challenges”. Let me outline some of the broader trends in the world that I believe have been in process. And then some thoughts about what we should do in this world of great change and uncertainties.

The first trend I think is the rise of nationalism. The rise of nationalism is more visible everywhere than before. You can find it in the rise of the rightist forces in Europe, the Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and his continued influence in American politics since he left office, Russian annexation of Crimea and the increase in trade frictions between countries. It is also seen in China. For example, some Chinese netizens have been calling for war to reclaim China's lost territories and get the U.S. military warships and military aircrafts out of China's adjacent areas. The rise of nationalism has a disruptive effect on the development of cross-border trade and investment, on peaceful management of territorial and maritime disputes and also on international cooperation to address various global challenges which threaten to make the world a less prosperous and less secure place to live. Remember the two World Wars the world went through in part because of nationalism?

The second trend is what I call the de-globalization. This can be seen in the slowdown in cross-border trade and investment in part because of the ongoing global pandemic and in part because of the fear of the implications of new technology such as 5G and AI may have national security. There is an increasing call for decoupling or self-sufficiency to address the perceived threats. This is especially true in the U.S. and in China. The Biden administration's efforts to press its allies to cut its ties with China in high-tech cooperation and certain links in the supply chain has also accelerated this trend. De-globalization is also seen in other areas, such as increasing restrictions on people-to-people exchange, including exchanges in science and technology, international study, academic exchanges, and foreign news coverage in the name of national security especially in China and the US. This trend of de-globalization bodes ill for the world. It threatens to undermine economic prosperity and lower the threshold of military confrontation.

The third trend is changing balance of power. In recent years, there is much talk about the so-called "dong sheng xi jiang (东升西降)" in China, which means the rise of the east and the decline of the west. Although it has been exaggerated, it does reflect a broad trend of development in the world. Statistics show that Group Seven’s (G7, which includes the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom) share of the world's GDP went down from 68% in 1992 to 47% in 2015. It further dropped to 30.15% in 2018. It is projected to go down to 27.26% in 2023. Although the decline in military capabilities is more moderate, the share of NATO’s military spending has also shrunk from 2/3 of the global defense spending to a little more than half in 2017. The political infighting in western countries, especially in the U.S., and their inability address various kinds of domestic problems, ranging from fighting the COVID pandemic, economic growth, social- economic equality, drugs, street violence, infrastructure development, and ethnic conflicts furthered weakened the west. This has led to increasing the critical scrutiny of the once revered western model of development. This development has created much anxiety both in the west and the east, and both find it very difficult to adjust. Whereas the west finds it difficult to adapt to the rise of the east, the east finds it hard to face the limits of its power. It also comes at a time when the world most needs the leadership of the west. However, what the world finds is the Trumpian response characterized by blaming other countries for its own domestic problems and efforts to undermine the existing international mechanism of global governance, such as WTO and WHO.

The fourth trend is the revival of the cold war-like ideological competition. With much irony, it is the Trump administration that launched ideological warfare against China. It is even more ironic that the Biden administration appears to have inherited this Trump legacy. The U.S. ideological warfare against China reflects more its imagined implications of China's success in domestic governance and international influence than what China has actually said and done in the real world.

Has China advocated an alternative model of development to the west for the rest of the world? No. Has China tried to impose its political system onto others as the U.S. has done? No. Has China tried to change the international laws and norms to reflect Chinese own political priority and values? No.

The fact is, first, despite the reform and openness policy of China in the past four decades, China has never changed this political system and its ideology. How come, all of a sudden, we have an ideological competition?

Second, China has never developed an alternative ideology to compete with that of the U.S. In fact, China has embraced many universal values such as market principles, rule of law, freedom, democracy, and equality, those Americans share. It has even enshrined some of these values into the officially declared 24 characters core values in China. It is at the practice level that China differs from the US because it has its own national conditions.

Third, China has never advocated an alternative ideology to rival with that of the U.S. or the west as it did in the pre-1970s. The most it has done is that it claims that it has been successful in development despite it has not followed the west model. That experience shows that any country can achieve what China has done as long as they develop their own path of development according to their own national conditions.

Therefore, China's development experience is unique. It's not supposed to be replicated. Nevertheless, some in Washington believe that it has no alternative but launch an ideological warfare against China. During the Trump administration, it did it alone. Biden administration has been trying to do it together with these allies. Since the U.S. wages much influenced in the world, if it says there is an ideological confrontation or competition, many believe there is one. The danger of ideological competition is that it introduces identity politics into interstate relations and makes pragmatic management of such relations very difficult if not impossible. However, pragmatic management of relations is necessary if we wish to live in peace together.

Finally, there is a trend of the rise of a-ideological interpretation of the world order. Since the founding of the post-WWII world order under the leadership of the US and with broad participation of the international society, there have existed two overlapping interpretations of international order. The first interpretation is more based on western liberal values. It emphasizes on the protection of individual civil and political rights. At the end of the cold war, this interpretation of world order led to such claims that human rights trumps sovereignty rights as during the war on Kosovo. The second interpretation is more based on sovereignty principles, stressing respect on national sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-intervention in other country’s internal affairs. Most developing countries subscribe to this interpretation. When the west was strong, the first interpretation had a better chance to set the international agenda. With the decline of the western power, then the second interpretation has been gaining influence. What does all this mean for us?

First, we should acknowledge the fact we are living in an age of fundamental changes. We are also living in an age of tremendous challenges: nationalism, economic de-coupling, ideological rivalry, weakened leadership, and lack of international cooperation to address various challenges. Confronted with these challenges, what we need to do is to work together rather than bickering and fighting each other.

Second, we need to recognize the threat of extreme nationalism which pits us against each other and leads the world to a dangerous direction.

Third, we need to recognize the change in balance of power and it is time for the west to give more attention to the needs and desires of the non-western countries and work together to find a way to live together peacefully in search for peace and prosperity. The previous way of leadership more by power should be replace by leadership more by persuasion. Fourth, we need to abandon the practice of using ideology as a tool to conduct diplomacy. In the long run, it is counterproductive and very dangerous. The best way to influence others is not imposition by power but influence by example.

Finally, while we should not abandon our aspirations about what the world should be, one should be realistic and pragmatic enough to make the best out of what it can be. It may be a good time for people to try to bridge the two interpretations of the world order and work together to make the world a better one.