Last Sunday, this column focused on the rise of the BRICS and how they are trying to assert themselves in the international system. Feedback from readers has prompted me to continue this discussion by focusing mainly on what makes China the force it is – mainly in developing countries in Africa – and why this rise may not imply the fall of the United States.
For long, the United States has played a predominant role in the international system, with almost unchallenged hegemony over the rest of the world. It was for long claimed that the US was the custodian of world peace and also as the leader of the Western liberal democracies, it was at the forefront of spreading Western civilization, which was assumed to be of a higher level that the rest of the world should embrace.
The United States hegemony has been exercised through both soft power and hard power. By diplomacy, cultural exchanges, and even attracting young talent into American universities, the US succeeded in expanding its influence across the world. More so, American culture has largely penetrated many countries and influenced multitudes. This is seen through different avenues like hip hop music and Hollywood movies.
Azar Gat, in The Return of Autocratic Great Powers, says that the liberal democracies defeated authoritarianism and communism in great wars of the twentieth century. It is from this that the US emerged as a predominant power in a unipolar world that came about at the end of the cold war and fall of the Berlin Wall.
China has emerged as a major player in world politics, with different observers coming up with different explanations of the Asian country’s rise, intentions and place in the international system. Whereas China has major weaknesses as a power of global influence, it is on the rise and its influence is significant. In Africa, China has made major inroads in places where it had no historical ties. Its connection with Africa does not emanate from having been a colonial power like many Western countries or the US, which sought to extend its influence in post independence Africa.
Though China made significant contributions to African liberation movements, it did not seek to extend its influence like the Western powers. It is only in recent years that China has been involved in significant infrastructure developments. A case in point is its oil concessions in the Sudan, Angola and its recent entry in the nascent oil exploration industry in Uganda. More so, the annual Sino Africa Summit has become a major event on the calendar of Chinese-Africa relations and hardly any African leader misses.
However, it is important to note that China’s influence does not necessarily imply the decline of the United States hegemony.
As Tufts University Political Scientist Michael Beckley argues, America is not in decline, as it still has the initiative in terms of technological advancement and capacity to exploit globalisation for its own advantage.
Many bright and intelligent young people still migrate to study and work in the US where they are an immense human resource base in science and technology, research and development, etc.
Nevertheless, the US faces a major challenge to its unipolar dominance of the world. But this does not mean that America’s hegemony and influence must be seen exclusively in light of China’s rise.
Whereas China is on a major road towards assuming a central role in the international system, it still has a long way to overtake the United States. But basing on the assumption that its rise does not amount into the decline of the United States, i.e. that it is not a zero sum game, we can safely argue that world order will be radically altered into a multipolar system where several world powers play a role.
And China is the leader of the new powers in terms of influence basing on its soft power as seen through, for example, a new wave of foreign students going to study in China. On September 15, while on a visit to China, President Paul Kagame met over 100 students from Rwanda currently pursuing higher education studies in China.
This exemplifies the fact that for the first time, a massive number of students from developing countries are heading to China for studies. This has a global impact and speaks of China’s new role in the world.
On twitter @kagabo