By Wang Wen Source: Global Times Published: 2019-8-26
A few months ago, I attended a thematic seminar in Europe on global governance. The organizers invited representatives from think tanks of more than 10 countries. At the end of the discussion, a few delegates realized there were no US scholars present.
Last year, at a seminar in Istanbul, when it came to discussing the next steps in the Middle East and the role of the US, one scholar told the US delegates that the best way for the Middle East to grow is for the US to exit the region. Both experiences inspired me to ask, is the US still playing an important role on the world stage?
The US is important, of course, but not as much as it used to be. In March, a global governance forum in Paris was attended by officials from China, Britain, France, and the EU. In Osaka in June, leaders from China, Russia, and India met to advocate multilateralism. In Bishkek, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization reaffirmed their intent to ensure security for their region, and there was no US. At the headquarters of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and at UNESCO in Paris, Americans were nowhere to be seen.
In recent years, the Trump administration has repeatedly pulled the US out of international treaties and organizations to safeguard US interests, but in fact, it has created for itself an isolated America and de-Americanized world. No wonder my colleague Liu Zhiqin recently asked in an article, if the world were without the US, would it be all right?
While China expands globally, the US' role is waning. China is advocating or establishing international governance mechanisms, such as the BRICS, the SCO, the New Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism, 17 + 1 cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries, and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. Especially after the Belt and Road Initiative was put forward in 2013, China began to interact with the international community from a global perspective and has come up with many governance initiatives related to global and regional governance.
Perhaps the US should reflect: Why is the China-US bilateral relationship stagnating, even regressing as China's relations with other major countries and regions have progressed?
In 2019, China and Russia upgraded their relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era. China-Japan relations are warming up. Recently, the ninth China-Japan-South Korea trilateral foreign ministers' meeting was held in Beijing. Two of the biggest US allies in East Asia seem to be approaching China simultaneously to discuss regional foreign policy cooperation. China-UK relations have just experienced a golden period. China's relationship with the EU is also strong. Relations with Africa, Latin American countries, and ASEAN have all reached a relative all-time high.
The younger generations of Chinese are voting with their feet to express what they think about the US. Chinese students who want to study abroad are no longer focused on the US. The UK, Australia, Russia, and Central and Eastern European countries have emerged as new options.
According to statistics released by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in March, the number of Chinese students enrolled at US universities dropped 2 percent year-on-year. Applications from Chinese undergraduates to study at British universities have increased by 30 percent since 2018.
Chinese tourists are also choosing new destinations. Travel from China to the US fell 5.7 percent in 2018, while the number of Chinese tourists to Russia increased by 21.1 percent year-on-year. A new estimate from Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company, says that the US could see nearly 2 million fewer Chinese visitors through next year because of China-US trade tensions.
Of course, I don't believe the US is no longer important. It remains the most influential state variable in China's foreign relations. US influence on Chinese society, culture, and the economy is enormous as it has been for other countries. The US is also the world's most powerful country, but it is also true that its importance to the world and to China is in decline.
I think it's necessary to include something Liu once said that also applies here, "The world needs a new America. It needs an America that is free of prejudice and intolerance. It needs an America that understands respect, that matches words with deeds, that understands the principles of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and faithfulness. The world would be lucky if the new America could become such a country."
The author is professor and executive dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, at Renmin University of China and executive director of China-US People-to-People Exchange Research Center. His book Great Power's Long March Road was launched recently.