“We are coming into a bipolarized world. There could be no leader, at least for the upcoming 20 years,” Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of International Relations at Tsinghua University, said on CGTN’s Zoom In with Zou Yue.
“I regard China as a rising power and I believe it will become a superpower by 2023,” he said. “In that process, China is reducing the capability gap with the United States. Meanwhile, the two countries are enlarging the capability gap with the rest of the world, that’s why I call it bipolarization.”
Yan argued Beijing will remain a junior superpower for the next 10 years.
“America definitely holds the upper hand. And China cannot improve its comprehensive capability to exactly the same level of the United States in at least the next decade. In 15 years, it is possible, but definitely not in 10 years,” he stated.
As for how the U.S.-China bipolarization will impact the international community, Yan believed all the other countries will face the pressure of taking sides between Washington and Beijing.
“The issue of 5G is one example,” said Yan, “the U.S. has been asking its allies to stand with it.”
The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been touring America’s allies since February in an attempt to discourage them from deploying equipment by Chinese telecoms company Huawei on their soil, cautioning them that it would complicate their partnership with Washington.
However, America’s attempt to wall off Huawei has not gone as smoothly as the Trump administration had expected. Among its closest allies, only Australia has banned Huawei from its new networks. Countries like the UK and Germany believed any potential Huawei risks to 5G, if ever, are manageable and can be blunted.
Yan warned that there is a larger threat from bipolarization: a world in chaos!
The U.S. has been the sole world superpower after the end of the Cold War. Some experts argued its international authority has suffered a hit after it invaded Iraq without UN authorization in 2003. And it has been further weakened by Trump’s “America First” policy, which focuses more on winning than on leading.
Over the past two years, Donald Trump has withdrawn from a number of international agreements and accords, from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Paris climate accord and Iran nuclear deal, to the UNESCO and the United Nations Human Rights Council, arguing they cost America too much but benefit it too little.
“Leadership means capability and resources. The U.S. feels it’s too expensive to offer a global leadership. That’s why the Trump government tried to shrug off this leadership for America’s economic interests. Meanwhile, China does not have that kind of resources to support such a leadership,” said Yan.
“There is no leader, there’s no order,” Yan noted, “and from my understanding, in the next 10 years, there will be fewer peaceful settlements, and more instances of violation of norms.”
“However, the good news is there will be no world war among major powers. There will be no direct war between the U.S. and China, though there could be regional military conflicts, such as in the Middle East and Africa,” Yan added.
As for how China can move from a superpower to one with a global leadership, Yan stressed the importance of being a humane authority.
“Authority means winning people’s hearts and support based on trust,” he said.
“And among the many things China can do, the most important thing is to keep good on its promises,” Yan Xuetong offered his dose of advice, “This means to never promise anything beyond our capability. Then we can gradually build credibility.”
《Leadership and the Rise of Great Powers》由普林斯顿大学出版社出版，2019年4月初发行。
Zou Yue: Your new book “Leadership and the Rise of Great Powers” — When you wrote this book, did you have the topic of China becoming a rising power, a superpower (in mind)?
Yan Xuetong: I regard China as a rising power, and I predicted that China will be a superpower by 2023. Because on the one hand, China is reducing the capability gap with the United States. On the other hand, China and the U.S. simultaneously enlarge the capability gap with the rest of the world. So that’s why I regard China as a rising power.
Zou Yue: But how about the relations between the two? Who will take a predominant role in the relations say in 10 years down the road?
Yan Xuetong: Ok, at this moment, America definitely holds the upper hand and China [is] in an unfavorable position. In 10 years, I think the situation cannot change. In 15 years, it is possible, but definitely not in 10 years.
Zou Yue: So this is a transitional period. How will the change of power focus affect international relations?
Yan Xuetong: All of the other countries will face pressure from the competition between China and the U.S. to take side. And like Pompeo traveled among America’s allies to ask them to take side with the U.S. on the issue of the 5G, Canada and Australia took sides with the U.S. and Japan took side with the U.S. in December last year. But then they suddenly changed [their attitude] earlier this month. And the UK and the other European countries, from the very beginning, they took sides with China.
Zou Yue: If China wants to be a superpower and in a leadership position, how can China move in that direction?
Yan Xuetong: The most important thing is to keep good on its promises. That means to never promise anything beyond our capability. So reduce the promises and keep all promises implemented, and then we can create credibility gradually. The improvement of the strategic credibility will bring about leadership.
Zou Yue: What do you think will be the international order in the coming decade?
Yan Xuetong: From my understanding, in the next 10 years, there will be more conflicts among nations. There will be less peaceful settlements, and there will be more violations of norms. So I think in the next 10 years, the world order will be worse than the current situation for the last 10 years. But there’s no danger of a grand war. There’s no danger of a direct war among major powers. There’s not only no danger of a direct war between China and the U.S., there is even no direct war between any major powers.
Zou Yue: So no world war. But what kind of conflicts? Brexit?
Yan Xuetong: Yeah, not only Brexit, I think there will be more military conflicts among regional powers like in the Middle East, Africa.
Zou Yue: Why?
Yan Xuetong: There’s no leadership, there’s no order. Leadership is based on capability and material resources. And the U.S. feels it is too expensive to offer a global leadership. Meanwhile, China does not have that kind of resources to support a global leadership
Zou Yue: When can we see the end of the tunnel?
Yan Xuetong: I’m very pessimistic. I don’t think we will see the light of this tunnel within 20 years. Ten years…and there’s a very slight hope to change the situation.
Zou Yue: What would your advice be to policymakers, not only now, but for future generations in the U.S. and China?
Yan Xuetong: I would suggest them to consider and focus on their strategy on material interests, rather than ideological interests and ignore the ideological conflicts or differences, embrace different values in different civilizations or cultures, and then create a kind of a new value.
Zou Yue: On that cautiously optimistic note, we end our talk with Professor Yan Xuetong. Thank you so much
Yan Xuetong: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.