The Rise of China & the Future of Liberal World Order

Chatham House hosted a lecture by Professor John Ikenberry of Princeton on the global shifts in power and how the liberal world order will get reshaped as a result. Will the transition be peaceful and will the rising States stay with this order that has been the defining feature of western dominance in the world? As the old States begin to lose their hegemony, the rising States can step in to shape a new world order. However, if they fail to do so, there is a concern that they might turn spoilers. If China becomes the dominant State, it will be the first time in 500 years that a developing, non-western country takes on the lead. If there is a conflict between the old and the new States, it is about authority, rights and privileges and not about rival models of modernity and ideology. In reality, both want the same things – environment protection, jobs and growth among other things. The rising States like Korea, Brazil, and India want shared leadership in power groups like the G5, G7, G20 and in multilateral institutions like the World Bank, UN, WHO, IMF. They ask for shared benefits of trade, technology and resources. It is less about conflict and more about accommodating differences because divergent ideologies have and can co-exist. The Professor is optimistic that China and the other rising States would want to maintain and preserve the international liberal order because leaders need to practise openness in a globalised and interconnected world; second, the sanctity of institutions must be preserved as they provide rules and regulations, which provide protection to the strong and the weak alike. Finally, China and the other emerging powers are not a bloc and do not offer a combined front.

It is not about the rise of China, but a much broader global transformation – the rise of the middle classes and of democratically elected governments. Possibly, China is not ready to take on the mantle from the US just yet, but with the declining power of the West, things are in a state of flux and that offers an opportunity for the western powers to have a say and help shape the coming order. While China is not a democracy, its hand may be forced as most of its neighbouring countries are democracies.

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