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The New Liberal World Order

The New Liberal World Order

Global leadership with Chinese characteristics?

The rules-based political and economic world order, which emerged after the Second World War, is generally termed as the liberal world order. Although it is generally believed that the liberal world order is a set of universally-acknowledged values, it was, in fact, a partial and a geographically limited order that was supported by the democracies of North America, Western Europe and East Asia. The members of the system came together with a shared commitment to certain universal principles, e.g. individual freedoms, political equality, rule of law, democratic self-government, through alliances and multilateral consultative mechanisms. The liberal world order underpinned commitment to open trade, emphasis on multilateralism rather than bilateralism or unilateralism, multilateral financial development institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, free flow of capital across the national borders, large-scale migration and adherence to global commons like piracy, crimes against humanity, climate change and ecological conservatism. Since economic and political order encompassed all those values which were being advocated by the US administration throughout the 20th century, it is rightly asserted that the Unites States was the chief architect of the liberal world order.

The current liberal world order has evolved through different phases. From 1940s through 1970s, this order emphasized an embedded liberalism that was a blend of free market economy and state management of national resources. Afterwards, it evolved into neoliberalism that stressed upon non-interference on the part of the state in managing national resources and regulating market forces. The collapse of the USSR in 1990 was widely construed as the triumph of neoliberalism against all the competitive ideologies like communism, socialism and Islam. Even Francis Fukuyama, a noted American political scientist, termed the fall of the USSR the end of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of government. It was the same confidence with which the West applied liberal engagement policy for the induction of China and Russia into global liberal system out of the conviction that ultimately both of them would abandon their respective domestic social and political configurations in favour of liberal democracy; as their conservative societies would not be able to withstand the pressure exerted by the West-based, US-supported liberal world order.

The assertions were, nonetheless, wrong and the assumptions fallacious. The precipitous decline of seemingly unchallengeable liberal order started with the catastrophic financial crisis of 2008. This recession caused the emergence of many anti-liberal and anti-globalist forces in the Western world as well as in North America. Although the liberal order had been facing the competitive ideologies like conservatism, secularism, constitutionalism, nationalism, tribalism, militant nationalism, fascism, communism and Islamic fundamentalism, the financial shocks posed daunting challenges within the Western countries in the form of populism and anti-establishmentarianism. The crisis, on the other hand, revived the confidence of China which, thus, began asserting itself as a preponderant economic and military power in regional affairs.

There are many economic and political manifestations of liberalism that have helped, and are helping, China to lead the world. China is the biggest beneficiary of the liberal world order. Open trade, free flow of capital, unhindered technological diffusion and other processes of globalization have helped China sustain its growth rate of above six percent for a decade or so. The sustained growth has translated into formulation of an ever-assertive foreign policy that is underpinned by the fact that it is the second largest military power in the world and that it may surpass the economic might of the United States within only a few years. Keeping in view China’s growing presence in international arena, President Xi’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) initiative that is meant to increase regional connectivity through operationalizing land-based Silk Road and Maritime Silk Route with an estimated cost of $8 trillion is being considered a thinly-veiled strategic move to enhance China’s geo-economic and geo-strategic significance – also relevance. Now that Trumpism (a blend of protectionism, militant nationalism and isolationism) and populism have severely undermined the West-led liberalism and US’s gradual retreat in security and economic realms, as well as in the arena of global commons, have provided China with an unprecedented window of opportunity to fill the power void and emerge as a responsible power that is capable of assuming global leadership.

Read More: Is the LIBERAL WORLD ORDER Collapsing?

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About Aftab H. Wahla

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