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A Year of Change

Year:2007 Issue:52

Column: WORLD


Release Date:2007-12-27

Page: 10,11

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Prominent features stand out as the world continued to evolve toward multipolarization in 2007

While the international political structure remained unchanged, world powers became more balanced.

Although the United States maintained its superpower status, its influence and control over international affairs declined. It was forced to switch to a more pragmatic foreign policy given the following concerns:

* Frustrated unilateralism. The Bush administration's preemptive policy and frequent use of force proved unpopular among the public. Following the defeat of the Republicans in the midterm elections in November 2006, a number of neo-conservatives were ousted from the U.S. Government.

* Failed Middle East strategy. The United States was not able to extricate itself from the Iraq morass. Its Greater Middle East Initiative met with opposition from both governments and the general public in the region. As anti-Americanism heightened, more terrorist attacks and violence were committed against the United States in the Middle East. Washington failed to come up with an effective solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. It hosted a Middle East peace conference in Annapolis in November, only to find it difficult to make peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.

* Economic slowdown. Affected by the subprime crisis in the United States, global financial markets underwent alarming fluctuations. The prices of oil, raw materials and food rose sharply. With the dollar continuing to depreciate, the U.S. economy stagnated.

By contrast, other world powers such as the EU, Russia and Japan made rapid strides. The EU, whose economic power is comparable to that of the United States, restored its integration process. Poland, Denmark and Britain withdrew their troops from Iraq under severe public pressure. Tony Blair was compelled to step down as British prime minister after his popularity plummeted because of his involvement in the Iraq War. Russia's economy grew considerably, with its gross domestic product (GDP) hitting some $1 trillion.

While maintaining their political stability, developing countries enjoyed robust economic development and became an important engine powering world economic growth. These countries stood against hegemony, power politics and unilateralism while they advocated democracy in international politics and supported the UN's leading role in international affairs. Except for the escalating tension in the Middle East and Pakistan's political instability, the number of hot-spot issues in Asia and Africa decreased. The other world powers and developing countries put considerable restraints on the United States. Also, technological innovation fueled industrial revolutions in many countries, breaking the monopoly of the United States and other Western countries.

Globalization deepened and its negative implications became more evident.

The world economy maintained robust growth in 2007. While enhancing bilateral cooperation, countries actively collaborated on multilateral and regional levels. International, regional and subregional arrangements flourished. Multinational companies' industrial chains were extended to every corner of the world, making the world a huge machine, and all countries parts of the machine. At present, economic factors such as capital and technology are being relocated to low-cost, high-growth countries. As a result, emerging markets are playing an increasingly important role in globalization. The GDP of the emerging markets combined accounted for 48 percent of the world total in 2006. Of these countries, BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and VISTA (Viet Nam, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey and Argentina) are particularly notable. The BRIC economies posted an average annual growth of 8.3 percent in 2006, far higher than the world average. The International Monetary Fund believes that China, India and Russia are responsible for half of the world's economic growth in 2007.

The growing negative implications of globalization are not to be underestimated. First, the world economy is severely unbalanced. With the North-South divide widening, an increasing number of small and medium-sized countries have been marginalized. Second, globalization and political regionalism, as well as the global free trade regime and bilateral and subregional trade arrangements, have become contradictory goals. The dilemmas already have affected developed countries in the West. Many small and medium-sized enterprises in the United States went out of business. Millions of workers lost their jobs. Many members of the middle class became impoverished. As a result, trade protectionism mounted in Europe and the United States. American and European countries also relocated polluting industries to developing nations, a move that aggravated the nontra-ditional security threat.

While strengthening their strategic interaction, major powers were increasingly caught up in conflicting interests.

Along with global warming, ecological deterioration and the increase in natural disasters, the global climate hit the top of the agenda at this year's UN General Assembly session and other major international conferences

The relations between major powers were characterized by cooperation and coordination, as well as competition and caution. They not only continued to build up their military forces, but also competed for resources and navigation routes in the South Pole, the North Pole and outer space. The United States relied more on Europe, leading to a remarkable improvement in their relations. Pro-U.S. leaders Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy took over the reins of Germany and France, respectively, further tightening ties across the Atlantic Ocean. The trilateral relations between the United States, Europe and China underwent new developments.

In East Asia, the United States strengthened its alliance with Japan and attempted to forge a four-nation alliance with Japan, Australia and India to contain China. As China-Japan relations improved, China-U.S.-Japan triangular relations were tilting in favor of China.

The "strategic cooperative partnership" between China and Russia deepened. China and Russia on the one hand and the United States and Japan on the other hand both relied on and checked each other in Central Asia. World powers strengthened their coordination on hotly contested issues such as the North Korean nuclear issue, the Iranian nuclear issue and the Darfur issue in Sudan. The six-party talks aimed at resolving the North Korean nuclear issue made substantial progress. The six vested parties in the Iranian nuclear issue - the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany - reached a consensus on peacefully resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. The United States is unlikely to launch military operations against Iran in the short term. The Darfur crisis also eased.

The major powers' fundamental divergences persisted, as evidenced by their frequent conflicts. Russia-U.S. disputes escalated, with the two countries' presidents verbally attacking each other. The two countries will remain in a state of "cold peace" for a long time to come but are unlikely to plunge into another Cold War.

Russia and the EU also were embroiled in severe, chronic disputes. However, both sides avoided being too aggressive.

Russia was extremely cautious about NATO's eastward expansion, which it resisted in collaboration with other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The relations between the United States and the EU were also beset with structural problems. They are no longer the kind of allies that they were before the Cold War. Apart from the four-nation alliance, the United States attempted to create an "Asian NATO" with Japan and Australia to target China. With pragmatism gaining currency in Europe, the EU made frequent accusations against China. The United States carried out its Greater Central Asia plan to the curb influence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), while Russia used the CIS to keep the U.S. presence in the region in check.

The issue of climate change took center stage.

Along with global warming, ecological deterioration and the increase in natural disasters, the global climate hit the top of the agenda at this year' s UN General Assembly session and other major international conferences. Devising a plan for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions after 2012 when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires became a highly relevant topic.

Today's climate change situation is a result of greenhouse gases that have been discharged by developed countries since the Industrial Revolution. However, rich nations are using this issue to pressure developing countries and demanding that they shoulder the same responsibilities. The negative implications of climate change are felt across the world. Tackling the problem calls for concerted efforts by the international community.

The Chinese Government attaches great importance to greenhouse gas reduction and environmental protection. In General Secretary Hu Jintao's report to the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October, the Party vowed to promote a "conservation culture." Pan Yue, Vice Minister of China's State Environmental Protection Administration, said environmental protection would be incorporated into China's new sustainable development strategy. Environmental protection is an area where China has a lot in common with the rest of the world. It won acclaim from delegates at the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia.

China: Rising Standing
Along with the growth of its comprehensive national strength, China's international influence was greatly enhanced. While visiting foreign countries or attending major international or regional conferences, President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and other Chinese leaders demonstrated China' s pursuit of "peaceful development," promoted the concept of "building a harmonious world" and dispelled misunderstandings about the country. China played a positive role in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, the Iranian nuclear issue and the Darfur issue and was recognized by other parties for its efforts.
China's relations with major world powers, neighboring countries and developing countries made great headway. China-U.S. relations generally remained stable; China-EU relations improved; China-Russia relations deepened; China-India relations made fresh progress; and China's relations with developing countries, including African nations, were raised to a new level.
At the same time, China was confronted with many challenges in 2007. For example, Western countries criticized its human rights record; U.S. President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both met the Dalai Lama, against the Chinese Government's wishes.
China's GDP is projected to exceed Germany's to rank third in the world in 2007. It will also surpass the United States to become the largest contributor to global economic growth, according to the International Monetary Fund. China is the world's third largest trader. It boasts a foreign exchange reserve of some $1.4 trillion, which is larger than that of any other country.
In space exploration, China successfully launched its first lunar probe Chang'e-1.
On the security front, China continued to implement the "new security concept" and enhanced mutual trust with neighboring countries. The SCO grew more influential.
The situation across the Taiwan Straits was relatively stable, in spite of Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian's attempt to seek Taiwan's UN membership. China also strengthened its cultural exchanges with other countries. To date, it has held Chinese cultural years in a number of countries, including Russia, India, South Korea and Italy, and established Confucius Institutes across the world. These non-profit educational institutions promote the teaching of the Chinese language and culture in foreign countries.

The author is a council member of the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs

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