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2020, a Crossroad in International Relations

By Tiffany Chen

Sino-American trade war, Brexit, Turkey’s trend of secularization, U.S. tension with Iran and the polarization of American politics further escalated by Trump’s victory four years ago and his foreign policy adjustment all points to one issue: the economic slack is leading to the rise of conservatism worldwide. Liberalism’s voice weakens while realism regains its voice in the international community. Non-traditional security threats such as terrorism, global warming, and uneven development are giving way to great power competition, forcing the international community to face the threat of a new cold war.  

I am not a pessimist, but focusing on international issues has led me to make the above conclusion. When I was still an eighth-grader I just started my exploration of international politics through reading; almost all the books I read recalled the global liberal boom in the past two decades. Francis Fukuyama predicted the end of history as the global domination of liberal democracy; the Clinton administration reached the optimistic strategy of changing China politically through integrating it into the international system; the Bush Administration enthusiastically spread the seed of democracy globally; Alexander Wendt attempted to explain the world through “identity” and “perception” while Robert Keohane started to describe the future of neoliberalism. In contrast, Paul Kennedy and John Mearsheimer’s theory was thought of as “outdated.”

However, everything has changed since I entered high school. The United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union, the U.S. launched a great debate on China policy that lasted for three years and started a pivot, causing a trade war between the two and leading to increasing disharmony in areas such as traditional security, currency exchange rate, and multilateral cooperation. As a result, the hints of decoupling between the two greatest powers began to appear, raising concerns that the two countries might fall into the Thucydides trap or even start a new cold war. These fears are not groundless. The popularity of the Chinese version of Harvard Professor Alison’s book Destined for War?–translated by the dean of our think tank Professor DingDing Chen–and Professor Mearsheimer’s visit to China in October are all good examples that since 1991, the Great-Power Competition theory has again trumped globalism and multilateral cooperation.  

Mankind is once again at the intersection of competition and cooperation. In my opinion, the longest period of prosperity and cooperation that the world has just experienced is rooted in the superposition of the U.S.-led Internet economic evolution and China’s huge production force and market space. However, this is coming to an end. Human society needs a new industrial revolution to release more room for growth. Before that, a period of stock competition and friction seems inevitable, especially between the great powers. With the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, in 2020, we are once again at political crossroads. 

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