US waywardness signals declining hegemony

By Wu Xinbo Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/6 18:28:40

Since US President Donald Trump assumed power, his quirky measures on domestic and foreign affairs have always shocked people. In addition to Trump's political thinking and style, these steps are actually a syndrome of declining US hegemony.

The major symptom of such syndrome is extreme anxiety. First, it's the anxiety over the situation the US finds itself in. During the 2016 National Republican Convention, Trump said that the US was facing "poverty and violence at home, war and destruction abroad". Although only an election speech, it aroused widespread sympathy. Because of people's anxiety over the state of US economy and society, Trump put forward the slogan of "America First".

Second, it's the anxiety over China's development. During the presidential campaign, Trump's anxiety about China was focused on trade. After he assumed power, it has spread into strategy, diplomacy, politics and culture. China's political and economic development has disappointed and frustrated the US, making Washington doubt its policy toward Beijing over the past decades.

The US believes it is being threatened by China's rise. Washington also uses economic and diplomatic measures to contain Beijing's Belt and Road initiative and it accused China of political infiltration. Seldom has the US been so anxious about China in the 40 years of the two countries' diplomatic relations. It's particularly noteworthy that the US' two parties, the government and the public have all reached a consensus on China.

Third, the US is also anxious about the international system, which has been established mostly under US dominance after WWII. But the current mechanism is becoming more and more repulsive for the Trump administration. It believes the situation is economically unfair to the US, burdens it with too much security obligation, holds back Washington in politics and undermines the country's sovereignty.

The next symptom of the "declining hegemony syndrome" is the Trump administration's rash acts in strategy, which is mostly revealed in Trump's one-sided move to change the current economic and trade practices. Trump believes that the US has suffered losses for many years during its relations with major trade partners, and he swears to rectify the situation.

Trump forced Mexico, Canada, the EU and Japan to start trade negotiations with the US and accept what Washington requires. He launched a trade war against China, imposed restrictions on Chinese enterprises' investments in the US and prevented Beijing from acquiring US' advanced technology. The current China-US trade war is the largest in history, and is also a contest between the largest and second largest economies in the world. The US' reckless act is upsetting the market, affecting the global supply chain and destroying multilateral trade rules and global trade order.

Trump has also set a record of rashly withdrawing from multilateral mechanisms, including the Paris Agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Universal Postal Union. No matter how important or serious the international organization is, the Trump administration will quit as long as they believe it's not in line with US will or interests.

Trump's unbridled acts are also embodied in the US' relations with other countries. To achieve its own purpose, Washington presses and threatens other countries, makes groundless attacks and accusations and fails to carry out promises. These acts have fueled US nationalism, xenophobia and stubbornness, and also damaged international political atmosphere.

Delaying or even preventing US decline has been the country's focus since the Barack Obama administration. Will the Trump administration's acts delay, prevent or accelerate the decline of US hegemony?

The Trump administration attaches great importance to economy, but there are big problems with its economic logic and policies. For example, Trump focuses on solving the trade deficit and rejuvenating traditional manufacturing. He tries to use a trade war to change the global supply chain which is formed by market in the era of globalization, and imposes restrictions on cross-border capital and technological flow. These acts can't boost the US economy.

By cutting taxes and repealing regulations, the US' economic growth may hit the highest since the 2008 financial crisis, but the economic growth will be apparently slower in 2019 and 2020. In the long run, Trump's economic policies may weaken the US economy's competitiveness.

Trump's moves have also weakened the US' international status and influence. The world now doubts the US' ability and wish of fulfilling international treaties, its sincerity in supporting international organizations, the credibility of its security promises to allies, and the credibility of dollar as an international currency. To pursue narrow interests, the Trump administration is trying to redefine the international order. The current order supported US hegemony, but it is also the one that will destroy US hegemony as Trump is changing it.

The author is director of Center for American Studies, Fudan University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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