Emasculated US learns to deal with new status by changing policy

By Zhang Jiadong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/23 19:18:41



 

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT



It's no secret that after Donald Trump took office as president, US domestic and foreign policy has undergone dramatic change. First, Washington has started looking more at domestic affairs and promoted America First, turning away from the previous policy of pursuing its own agenda in the garb of internationalism and laying stress on sovereignty, reciprocity and nationalism. Second, its openness and inclusiveness are gradually changing to closeness and narrowness. Whenever it deals with China or its allies, the great-power demeanor has evaporated. It is more narrow-minded when it comes to immigration and dealing with expats. Third, it has stepped back from promoting justice to upholding its own interests. 

People interpret such changes differently. Some believe that the US has always been like this and what has seemingly made a difference is a new "candid" president, who is willing to bare it all. Others hold that this is America's phased adjustment, in the future, Washington will revert to openness and inclusiveness. 

The above changes in US policy and style are mainly due to a lack of self-confidence, which in turn emanates from Washington's inability to hold on to its world stature by traditional means. 

When the World War II ended, the US was an all-round leader. Its GDP accounted for more than 50 percent of the world total, and the manufacturing output 60 percent to 70 percent. Militarily, it was stronger than all the other countries put together. As the scientific and educational elites fled to the US to seek asylum during the war, the country became, and remains, the world's scientific and educational center. Financially, the major hard currencies and bonds in the world were mostly in US hands. At the same time, America led the Allied forces to defeat the fascist camp and was considered the leader and liberator of the free world, although it was the last major country to join World War II. 

Owing to this, the US has established a huge hegemonic system. Although the Soviet Union had the capacity to challenge the US in certain fields such as military, the US is undoubtedly the most powerful country in the world in terms of comprehensive national strength. 

In the post-Cold War world, US political power peaked after it won the first Gulf War. In a unipolar order, the US almost completely dominated the world. However, everything starts to fall after reaching the zenith. Very soon, the US suffered serious security and economic setbacks. The 9/11 attacks exposed it doesn't have absolute security. The 2007 subprime crisis showed its economic vulnerability and the 2008 global financial crisis demonstrated that the US also needs support from outside. 

Due to changes in the global order and its international stature, some of America's policies that were effective in the past do not work anymore. For example, trade used to be a measure by which the US influenced the domestic and foreign policies of many countries. Before China's entry into the WTO, the US used unilateral most-favored-nation treatment as a lever to influence some of China's internal and external policies. It is no longer able to do that. In the recent trade spat between China and US, major steps adopted by the US are no longer the conventional ones permitted by the WTO. America's influence on the trade of other countries, for the most part, is also falling. 

Even in defense, its influence has seen a relative decline. For a long period after World War II, the US had been a maritime hegemon. Now, the maritime forces of Asian countries, such as China, Japan and India, are becoming stronger. Besides, more countries are building up naval and air defense capabilities. And an increasing number of coastal states are making more claims on waters under the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS). Even though the US' air and sea forces have not been driven away from many waters, its freedom to operate outside its territorial waters and air space has declined. 

With its leadership eroded, America has started changing the nature of its policy. It tries to make up its diminished influence through policy adjustments, particularly bullying and intimidation. This may work in the short term. To avoid direct strategic confrontation with the US, other countries tend to make certain concessions to it. But in the long run, it will hurt the US' own interest. America's relations with other countries, including China, will eventually return to the conventional logic of international relations.  

The author is a professor at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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