For a long time, the United States has been the world’s preeminent power, the worlds sole superpower. However, many analysts have noted that this may be the end of the American Century, the end of Pax Americana, the end of unipolarity as we know it. For decades now, we have seen the rise of a new challenger to the American established world order.
China has emerged as the possible replacement at the top, its increasingly powerful economy is predicted to surpass the leader's soon. With an increase in wealth, comes an increase investment in military and activity across borders far from its own, it is proving to be a formidable competitor to the United States.
Beijing has proven that it has the means and capabilities to further entrench its influence in different regions of the world, that you could say that the US has taken for granted. China is portraying itself as the alternative to the established international world order and it can be said that it has already begun to show how it can compete with America economically.
Belt and Road Initiative convened by China, is its infrastructure development plan which aims to connect the state to a vast number of countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. There are many detractors to such an extensive project, namely the United States and its Western allies who argue that the Belt and Road Initiative is just a mere neo-colonial farce which aims to keep developing nations aligned to China via its ‘debt-trap diplomacy’. Many suggest that East African states will be engulfed by such debt. The creditor country allows the borrower to take out a vast amount of loans and this is done with the intention of being able to secure economic or political concessions from the latter country when it is unable to pay back what is owed.
However, analysts such as Jones and Hameiri argue that ‘debt-trap diplomacy’ is in fact just a myth and states in recipient of Chinese money can restructure their terms. This is further embraced by East African leaders who state that they are aware of the financial consequences. President Kagame of Rwanda even contended that the outcome of these loans is dependent on Africans and how they strategically use such money for productive capital investment.
Some commentators even go further to attest that it is in fact the Bretton Wood’s institutions that the United States and its allies elaborated, are the ones that aim to control how countries act, an example being the International Monetary Fund credit to Ecuador in 2019 came with certain restraints that would have in no doubt pulled the country into austerity. Even within East African politics, the favoured form of lending is the Chinese model, one that is not dependent on the way the country runs but is dependent on the mutual want for economic prosperity. Regional leaders prefer Beijing’s non-intervention stance compared to the rules and conditions that are attached to finance from the IMF or the World Bank.
Washington has a large military presence in East Africa and it has committed itself to coordinating with East African armed forces and fighting against terrorist organisations such as al-Shabab and under the Trump administration the US conducted a record amount of drone strikes in Somalia. It has a military base in Djibouti and it is the primary camp of operations for the US Africa Command. It supports approximately 4,000 joint, allied military, civilian personnel and Department of Defence contractors.
China on has also been engaging in military expansion in the region and also set up its first base in Djibouti. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) base is ironically not too far from America’s Camp Lemonnier. Beijing aims to use its base to provide military logistics and to also engage in counter-piracy missions. One similarity that we can see from both states, is their commitment to improving pacifism within East Africa, this is evident through its pledge to increase peacekeeping troops in South Sudan.
Competition between these two powers economically and military is going to be an important feature in global politics for the foreseeable future. We are seeing the rise of a China that envisions the future being one where it regains the military and economic supremacy it had centuries before. We are seeing a United States doing all it can to maintain the international order that it established. Are we now seeing a world of bipolar powers operating within their own spheres of influence?
Recent engagements between new President Joe Biden and Prime Minster Boris Johnson would suggest that they want to grow cooperation between themselves and other "like-minded" democratic countries. Trump's successor even suggested that the US and the UK establish an infrastructure plan to rival the Belt and Road initiative. This comes after Biden responded the following about Xi Jinping's global ambition: "it is not going to happen on my watch because the United States is going to continue to grow.” . The next 4 years will show us how these two remarkable powers interact with each other. Let us see what the future holds.
Written by Paul Odomel
Paul Odomel is a columnist at DecipherGrey