President Trump views geopolitics as a zero-sum game. For America to win someone else must lose. This binary perspective of international relations is poles apart from the foreign policy values that America has espoused for close to a century. At the end of the Second World War, an informal covenant was struck between America and the rest of the world. The United States would create and lead a new liberal world order and in exchange they would cede their superpower supremacy by constraining themselves within their own regulatory system.
As President Trump puts “America First”, he is reneging on this pact by claiming that the liberal world order rules no longer need apply to the United States. This decades-old understanding – that America would help guarantee democracy, the rule of international law, and free trade – fragments further with every America First policy. As the President abandons the Trans-Pacific Partnership and slaps on protectionist tariffs on solar panels and steel he is undermining the economic system of free trade that the United States pioneered and underwrote for decades. By abandoning the Paris Climate Accords, President Trump demonstrated that America doesn’t value cooperation and internationalism over a mercantilist bottom-line.
Over the last decades, the U.S led world order has been slowly cracking, every retreat of the Trump administration accelerates this process. Other nations are filling this power-vacuum.
For instance, Xi Jinping unveiled in 2013 the One Belt One Road Initiative, an infrastructure mega-project that promotes a China-centered trade system.
Through these infrastructure investments, China is both rewriting the customary practices of international trade and consolidating its regional influence. One of the major avenues for this investment is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC, a project with important geopolitical ramifications for the United States. CPEC is a collection of infrastructure ventures throughout Pakistan worth upwards of $62 billion. They aim to overhaul Pakistani transportation links and energy infrastructure and to create a dynamic economic corridor spanning from the Chinese region of Xinjiang to the Pakistani port of Gwadar in Balochistan on the Arabian Sea.
Although these investments are beneficial for the economies of partner countries, China stands to gain from them too. One Belt One Road and CPEC are part of an ambitious strategy to attract more nations into its sphere of influence as well as simultaneously safeguarding Chinese economic interests. CPEC shrinks China’s vulnerability to U.S pressure in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, where most of its shipping must pass. And as much of the One Belt One Road and CPEC investment is financed by Chinese debt, they gain privileged access to the new infrastructure links for decades to come.
Countries across Asia, the Middle-East, and Europe are being drawn closer to China and away from the United States. American attempts to slow the progress of One Belt One Road have mostly fallen flat and President Trump’s protectionist worldview is not helping. A new world order is forming and although it is hard to tell what it might look like, liberal democracy will no longer be its bedrock. As the American geopolitical leadership is asleep at the wheel, one needs only to look East to Pakistan to see what the future holds.
Article by Fergus Opedebeeck-Wilson