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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 10:10, January 04, 2005
Review: International politics in 2004 (I)
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Catch up, or stay away!

Editor's note: international politics underwent dramatic changes in the year of 2004: the "post-Saddam" Iraq is still mired in war, testing both the "military power" and "internal strength" of the world's only superpower; will Bush's reelection mean more wars in the name of "anti-terrorism"? The European Union absorbed 10 members in one breath and formulated the European constitution, and does that mean another "superpower" is on the horizon? Will the split between America and Europe, once "comrades and brothers", further widen? Will the warming up East Asia Community bring true unity to the region? How a Palestine without Arafat embraces peace? And what a future the Putin-led Russia is heading for? People's Daily invited its correspondents, international news editors, related scholars and some net friends to discuss these questions together.

I.What are the changes in international politics 2004? Are there any of them causing impact on the structure of international relations?

Huang Qing (International news editor of People's Daily):

The development in international politics 2004 is the continuation of all kinds of contradictions and problems of the previous year, and it seemed that none of these events is capable of changing the global pattern. There seem two clashing trends in the development of Today's world. One is economic globalization and the other is the upswing of national sentiments. And the latter is just a cultural reaction against the former.

Things seemed going on in 2004. With Bush's successful reelection, neo-conservatism wins endorsement from the public will. With a quite strong color of cultural nationalism, neocon puts the United States atop in politics, stresses traditional American values in culture and tinges with Christian fundamentalism in religion. Many Latin-American countries went through general elections and mid-term elections this year (including the referendum to decide weather the Venezuelan President would stay). Left-wing forces achieved victories in Uruguay, Brazil and Chile against a background of strong public call for social justice in the region, showing a rebound of neo-liberalism economic policies. Meanwhile, longing for national or regional ethnic characters in this region also displayed a revival of nationalism culture. EU expanded to 25 member states and passed the European Constitution. This is an active step towards regional politics integration, but it also stirred up the old grudges between Germany and Poland, thus demonstrating tenacious nationalism in different states as well as cultural vulnerability in EU expansion. Besides, EU displayed itself an inclination of stressing European characters. In East Asia, it is known to all that the right-wing nationalism is on the upsurge in Japan.

Following "The Clash of Civilizations", Mr. Samuel P. Huntington published his new theories, saying today's world is composed of two types of people -- the transnational elites who call for globalization, and the masses living within nation states. Huntington's assertions are open to discussion, but his sharp observation on the situation seems beyond doubt.

Yan Xuetong (Director of Institute of International Studies, Tsinghua University):

The world pattern experienced the following new changes in 2004:

1.In the world pattern of "several powers against one superpower", the power balance among the "several powers" had began to change

The Cold War, ended in 1991, has left the world in a pattern of "several powers against one superpower". Although power balance between the two saw no substantial change, the composition of the "several powers" and the power balance among them experienced noticeable changes. First of all, advancement in European political integration enabled EU to replace some European nations originally found among the "several powers". Based on economic integration, EU passed the European Constitution in 2004, and since then it has become the top power unit among the "several powers". Then, China is rising up to become the second power unit in the ranking of the "several powers", among them, however, Japan and Russia declined in the position of strength

2.The strategic relations between the "several powers" and "one superpower" have begun to ease

Three major strategic relations have formed in the post-Cold-War world pattern of "several powers against one superpower" -- US-Japan alliance, NATO formed by US and Europe and China-Russian strategic partnership.

The divergence between the United States and its European allies further widened in 2004, which has made NATO a more politics-oriented organization with the decline of a military alliance. Structural conflicts emerged between China and Japan in East Asia. At the same time, China has developed its strategic ties with EU. In 2004, Russia-China, Russia-EU strategic relations have seen new progress and the three parties took the same stand on many major international issues. In the coming five years, strategic relations among big nations will follow a trend in which the US, Japan and Britain often take one side, while China, Russia and EU often take the other side.

3.Regional integration has made global pattern unclear

The year of 2004 have seen fresh progress in the process of regional integration, during which region awareness has become a new concept. EU has started making efforts to foster Europe awareness and East Asian countries have called for awareness of E. Asia. Latin America, Africa and S. Asia all have begun to discuss substantial regional integration.

The tendency of European integration obviously aims at changing the unit of the world pattern. It is still too early to say whether sub-regional integration will change fundamentally the unit of world pattern, that is, it remains undecided weather the future world pattern is composed by nations or by regional groups.

II. In 2004, does the United States, the "sole superpower", look stronger, or does it expose more of its weak points? Does Bush's successful reelection mean that neo-conservatism, which has the endorsement of American voters, will continue to guide the US foreign policy?

Liu Aicheng(People's Daily correspondent in the United States):

During the outgoing year the United States has continued to show off its "strength" in many places. But facts prove that it's better to say the nation has become tougher rather than more powerful, because behind the artificial toughness lies its weaknesses featuring its ability falling short of its wishes and its failure in carrying out its intention.

The Iraq issue is a case in point. The United States had planned to quickly put things in order in Iraq after toppling Saddam Hussein, but the result was that the United States was bogged down deep in a quagmire; the frequent occurrence of resistance attacks and hostage events has led to the early withdrawal of many allies from the coalition forces; the prisoner abuse scandal has sparked soaring anti-American sentiment; and the swift and ruthless suppression by force has given rise to more potential dangers. Viewed from a broader perspective, the anti-terrorism war launched by the United States with Iraq as the main battlefield has caused more terrorist incidents as it is being carried on and has affected the whole world. What gives Washington more headaches is that US troops in Iraq are suffering ever-heavier casualties and losses, which reveals their two major weak points -- inadequate military strength at the front and deficient financial resources in the rear. The huge US financial deficit has reached US$415 billion this year, including US$225 billion spent on the Iraqi war. The Congress had to approve further lifting the government's national debt ceiling by US$800 billion, adding up to a total of over US$8 trillion. Enlarged deficit has hindered the development of domestic economy and the improvement of social welfare and has thus aroused dissatisfaction from the people.

The biggest weakness behind the US "strength" is its nature of being self-centered and exceedingly arrogant worldwide. As a result, the country has become more isolated as its rift with European allies and many other countries around the world has widened.

Bush's reelection indicates that neo-conservatism has gained the upper hand in the US society, providing a more solid ground for the Bush administration. Bush's new cabinet looks more hawkish and its foreign policy is believed to be tougher since the Republicans are now controlling both houses of the Congress.

Yuan Peng( deputy director of the Institute of American Studies of the Research Center of China Contemporary International Relations):

In 2004, the United States continues to fully display its "hard strength". After wining the Iraq war, the United States seized the moment to exercise its military muscles to deter Iran and Syria, direct Afghanistan election, conduct global re-deployment of its military forces, accelerate construction of the missile defense system and substantially expand military spending. These measures have given a dynamic show to the military strength of the United States as the sole superpower, demonstrating its "hard strength" which other countries are unable to match. Behind this strength, however, lie the three major structural weaknesses of the Untied States.

First is the dramatic decline of the influence and radiation force of its "soft strength". This has been shown in the exposure of the prisoner abuse scandal, the tense US-EU ties, the centrifugal tendencies of Asia-Pacific allies such as Australia and the ROK, as well as diminished US influence in the ASEAN region. Lacking support of this "soft strength", the US ability to dominate the world is inevitably weakened remarkably.

Second is its domestic political, social and ethnic division. The latest general election reflected a situation featuring the polarization of US society, and the American nation, with WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Puritan) at its core, is facing the problem of maintaining the national cohesion.

Third is the loss of its anti-terrorism orientation. Should the United States put anti-terrorism and anti-proliferation at top priority, or continue to assert that threat comes from big, traditional power? The current US strategy seems organically combining the two, but in fact this can hardly break away from the paradox.

We should say that there is no positive connection between Bush's reelection and neo-conservatism. Bush's success mainly attributes to three reasons. First, the era of "anti-terrorism" helped him succeed, the inadvisability of the saying "change leader at a critical moment" finds a clear expression in the general election this time. Second, conservative ideas also helped him. In a sense, the presidential election can be called a duel between conservatism and liberalism. Bush's conservative ideas fit in with right-deviation tendency of the American society after the Cold-War as well as with the conservative national sentiment roused by "September 11", which, to a great extent, helped him win the election. Third, Bush's rival set him off to advantage. John Kerry lacked systematic policy proposition and glamorous personality, and this constitutes the important reasons for his failure. Therefore, The voters' selection of Bush doesn't mean that they endorse "neo-conservatism". On the contrary, many supporters of Bush take an aversion to "neo-conservatism".

However, the soil on which "neo-conservatism" depend for its survival still exists, and its core members still remain in the Bush administration, whose influence admits of no underestimation. In this sense, Bush's tough foreign line can hardly have a fundamental change. With Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State, however, the future policies of Bush will be less contained by "neo-conservatism" forces, instead, Bush will make decisions on his own in most cases. The "Bush + Rice color" pattern will play a leading role in his second term. Compared with neo-conservatism, although Bush and Rice also put strength above all else, they are more practical and rational in the use of strength.

III. EU has seen the biggest expansion in its history. What major problems will it face in the initial stage of "digesting'' the ten new members? Will EU be a "superpower'' or a "supranational federation''? This year NATO has realized its expansion to the east. How do we look at its future?

Yao Li (People's Daily correspondent in Belgium):

EU made its fifth expansion on May 1, which is also the biggest expansion in its history with the number of its member nations reaching to 25. The eastern expansion makes EU enter into a new stage of development with more influence. However, the expansion has brought new problems to EU. The expansion will have a negative impact on EU integration if without proper dealing with it.

Problem 1: the policy-making ability may be weakened. The decision-making mechanism made for the original six founding nations not adapt to the demand for the 25-member EU. For many years, EU often made "no decision after holding talks'' or was hard to make a decision after talks'' on some major issues, which is more outstanding after its eastward expansion. There are some reforms for relevant mechanisms stipulated in the draft European Constitution, which is waiting to be tested by time if they are effective.

Problem 2: the imbalance in the development of the EU internal economy is expanding. The entry of the middle and eastern European into EU makes its economic gap inside EU become larger. After entry into EU what the new members are looking forward to is that they want to get financial subsidies to improve their economic development, which will reduce the regional funds assistance enjoyed by the original underdeveloped regions of EU. It is difficult on how to divide the financial "cake''.

Problem 3: the issue of immigrants and employment causes anxiety. Will the eastward expansion bring about a new round of immigration tide, have an impact on the already uptight employment market and bring many problems of society and security? The common people of the old EU members are worried about this.

As to the future development of EU, there have existed divergences among EU members. When making the constitution there were heated discussions on a "federal future of Europe'' or "European Federalism''. Nevertheless it can be certain that EU is far away from a "supper power''. It is hard for EU to carry out a common policy of diplomacy and security with asymmetric development of the economic and politic integration. And more obstacles are available for member states to transfer their sovereignty to EU. At the present stage EU can only be developed and improved on the "supranational federation''.

Feng Zhongping (European Research Institute of the China Research Academy of Contemporary International Relations):

EU has completed its political aim by expansion this year. But a more arduous task is ahead for EU, that is the "digestion problem''. "Digestion'' contains mainly two aspects. First of all the great gaps in the areas of economy and society between the old and new members should be reduced. An American reporter to Europe said, "EU expansion turns the deluxe club consisting of 15 like-minded nations into a street market consisting of some countries with different wealth, status and viewpoint''. From this we can see the austerity and imminence for solving the poor and rich problem existed in EU. The key to solving the problem lies on the expansion of the trade among the old and new members and on the transfer of the funds and technology from the developed regions to the east. Another "digestion'' task is: making 25 member nations approve the signed European Constitution smoothly. There is a lot of bother signing the constitution. But it is even more difficult to get approval from referendum or parliaments.

I think the European Constitution does not change the nature of EU fundamentally. EU is still an alliance consisting of nations with sovereignty. Of cause, the continuous development of European integration means the increase of the transferring parts offered by sovereign nations. The European Constitution has improved integration in areas of endowing the legal status to EU, increasing the right of the European parliament and enlarging the voting scope, which results in the increase of the federal elements of EU. However, the decision-making rights in the major areas of diplomacy, national defense and tax revenues are still controlled by member nations. EU will not become a "superpower'' in the foreseeable future as there are great divergences in EU, especially among the big powers. But I believe EU will become very important "super strength'' or "supranational alliance''. After the end of Cold War, especially the September 11 incident, the changes of international security situation as a whole is favorable to EU in playing an important role internationally.

Li Shuisheng (the world military research department of the Academy of Military Sciences):

NATO made the biggest expansion in its history. There are four development trends for NATO in the future:

First, NATO's status and role as a pillar for European security cannot be changed. At present the European independent defense is devoted to dealing with some small-sized European security within the framework of NATO, which is relatively independent. To a certain degree, it has merging relations and does not challenge the status of NATO as a pillar for European security. Second, as an important tool for US to realize its global strategy NATO will continue to expand eastward and will not eliminate the possibility of going over Europe. Third, as a regional international military and political organization it will get involved in more security affairs outside of the region with an obvious outside-oriented tendency. Finally, appeared as a military organization NATO has strengthened its political role with a tendency of multilateral functions. NATO has given more political influence to politics outside of Europe, for example, taking part in the reconstruction and keeping peace in Afghanistan and Iraq. NATO's eastward expansion also shows political significance. After the end of Cold War, NATO's inclusion of the republics of former Soviet Union in its east expansion not only marks the further expansion of the western military strength headed by the US, but also shows the consolidation and development of its ideology in the east Europe.

Certainly, NATO expansion has also led to the aggravation of some contradictions inside NATO. Firstly, the eastward expansion has further weakened the "unanimity" action mechanism. With the disintegration of its powerful enemy the Soviet Union, US and Europe contractions become obvious and the "unanimous'' action principle has been challenged. Following the veto of NATO's "defending Turkey'' motion, this November another 10 nations refused to take part in the Iraqi task. Under this circumstance, it is estimated that US either take action by itself or take action with some of NATO members, or reform the existing action mechanism of NATO. Secondly, after the eastward expansion, the economic gaps among NATO member nations will be larger and the military integration of NATO will be hard to realize.

IV. Has the anti-terrorist war waged by the United States destroyed terrorist organizations' ability to launch new massive terrorist attacks? The United States is redeploying its military forces across the world for the purpose of fighting against terrorism, what impact will this exert on the international security situation?

Wang Baofu (deputy director of the Strategy Research Institute of China's National Defense University):

After the "9.11" event, the United States launched two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and took military actions against terrorism in other regions of the world. In its counter-terror score report, the United States repeatedly listed the number of terrorist organizations destroyed and the amount of funds frozen. No doubt this is important, but the fundamental aim of anti-terrorism is to eliminate the common threat posed by terrorism to various countries and make people feel universal safety. But in reality, this is not the case.

After the Iraq war, worldwide terrorist attacks have increased instead of decrease; the origin of terrorism has not been eliminated, some conflicts have intensified; the social foundation essential for terrorist organizations' survival has not sagged, instead it has expanded in some regions.

Many international experts on anti-terrorism all hold that al-Qaeda is undergoing regrouping and the scope of terrorist attacks will possibly be widened. This shows that the US anti-terror wars have not completely destroyed terrorists' ability to launch large-scale attacks, otherwise there is no need for the United State to frequently sound the alarm for the defense of its own homeland.

US present adjustment is aimed at altering the structure and function of overseas military deployment. According to the new plan, the United States will make drastic adjustments to the three major systems of overseas forces stationed in Europe, East Asia and the Middle East.

In Europe, it will shift part of its military forces in Germany to Eastern Europe; in Northeast Asia, it will withdraw one-third of its ground combat forces from the Republic of Korea (ROK), and at the same time adjust the commanding system, strengthen the naval and air forces in that region; in the Middle East, it will shift its focus of deployment to Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Iraq. The purpose of the US military adjustment is to control the key areas which will significantly affect US security in the future, so as to ensure more flexible and effective application of its military forces, in particular, to avoid being hindered by certain international political and diplomatic factors when Washington is determined to support its unilateral diplomatic moves by military means.

Undoubtedly, anti-terror war is an important element driving forward US adjustment of its overseas forces. However, the target of the adjustment far surpasses its anti-terrorist need. It reflects the US strategic intention: Control the key strategic areas, fight major rivals and guard against potential challengers. Precisely because of this, its adjustment of military disposition will inevitably affect international and regional security.

Song Xiuju ( reader):

We should have a dialectic view on US fight against terrorism. During the Afghanistan war, this fight had its justness, providing the international community with a common product of security. But as the war was over, US counter-terrorism became a facade, a fig leaf for America to continue seeking world hegemony.

V. A noticeable rift arose in US-European relationship as a result of the Iraq war. Has this relationship been mended in 2004? Is it permanent or reparable? What's the development trend of the US-European relations after the US presidential election?

Jiang Jianguo (People's Daily correspondent in Germany):

There is no fundamental improvement in US-European relations this year because the deep rift caused by the Iraq war is still there. I think, we cannot say that the rift is irreparable but it can be said with certainty that it is very difficult to restore. This is because the fundamental reason for the worsening US-European ties lies in the fact that the Soviet Union, a common enemy, which once tied the United States and Europe together, no longer exists. The ending of the Cold War era determined that their relations are moving toward relaxation. While the US and Europe have not reached a consensus on the orientation of the international situation and on the whereabouts of the main enemy, the US was pushed by the "9.11" event on to the road of taking fighting against terrorism and safeguarding its own safety as the focal point of its diplomatic policy.

In the Cold War period, Europe had to rely on US protection for security, therefore a close relationship between the two had to be maintained. Now the US reckons that it can only count on its power for its own safety and it does not require Europe to contribute money and efforts, so it is impossible for the bilateral relations to be close. There is no need for the US to heal the relationship, so the two, drifting apart, will be cold to each other within a considerably long period of time.

Europe was much concerned over the US presidential election and hoped to improve the relations by taking advantage of this opportunity. But Bush's reelection dashed Europe's hope, making it hard for people to expect a substantial improvement in the US-European relations. Germany's Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung said in an editorial that most Europeans are opposed to the leader's role of the United States and they hope that Europe can be more independent. This is not a problem of anti-Bushism. What concealed in it is the fundamental difference across the Atlantic Ocean, especially when it comes to the question of using force. Therefore, Bush's next four years will not see a harmonious relationship between Europe and the US. I think such judgment is well-based and accurate.

Lu Zhongwei (head of China Modern International Relations Research Institute):

Since the outbreak of the Iraq war, the Pacific Ocean has seen high waves and surging tides, and the bilateral relations went farther and farther apart. After Bush's reelection, the US would further "abuse power to seek influence" and give prominence to the continuity and offensiveness of its diplomatic policies. Its relations and contradictions with Europe will witness turbulence from time to time due to the following factors.

First, neo-conservatives will still dominate the "study" (the followers) and "kitchen" (the cabinet) of the second-term Bush administration, whose views on Europe run against Internationalism. They think that the view on the international situation and security of the US and Europe are "cars on different tracks." Bush's victory in the presidential election indicates that voters regard him as "anti-terror commander". The US diplomacy " of drawing line of demarcation in accordance with anti-terrorism" and the associated military and security policies will still hinder the improvement of US-European relations.

Second, the US-European contradictions are not simple battles for oil interest or geo-strategy. The root is the clash of "strategic culture". Germany and France advocate multi-polar order, the role of the United Nations, preventive diplomacy, which are the new "European version" of security and diplomatic thoughts, and embody Europe's new strategic ideas and inevitably collide with the conservative "old US."

Third, in terms of the re-positioning of the US-European alliance, the rift is hard to be healed. After the "9.11" event, the United States required the allied relations to transcend the Cold War and comply with the new world strategy represented by anti-terror security and preemption. Japan follows closely, pushing its relations with the US up to new stage. The development of cross-Pacific Ocean relations looks like a mirror refracting the contradicting European and US strategies and a "dwarfing" Europe in the US world strategy.

On the other hand, however, it should also be noticed that the foundation for cooperation and consensus still exists for the US and Europe, who are of the same origin. First, the two share considerable consensus on the international situation after the "9.11" event. On global security issues, such as the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula and Iran nuclear crisis, the two share common interests and need to jointly shoulder the responsibility for international security. Second, if the differences expand, the European integration process will be vitally affected. Europe can be integrated only on the basis of an alliance with the US, anti-US can only lead Europe to separation. Third, the security on the European continent still needs great support from the United States, nevertheless, Europe has showcased powerful "soft strength" in terms of international finance, politics, diplomacy, negotiations etc. In face of the new international and regional situation, the two sides will have more prominent complementary bilateral relations and the significance of cooperation will be more realistic.

Therefore, the result of the development of US-European contradictions will be the weakening of the allied relations: the "comrade-plus-brother" relations will turn into "normal" relations -- a normal phenomenon in the process of "letting all have a say" instead of "just one has the say".

VI. At the end of October 2004, the Uruguayan Left wingers won the elections. What are the reasons for the continued development of the Left-wing forces in Latin America? How to evaluate the governance of the Latin American Left-wing governments?

Fan Jianqing (People's Daily correspondent in Argentina):

The first few years of the 21st century are a period in which the economy of Latin America suffered setbacks while the neutral and left parties won elections one after another. By early last November when the Left-wing Union in Uruguay won the election, the neutral-Left wings had held political power in major Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina. The electoral victories do not mean that Left-wing forces have found a way out of the "Latin American pitfall", rather, it is mainly due to the failure of the neo-liberalism reform carried out by the Right wing.

The Latin American neo-liberalism reform prospering in the 1990s once pushed the development of Latin American economy, but at the same time caused a series of financial crises and many other economic problems. Most importantly, neo-liberalism reform led to serious social contradictions: more obvious inequity in distribution and the rising proportion of poverty-stricken population.

The core difference between the Left and Right political forces in Latin America is a choice between development and distribution. When the Second World War ended, the level of Latin America's development was higher than that in East Asia. Compared to East Asia's stress on the accumulation and development of culture, Latin Americans value distribution and welfare. Quite a few Latin American countries have established social welfare systems similar to those in the European countries. However, the problem is, the level of the Latin American economy could not prop up a European-style welfare system. The most primary challenge facing the neutral-Left forces, which had taken the power one after another, was to find a balance between efficiency and fairness, between the limited economic strength and the social welfare expected by the lower-middle strata.

Liu Jixin (director of the political office of the Institute for Latin America Studies under Chinese Academy of Social Sciences):

Several factors are important for Latin America to extricate itself out of predicament.

First, world-sweeping mass movements against the West-dominated globalization prompt the Left-wing of Latin America to step onto the" anti-globalization" frontline and become the major leading force.

Second, the negative impacts of the neo-liberalism economic reform become increasingly obvious and people have realized that capitalism and marketization are not a cure for all the problems. People's desire for changes provides the Left wing with a mass foundation for rejuvenation.

Third, the Europe-originated "third way" theory provides theoretical guidance for the Latin American Left-wing forces. Latin American Left-wing governments, against the backdrop of increasingly sharp contradictions between neo-liberalism and nationalism, have opened up a path featuring the combination of the market economy with the role of the state and simultaneous participation in economic globalization and upholding of national interest.

Fourth, the unilateral tendency of the United States after the Cold War ignited dissatisfaction of various Latin American social sectors.

Nevertheless, the rise of Latin American Left wing is still in the initial stage and the balance of power on the political circles of Latin America has not taken on a substantial change. Currently, most Left-wing governments are accepting the free market economy mode, which is now dominating the world, while, in social and diplomatic affairs, they are adopting more Left-tinged policies. Under the general trend of economic globalization, Latin American Left-wing governments can act along with the situation and make policy choice based on the reality-- a manifestation of their maturity. (to be continued)

The article, carried on the seventh page of the People's Daily, December 23, is translated by People's Daily Online

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