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Characteristics of the New Cycle in the Development of International Relations

国际关系发展新周期的特点

Introduction

Note: The following translation is one of six entries in a roundtable discussion convened by two state think tanks in the spring of 2019. Participants were all eminent Chinese academics. Their task was to analyze the slogan “Great Changes Unseen in a Century.” A general introduction to the seminar and the slogan it discusses can be found here.

When Zhu Feng surveyed the international scene in 2019, he saw a world of unseen dangers, unstable orthodoxies, and uncertain futures. His contribution to this roundtable concedes that “in terms of the allocation of rights, wealth and interests” the ‘great changes unseen in a century’ identified by the party leadership “are the result of China’s unprecedented advance toward the center of the world stage,” but this advance towards greatness does not ease his worries. He worries that China rises as the world fractures. Zhu fears that these once-in-a-century fractures might be enough to derail China’s journey to the center of a new world order. 

Zhu’s contribution to the roundtable is preoccupied with the institutional and ideological failure of what Zhu calls “traditional liberal internationalism.” He tells us that “the United States’ most fundamental hegemonic value system… is at present encountering unprecedented challenges.” The developing world no longer “proceeds according to the Western model,” but has instead become a “site of experimentation in ideology.” China and Russia go further still, “holding high the banner” of anti-liberalism. But the most important developments have occurred within the West itself, as Americans and Europeans have turned their back on the path they pioneered. “As the transformation of the world commences,” Zhu concludes, “all that any country can do is to strengthen its own national power, [then] return to the cult of ethno-nationalism and a reliance on political strongmen.”

All of the entries in this roundtable were originally delivered as spoken comments at a seminar co-hosted by Nanjing University’s China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea and were subsequently published by Asia Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs, the center’s policy journal.1 For the sake of publication, most participants rewrote their comments as tightly argued essays. Zhu, who heads center, seems to have gotten away with publishing his comments as delivered. His piece is looser, less organized, and more informal than the other scholars’ arguments; it can be difficult to discern how Zhu’s many points cohere into a single whole. 

The most likely connecting thread comes with the closing warning of Zhu’s piece: “[Our] problem is that we lack the awareness that our rise as a great power brings not only the prospect for glory, but even more so the specter of risk.” This comment bore the mark of its times: no intellectual would accuse the Beijing foreign policy elite of underplaying “the specter of risk” today. For the last three years both academic and official discussion of “great changes unseen in a century” have been paired with increasingly dire assessments of risk.1 As Xi stated in his report to the 20th Congress:

Great changes unseen in a century are accelerating across the world… the once-in-a-century pandemic has had far-reaching effects; a backlash against globalization is rising; and unilateralism and protectionism are mounting… The world has entered a new period of turbulence and change… [where] external attempts to suppress and contain China may escalate at any time.

Our country has entered a period of development in which strategic opportunities, risks, and challenges are concurrent and uncertainties and unforeseen factors are rising... We must therefore be more mindful of potential dangers, be prepared for danger in times of peace, and be ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters, and even dangerous storms.2

When General Secretary Xi declared that the world was undergoing “great changes unseen in a century” for the first time, the phrase was tinged with triumph.3 No longer. Now Xi Jinping, like Zhu Feng before him, uses the slogan to describe his fears of once-in-a-century risks. 

THE EDITORS

1 For an extensive discussion on this theme, see Taylor Fravel, "Testimony before the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission, hearing on" US-China Relations at the Chinese Communist Party’s Centennial," 28 January 2021, pp.1-7; See also Sheena Chesnut Greitens, "Internal Security & Chinese Strategy," Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, hearing on "The United States' Strategic Competition with China," 8 June 2021, pp. 3-4 and Greitens, "Xi Jinping's Quest for Order: Security at Home, Influence Abroad."Foreign Affairs,3 October 2022.
2 Slightly adapted from Xi Jinping, “Transcript: President Xi Jinping's report to China's 2022 party congress,” Nikkei Asia (18 October 2022). In Chinese the passage reads:

世界百年未有之大变局加速演进….  世纪疫情影响深远,逆全球化思潮抬头,单边主义、保护主义明显上升…. 世界进入新的动荡变革期… 我国发展进入战略机遇和风险挑战并存…. 我们必须增强忧患意识,坚持底线思维,做到居安思危、未雨绸缪,准备 .受风高浪急甚 至惊涛骇浪的重大考验。
3 See the introductory page to this roundtable for a translation of Xi’s original statement and a discussion of the context in which it was given.
Author
Zhu Feng
朱锋
original publication
Asia Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs
《亚太安全与海洋研究》
publication date
March 3, 2019
Translator
Samuel George
Translation date
November 2022
Tags
Tag term
Tag term
Advancing Towards The Center of The World Stage
走近世界舞台中央

Chinese officials and diplomats often describe China’s return to national greatness as a process of “advancing towards the center of the world stage.” As with other aspirational aims associated with China’s NATIONAL REJUVENATION, this “advance towards the center of the world stage” is intended to be completed by 2049, the centennial anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Most of the central leadership’s aspirations for 2049 concern domestic affairs: this phrase is one of the rare statements of what a fully rejuvenated China means for the rest of the world. 

The phrase “advancing towards the center of the world stage” was introduced in a 2011 People’s Daily editorial and saw periodic use in the early days of Xi Jinping. Xi elevated the slogan’s importance in his report to the 19th Party Congress. There he tied the claim that “our country advances ever closer to the center of the world stage” [我国日益走近世界舞台中央] to his declaration that the Party had entered a NEW ERA [新时代] in its history. As Mao gave China independence, and Deng made China prosperous, so would Xi Jinping help China “become strong.”  This stronger, more assertive China could then turn its eyes outside of China’s borders to “make greater contributions to mankind” [为人类作出更大贡献]. In Xi’s judgment, growing Chinese influence over the future of the species is an integral part of moving China to the world’s “center stage.” 

Phrases like “advancing towards the center of the world stage” and “making greater contributions to mankind” suggest the global scope of Chinese ambition while obscuring its ultimate object. An official Xinhua commentary on the 19th Congress provides an unusually forthright description of what this advance entails:

China has stood up, grown rich and become strong. It will advance  toward center stage and make greater contributions for mankind. By 2050, two centuries after the Opium Wars, which plunged the "Middle Kingdom" into a period of hurt and shame, China is set to regain its might and re-ascend to the top of the world.
…China's success proves that socialism can prevail and be a path for other developing countries to emulate and achieve modernization. China is now strong enough, willing, and able to contribute more for mankind. The new world order cannot be just dominated by capitalism and the West, and the time will come for a change (Xinhua, "Commentary: Milestone congress points to new era for China, the world," 2017).

Xinhua associates the “advance towards the center of the world stage” with a world order that is no longer capitalist nor Western-led; the less circumspect writing of Chinese academics and public intellectuals use the phrase in a similar fashion. The slogan should thus serve as a reminder that China’s leadership believes that the road to NATIONAL REJUVENATION demands structural changes to the world outside of China’s borders.


See also:   CENTURY OF NATIONAL HUMILIATION; COMMUNITY OF COMMON DESTINY FOR ALL MANKIND; GREAT REJUVENATION OF THE CHINESE NATION; GREAT CHANGES UNSEEN IN A CENTURY;

Great Changes Unseen in a Century
百年未有的大变局

The phrase “Great Changes Unseen in a Century,” sometimes translated by official party media as “Profound Changes Unseen in a Century,” was first used by Chinese academics following the Great Recession. The phrase is associated with the dangers and opportunities posed by American decline, and has been adopted by THE CENTER as a programmatic assessment of a changing world order. 

“Great Changes” was officially elevated into the party lexicon in 2017, when then-State Councilor Yang Jiechi described it as a guiding tenet of Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy. Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy was formally adopted by the party in a 2018 Central Foreign Affairs Work Conference, where Xi informed the collected leadership of the Chinese diplomatic corp and state security apparatus that

China now finds itself in the best period for development it has seen since the advent of the modern era; [simultaneously], the world faces great changes unseen in a century. These two [trends] are interwoven, advancing in lockstep; each stimulates the other. Now, and in the years to come, many advantageous international conditions exist for success in foreign affairs (Xi Jinping, “Break New Ground in China’s Major-Country Diplomacy,” in Governance of China, vol III).

Xi’s comments followed a tradition laid out in innumerable Party documents, speeches, and regulations, which present declarations of  policy, especially foreign policy, as following from an  assessment of the “overall landscape” (全局) “inherent tendencies” (大势), or “the great trends” (大趋势) of the historical moment in which the Party finds itself. “Great changes unseen in a century” is a shorthand for the central leadership’s current assessment of the future trajectory of the international order.

The slogan invokes a slew of great changes that shook global politics one century ago: the collapse of British hegemony and the European imperial system following WWI and the concurrent rise of the United States and the Soviet Union as the predominant powers of world politics. The slogan implies that a similar power transition is now underway, with America playing the role of faltering hegemon, and China the rising  power.  

More substantive discussions of the slogan by Chinese academics and state affiliated scholars trace this power transition to myriad causes: the growing wealth of the developing world, the rise of right-wing populism in Western countries, the debilitating effects that neoliberalism and identity politics have on American power, the resurgence of nationalism across the globe, advances in novel technologies not pioneered by the West, and the proliferation of non-traditional security threats (such as pandemics and terrorist attacks) are all common explanations for the crumbling of the American-led international order. 

Though the phrase was introduced in a rather triumphal tone, the slogan has taken on a darker valence as Sino-American relations have worsened and China has grown more isolated in the international arena. Party propagandists and Chinese academics alike now pair the phrase “great changes unforeseen in a century” with increasingly dire warnings about the unique risks and dangers China faces in the final stage of NATIONAL REJUVENATION. Thus the slogan has come to also signify a warning that China sails into uncharted waters. As Xi Jinping reported in his address to the 20th Congress:

Great changes unseen in a century are accelerating across the world… the once-in-a-century pandemic has had far-reaching effects; a backlash against globalization is rising; and unilateralism and protectionism are mounting… The world has entered a new period of turbulence and change… [where] external attempts to suppress and contain China may escalate at any time.

Our country has entered a period of development in which strategic opportunities, risks, and challenges are concurrent and uncertainties and unforeseen factors are rising... We must therefore be more mindful of potential dangers, be prepared to deal with worst-case scenarios, and be ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters, and even dangerous storms (Xi Jinping, “Political Report to the 20th Congress,” 2022).

See also: ADVANCING TOWARDS THE CENTER OF THE WORLD; COMMUNITY OF COMMON DESTINY FOR ALL MANKIND; GREAT REJUVENATION OF THE CHINESE NATION;

“百年大变局”的新格局体现在两个层次,这两个层次是相互之间有前所未有的历史关联。世界在变,中国也在变,中国向往变革的烈度是在改革开放40年中间最大的。我们经历过最大的变局就是改革开放。但中国的改革开放,是一个逐步由上而下的过程。今天中国有可能开始进入一个自下而上新的变革的过程。我们可以把它当作一个学术的研究。中国的变革同样是特朗普说的双向的过程。 

世界的变化,我总结为四个。 

第一个是权利结构。东西方的平衡前所未有地出现。 

第二个是传统政治路径的选择,比如所谓“普世价值”,欧洲的民粹主义,右翼势力的上升等。 

第三个是身份认同问题。我们讲全球化时代,世界观念、意识形态前所未有的碎片化。所以,身份认同危机的根本原因是什么?这个恰恰是非常简单的基本社会现象。社会在一定程度上,对某些观念、某些建制、某些体制产生适应,过一段时间产生内在的紧张矛盾要进行新的调整。所以,对国际关系认识的观点很简单,就是一种社会生活,包括社会生活的所有特点。 

第四个是治理机制的危机。无论是全球治理、区域治理,还是国家治理,都面临前所未有的挑战。在这种情况下,未来的新趋势、新特点、新方向,回到国际关系研究,就是国际关系的变化发展都有周期性的规律,现在是一个新周期的开始。新的周期有三个非常重要的显著特点。 

第一,再全球化。原来全球化依赖的好的积极的东西,现在正受到巨大的挑战和否定。我记得2008年以前到欧洲到美国去,特别是到欧洲非常典型,欧洲讲的后工业主义变成后现代主义,还有一个是后城市主义。欧洲觉得这种超民主主义的这种生活方式会持续,今天来看不能持续。 

另一个问题就是美元,我们知道美国是金融资本主义,金融业服务业占了80%。过去30年两个国家最成功,一个是中国,一个是美国。美国过去30年GDP翻了一倍的国家,美国实体经济没有任何衰退反而在往前发展。但是美国有结构性的问题,中下层的收入分配,包括社会分工明显,所以民粹主义在上升。 

第二,再意识形态化。传统的自由国际主义、美国最基本的霸权价值观现正受到前所未有的挑战。自由国际主义在做非常大的调整,美国正在对责任义务和利益平衡的战略思考方式做重新改变,美国在回归很简单的所谓的民族国家,中心主义的大战略。不仅在经济上,安全上更是如此。所以从这个角度来讲,这是新周期的第二特点。确实,世界的主流意识形态已前所未有的多样化:

一类是美国变成了另类主义,美国人自己都觉得跟以前不太一样了。如美国媒体说,特朗普是否是俄罗斯利益的代言人,不再是简单为了选举甚至为了特朗普本人的政治和经济的生涯。

二类是中国和俄罗斯为代表的新权为主,我们同样高举这方面的大旗。欧洲变成了弱自由主义,今天都是很大的问题。英国“脱欧”是英国意识形态的选择,也是英国的利益选择,还是今天新的政治和社会主张。 

三类是发展中国家意识形态在多元主义,马来西亚92岁的马哈蒂尔赢得了大选,沙特也在进行世俗化的改造,委内瑞拉的社会主义革命成了一场笑话。发展中国家意识形态空前的多样。越南现在也在寻找民主社会主义的发展。

今天,国际关系中意识形态的最活跃的实验场是发展中国家,不是简单的依照西方模式和东方模式,而是在寻找适合自己的模式。 

第三,再国家化。人们看到全球治理和区域治理在明显推迟。我们看亚洲如此,非盟如此,再看欧盟,若德国、意大利再“脱欧”,欧盟就有解体的危险。当整个世界转型开始、新的周期出现的时候,各国唯一能做的就是把国家实力弄强,重新回归民族主义的崇拜和对政治强人的依赖。日本是个典型。安倍提出要推行新国家战略,日本二战后从来没有像今天这样公开地、而且在取得全民共识的基础上推进大国政策。土耳其也是一个典型,埃尔杜安似乎在恢复奥斯曼土耳其的所谓大国地位。再来看印度,更是前所未有的自信心。 

未来世界不那么灰暗。但世界政治新周期的特点到底会带来什么样的对世界政治的改善?尚有疑问。 

习近平主席讲“百年大变局”,与十九大是完全吻合的,就是强调中国前所未有的走进世界舞台的格局。这是“百年未有之大变局”最重要的注解。从这个角度来说,百年大变局,是因为中国在国际权利财富和利益分配中,前所未有地走近世界中心。但问题是我们缺乏一个认识,即大国崛起不仅是荣誉,更是风险。这个风险在当今时代不是简单的战争与和平。 

新的世界政治发展周期的未来,中国到底是进一步能够缩短和美国的差距,还是像80年代末一样日本重新与美国之间拉开差距、出现断崖式的下降?从国际关系史上说,真正成功崛起的大国屈指可数,中国可能又一次面对大国崛起的前所未有的战略挫折,这才是我们需要去分析的问题。 

The new configuration brought about by the “great changes unseen in a century” is expressed on two levels, which are linked by an unprecedented historical connection. As the world changes, China also changes. The intensity of China’s yearning for change was at its height during the forty years of Reform and Opening. The greatest transformation we have passed through was Reform and Opening. However, China’s Reform and Opening was a step-by-step, top-down process.4 Today, it is possible that China has started to enter a bottom-up process of transformation, which we can treat as an object of academic research. China’s transformation is, as Trump called it, a two-way process.5 

I summarize the changes in the world into four categories. 

The first is the structure of power and wealth, in which an unprecedented balance between East and West has emerged. 

The second are alternatives to traditional political paths, such as so-called “universal values,” European Populism, the rise of right-wing forces, and so forth. 

The third is the question of identity. We talk about the unprecedented fragmentation of globalization, worldviews, and ideologies. So what is the fundamental reason for the crisis of identity? It is an extremely simple and fundamental social phenomenon. On a certain level, societies adapt to certain concepts, certain organizational systems, and certain structures, but after a period of time develop internal tensions and contradictions and must undertake a new [round of] adjustment. Therefore, [this observation] offers a very simple perspective on our understanding of international relations: that it is a type of social organism, including all of the characteristics of a social organism.6

The fourth is the crisis of governance mechanisms. No matter whether [we look at] global governance, regional governance, or national governance, all are facing unprecedented challenges. In this context, the new trends, characteristics, and trajectory of the future—to return to research on international relations—are the consequence of the cyclical laws that govern all change and development in international relations. Now is the start of a new cycle. This new cycle has three very important characteristics that are worth noting.

The first is re-globalization. The very same favorable and affirming factors on which globalization originally depended are at the present moment being gravely challenged and repudiated. I remember going to Europe and the U.S. before 2008 – particularly in Europe [this phenomenon] was very typical – and the post-industrialism they spoke of in Europe had become post-modernism, and there was another concept called post-urbanism. Europeans thought that a way of life [defined by] this type of supra-democracy would persist; today, it looks like it is unable to persist. 

Another issue is the American dollar. We know that America is an exponent of financial capitalism, and the financial services industry makes up 80%.7 In the past 30 years, two countries have been the most successful: one is China and the other is America. In the past 30 years, the U.S. doubled its GDP and its real economy has not only not declined, but rather has continued to grow. But the U.S. has structural problems, including a clear division of labor between different social strata, and so populism is on the rise. 

The second is the re-configuration of ideology. Traditional liberal internationalism, the United States’ most fundamental hegemonic value system, is at present encountering unprecedented challenges. Liberal internationalism is undergoing a major adjustment and the U.S. is again changing its strategic thinking in relation to its responsibilities and duties [on the one hand], and its balance of interests [on the other]. The United States is returning to the very simple grand strategy of Americentrism and the so-called “ethno-state.”8 This is not just happening in the economic realm, but is [happening] to an even greater extent in the security realm. This perspective is therefore the second characteristic of the new cycle. Indeed, the world’s mainstream ideology has already exhibited unprecedented diversification: 

One variety [of this diversification] is that the U.S. has moved towards an unusual alternative ideology. Americans themselves all feel that things are not the same as they were before. As the American media says, the question of whether Trump is the mouthpiece for Russian interests is no longer simply an issue confined to the election or even to the political and economic career of Trump himself. 

The second variety [of this diversification] is the centrality of new powers, represented by China and Russia; we [Russia and China] both hold this particular banner high. Liberalism has been weakened in Europe, which today is a major problem. “Brexit” is Britain’s ideological choice, and also a choice based on Britain’s interests. It is another novel political and social viewpoint of the present day. 

The third variety is [seen in] the diversity of ideology in developing countries: the 92 year-old Mahathir won the election in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia is undertaking secular reforms, Venezuela’s socialist revolution has become a joke. The ideology in developing countries is unprecedentedly diverse. Vietnam is currently attempting democratic-socialist development. 

Today, developing countries are the liveliest sites of experimentation with ideology in international relations. They are not simply proceeding according to the Western model and the Eastern model [of ideology] but are seeking models that suit their own situation. 

The third is the re-emergence of nationalism. People have observed that [developments in] global governance and regional governance have clearly been deferred. We can see that this is the case in Asia and in the African Union; looking at the European Union, if Germany and Italy also choose to follow [the example of] “Brexit,” then the European Union will face the danger of dissolution. As the transformation of the world commences and a new cycle [in international relations] emerges, all that any country can do is to strengthen its own national power, [then] return to the cult of ethno-nationalism and a reliance on political strongmen. Japan is a textbook case.  Abe proposed to pursue a new national strategy. Since the end of World War II, Japan has never advanced a major power strategy, based on the consensus of all Japanese people, as openly as it does today. Turkey is also a textbook case, as Erdogan seems to be [seeking to] restore Turkey to the Great Power status it enjoyed under the Ottoman Empire. And to an even greater extent, India is exhibiting an unprecedented level of self-confidence. 

The future of the world is not just a tale of gloom. But exactly what kind of improvements will the characteristics of the new cycle in world politics bring to world politics? On this point, questions remain. 

The “great changes unseen in a century” that Chairman Xi Jinping speaks of cohere completely with the [proclamations of] the 19th Party Congress; that is, emphasizing the configuration [created by] China’s unprecedented entry onto the world stage. This is the most important interpretation of the “great changes unseen in a century.” From this perspective, the century’s great changes are the result of China’s unprecedented advance toward the center of the world stage in terms of the allocation of rights, wealth and interests. The problem, however, is that we lack the awareness that our rise as a great power brings with it not only the prospect for glory, but even more so the specter of risk.9 In the present era, this risk is not just a simple question of war and peace. 

In the future of this new cycle in the world’s political development, will China be able to further reduce the gap between itself and the United States, or will it, like Japan in the late 1980s, experience a precipitous decline and fall even further behind the United States? From the perspective of the history of international relations, you can count on one hand the number of times a great power has truly succeeded in rising. It is possible that China will face unprecedented strategic setbacks in its rise as a great power once again. This is a potential problem that we must analyze.

4 Though this is a common understanding of Reform and Opening both inside China and outside it, careful scholarship has demonstrated that most of the process of reform was often driven from the bottom up. See, for example, Frank Dikotter, “The silent revolution: Decollectivization from below during the Cultural Revolution,” China Quarterly 277 (2016), 796–811; Ning Wang and Ronald Coase, How China Became Capitalist (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), pp. 112-133, 143, 149; Sebastian Heilmann and Elizabeth ]. Perry, “Embracing Uncertainty: Guerilla Policy Style and Adaptive Governance in China,” in Mao's Invisible Hand, Heilmann and Perry, eds. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 1-30.
5 Center for Strategic Translation editors have not been able to locate the source of this quotation in either Chinese or English; it is likely spurious.
6 Rendered literally, the term would be “social life.” The point here is that international relations is a sociological and anthropological discipline: i.e., it is determined by the full set of material and spiritual conditions that influence human social relations. This description links to the anthropological phenomena he discusses throughout, such as identity crises, populism and so forth.
7 The original text does not make clear what the American financial services industry comprises 80% of.
8 This address was given in 2019 and refers to the major changes in American policy and ideology under Trump. In particular, this is a likely reference to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s 4 December 2018 address in Brussels titled “Restoring the Role of the Nation-State in the Liberal International Order.” A key passage in the speech reads:
Multilateralism has too often become viewed as an end unto itself.  The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done. Was that ever really true?  The central question that we face is that – is the question of whether the system as currently configured, as it exists today, and as the world exists today – does it work? …Every nation – every nation – must honestly acknowledge its responsibilities to its citizens and ask if the current international order serves the good of its people as well as it could.  And if not, we must ask how we can right it.
This is what President Trump is doing.  He is returning the United States to its traditional, central leadership role in the world.  He sees the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.  He knows that nothing can replace the nation-state as the guarantor of democratic freedoms and national interests. 
9  Since the publication of this piece assessments of risk have become an increasingly important part of the discourse surrounding “great changes unseen in a century.” For examples and analysis on this point, see footnote #2. For a larger review of Party conceptions of risk and their relationship to security, see Jude Blanchette, “The Edge of an Abyss: Xi Jinping’s Overall National Security Outlook,” China Leadership Monitor 73 (Fall 2022); Samantha Hoffman, “Programming China: the Communist Party’s autonomic approach to managing state security,” PhD diss, University of Nottingham (2017).

“百年大变局”的新格局体现在两个层次,这两个层次是相互之间有前所未有的历史关联。世界在变,中国也在变,中国向往变革的烈度是在改革开放40年中间最大的。我们经历过最大的变局就是改革开放。但中国的改革开放,是一个逐步由上而下的过程。今天中国有可能开始进入一个自下而上新的变革的过程。我们可以把它当作一个学术的研究。中国的变革同样是特朗普说的双向的过程。 

世界的变化,我总结为四个。 

第一个是权利结构。东西方的平衡前所未有地出现。 

第二个是传统政治路径的选择,比如所谓“普世价值”,欧洲的民粹主义,右翼势力的上升等。 

第三个是身份认同问题。我们讲全球化时代,世界观念、意识形态前所未有的碎片化。所以,身份认同危机的根本原因是什么?这个恰恰是非常简单的基本社会现象。社会在一定程度上,对某些观念、某些建制、某些体制产生适应,过一段时间产生内在的紧张矛盾要进行新的调整。所以,对国际关系认识的观点很简单,就是一种社会生活,包括社会生活的所有特点。 

第四个是治理机制的危机。无论是全球治理、区域治理,还是国家治理,都面临前所未有的挑战。在这种情况下,未来的新趋势、新特点、新方向,回到国际关系研究,就是国际关系的变化发展都有周期性的规律,现在是一个新周期的开始。新的周期有三个非常重要的显著特点。 

第一,再全球化。原来全球化依赖的好的积极的东西,现在正受到巨大的挑战和否定。我记得2008年以前到欧洲到美国去,特别是到欧洲非常典型,欧洲讲的后工业主义变成后现代主义,还有一个是后城市主义。欧洲觉得这种超民主主义的这种生活方式会持续,今天来看不能持续。 

另一个问题就是美元,我们知道美国是金融资本主义,金融业服务业占了80%。过去30年两个国家最成功,一个是中国,一个是美国。美国过去30年GDP翻了一倍的国家,美国实体经济没有任何衰退反而在往前发展。但是美国有结构性的问题,中下层的收入分配,包括社会分工明显,所以民粹主义在上升。 

第二,再意识形态化。传统的自由国际主义、美国最基本的霸权价值观现正受到前所未有的挑战。自由国际主义在做非常大的调整,美国正在对责任义务和利益平衡的战略思考方式做重新改变,美国在回归很简单的所谓的民族国家,中心主义的大战略。不仅在经济上,安全上更是如此。所以从这个角度来讲,这是新周期的第二特点。确实,世界的主流意识形态已前所未有的多样化:

一类是美国变成了另类主义,美国人自己都觉得跟以前不太一样了。如美国媒体说,特朗普是否是俄罗斯利益的代言人,不再是简单为了选举甚至为了特朗普本人的政治和经济的生涯。

二类是中国和俄罗斯为代表的新权为主,我们同样高举这方面的大旗。欧洲变成了弱自由主义,今天都是很大的问题。英国“脱欧”是英国意识形态的选择,也是英国的利益选择,还是今天新的政治和社会主张。 

三类是发展中国家意识形态在多元主义,马来西亚92岁的马哈蒂尔赢得了大选,沙特也在进行世俗化的改造,委内瑞拉的社会主义革命成了一场笑话。发展中国家意识形态空前的多样。越南现在也在寻找民主社会主义的发展。

今天,国际关系中意识形态的最活跃的实验场是发展中国家,不是简单的依照西方模式和东方模式,而是在寻找适合自己的模式。 

第三,再国家化。人们看到全球治理和区域治理在明显推迟。我们看亚洲如此,非盟如此,再看欧盟,若德国、意大利再“脱欧”,欧盟就有解体的危险。当整个世界转型开始、新的周期出现的时候,各国唯一能做的就是把国家实力弄强,重新回归民族主义的崇拜和对政治强人的依赖。日本是个典型。安倍提出要推行新国家战略,日本二战后从来没有像今天这样公开地、而且在取得全民共识的基础上推进大国政策。土耳其也是一个典型,埃尔杜安似乎在恢复奥斯曼土耳其的所谓大国地位。再来看印度,更是前所未有的自信心。 

未来世界不那么灰暗。但世界政治新周期的特点到底会带来什么样的对世界政治的改善?尚有疑问。 

习近平主席讲“百年大变局”,与十九大是完全吻合的,就是强调中国前所未有的走进世界舞台的格局。这是“百年未有之大变局”最重要的注解。从这个角度来说,百年大变局,是因为中国在国际权利财富和利益分配中,前所未有地走近世界中心。但问题是我们缺乏一个认识,即大国崛起不仅是荣誉,更是风险。这个风险在当今时代不是简单的战争与和平。 

新的世界政治发展周期的未来,中国到底是进一步能够缩短和美国的差距,还是像80年代末一样日本重新与美国之间拉开差距、出现断崖式的下降?从国际关系史上说,真正成功崛起的大国屈指可数,中国可能又一次面对大国崛起的前所未有的战略挫折,这才是我们需要去分析的问题。 

The new configuration brought about by the “great changes unseen in a century” is expressed on two levels, which are linked by an unprecedented historical connection. As the world changes, China also changes. The intensity of China’s yearning for change was at its height during the forty years of Reform and Opening. The greatest transformation we have passed through was Reform and Opening. However, China’s Reform and Opening was a step-by-step, top-down process.4 Today, it is possible that China has started to enter a bottom-up process of transformation, which we can treat as an object of academic research. China’s transformation is, as Trump called it, a two-way process.5 

I summarize the changes in the world into four categories. 

The first is the structure of power and wealth, in which an unprecedented balance between East and West has emerged. 

The second are alternatives to traditional political paths, such as so-called “universal values,” European Populism, the rise of right-wing forces, and so forth. 

The third is the question of identity. We talk about the unprecedented fragmentation of globalization, worldviews, and ideologies. So what is the fundamental reason for the crisis of identity? It is an extremely simple and fundamental social phenomenon. On a certain level, societies adapt to certain concepts, certain organizational systems, and certain structures, but after a period of time develop internal tensions and contradictions and must undertake a new [round of] adjustment. Therefore, [this observation] offers a very simple perspective on our understanding of international relations: that it is a type of social organism, including all of the characteristics of a social organism.6

The fourth is the crisis of governance mechanisms. No matter whether [we look at] global governance, regional governance, or national governance, all are facing unprecedented challenges. In this context, the new trends, characteristics, and trajectory of the future—to return to research on international relations—are the consequence of the cyclical laws that govern all change and development in international relations. Now is the start of a new cycle. This new cycle has three very important characteristics that are worth noting.

The first is re-globalization. The very same favorable and affirming factors on which globalization originally depended are at the present moment being gravely challenged and repudiated. I remember going to Europe and the U.S. before 2008 – particularly in Europe [this phenomenon] was very typical – and the post-industrialism they spoke of in Europe had become post-modernism, and there was another concept called post-urbanism. Europeans thought that a way of life [defined by] this type of supra-democracy would persist; today, it looks like it is unable to persist. 

Another issue is the American dollar. We know that America is an exponent of financial capitalism, and the financial services industry makes up 80%.7 In the past 30 years, two countries have been the most successful: one is China and the other is America. In the past 30 years, the U.S. doubled its GDP and its real economy has not only not declined, but rather has continued to grow. But the U.S. has structural problems, including a clear division of labor between different social strata, and so populism is on the rise. 

The second is the re-configuration of ideology. Traditional liberal internationalism, the United States’ most fundamental hegemonic value system, is at present encountering unprecedented challenges. Liberal internationalism is undergoing a major adjustment and the U.S. is again changing its strategic thinking in relation to its responsibilities and duties [on the one hand], and its balance of interests [on the other]. The United States is returning to the very simple grand strategy of Americentrism and the so-called “ethno-state.”8 This is not just happening in the economic realm, but is [happening] to an even greater extent in the security realm. This perspective is therefore the second characteristic of the new cycle. Indeed, the world’s mainstream ideology has already exhibited unprecedented diversification: 

One variety [of this diversification] is that the U.S. has moved towards an unusual alternative ideology. Americans themselves all feel that things are not the same as they were before. As the American media says, the question of whether Trump is the mouthpiece for Russian interests is no longer simply an issue confined to the election or even to the political and economic career of Trump himself. 

The second variety [of this diversification] is the centrality of new powers, represented by China and Russia; we [Russia and China] both hold this particular banner high. Liberalism has been weakened in Europe, which today is a major problem. “Brexit” is Britain’s ideological choice, and also a choice based on Britain’s interests. It is another novel political and social viewpoint of the present day. 

The third variety is [seen in] the diversity of ideology in developing countries: the 92 year-old Mahathir won the election in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia is undertaking secular reforms, Venezuela’s socialist revolution has become a joke. The ideology in developing countries is unprecedentedly diverse. Vietnam is currently attempting democratic-socialist development. 

Today, developing countries are the liveliest sites of experimentation with ideology in international relations. They are not simply proceeding according to the Western model and the Eastern model [of ideology] but are seeking models that suit their own situation. 

The third is the re-emergence of nationalism. People have observed that [developments in] global governance and regional governance have clearly been deferred. We can see that this is the case in Asia and in the African Union; looking at the European Union, if Germany and Italy also choose to follow [the example of] “Brexit,” then the European Union will face the danger of dissolution. As the transformation of the world commences and a new cycle [in international relations] emerges, all that any country can do is to strengthen its own national power, [then] return to the cult of ethno-nationalism and a reliance on political strongmen. Japan is a textbook case.  Abe proposed to pursue a new national strategy. Since the end of World War II, Japan has never advanced a major power strategy, based on the consensus of all Japanese people, as openly as it does today. Turkey is also a textbook case, as Erdogan seems to be [seeking to] restore Turkey to the Great Power status it enjoyed under the Ottoman Empire. And to an even greater extent, India is exhibiting an unprecedented level of self-confidence. 

The future of the world is not just a tale of gloom. But exactly what kind of improvements will the characteristics of the new cycle in world politics bring to world politics? On this point, questions remain. 

The “great changes unseen in a century” that Chairman Xi Jinping speaks of cohere completely with the [proclamations of] the 19th Party Congress; that is, emphasizing the configuration [created by] China’s unprecedented entry onto the world stage. This is the most important interpretation of the “great changes unseen in a century.” From this perspective, the century’s great changes are the result of China’s unprecedented advance toward the center of the world stage in terms of the allocation of rights, wealth and interests. The problem, however, is that we lack the awareness that our rise as a great power brings with it not only the prospect for glory, but even more so the specter of risk.9 In the present era, this risk is not just a simple question of war and peace. 

In the future of this new cycle in the world’s political development, will China be able to further reduce the gap between itself and the United States, or will it, like Japan in the late 1980s, experience a precipitous decline and fall even further behind the United States? From the perspective of the history of international relations, you can count on one hand the number of times a great power has truly succeeded in rising. It is possible that China will face unprecedented strategic setbacks in its rise as a great power once again. This is a potential problem that we must analyze.

4 Though this is a common understanding of Reform and Opening both inside China and outside it, careful scholarship has demonstrated that most of the process of reform was often driven from the bottom up. See, for example, Frank Dikotter, “The silent revolution: Decollectivization from below during the Cultural Revolution,” China Quarterly 277 (2016), 796–811; Ning Wang and Ronald Coase, How China Became Capitalist (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), pp. 112-133, 143, 149; Sebastian Heilmann and Elizabeth ]. Perry, “Embracing Uncertainty: Guerilla Policy Style and Adaptive Governance in China,” in Mao's Invisible Hand, Heilmann and Perry, eds. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 1-30.
5 Center for Strategic Translation editors have not been able to locate the source of this quotation in either Chinese or English; it is likely spurious.
6 Rendered literally, the term would be “social life.” The point here is that international relations is a sociological and anthropological discipline: i.e., it is determined by the full set of material and spiritual conditions that influence human social relations. This description links to the anthropological phenomena he discusses throughout, such as identity crises, populism and so forth.
7 The original text does not make clear what the American financial services industry comprises 80% of.
8 This address was given in 2019 and refers to the major changes in American policy and ideology under Trump. In particular, this is a likely reference to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s 4 December 2018 address in Brussels titled “Restoring the Role of the Nation-State in the Liberal International Order.” A key passage in the speech reads:
Multilateralism has too often become viewed as an end unto itself.  The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done. Was that ever really true?  The central question that we face is that – is the question of whether the system as currently configured, as it exists today, and as the world exists today – does it work? …Every nation – every nation – must honestly acknowledge its responsibilities to its citizens and ask if the current international order serves the good of its people as well as it could.  And if not, we must ask how we can right it.
This is what President Trump is doing.  He is returning the United States to its traditional, central leadership role in the world.  He sees the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.  He knows that nothing can replace the nation-state as the guarantor of democratic freedoms and national interests. 
9  Since the publication of this piece assessments of risk have become an increasingly important part of the discourse surrounding “great changes unseen in a century.” For examples and analysis on this point, see footnote #2. For a larger review of Party conceptions of risk and their relationship to security, see Jude Blanchette, “The Edge of an Abyss: Xi Jinping’s Overall National Security Outlook,” China Leadership Monitor 73 (Fall 2022); Samantha Hoffman, “Programming China: the Communist Party’s autonomic approach to managing state security,” PhD diss, University of Nottingham (2017).

Cite This Article

Zhu Feng, “Characteristics of the New Cycle in the Development of International Relations.” Translated by Samuel George. San Francisco: Center for Strategic Translation, 2022. 

Originally published in 张蕴岭,楊光斌,等 [Zhang Yunling, Yang Guangbin, et. al.],  “Ruhe lijie yu renshi bainian dabianju如何理解于認識百年大變局 [How to Understand and Recognize Great Changes of the Century]”,  Yatai Anquan Yu Haiyang Yanjiu 亚太安全与海洋研究 2, no. 24 (2019): 1-15. 

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