The Center has proposed that we are in the midst of great changes unseen in a century. This raises an important issue. It takes the turn of the millennium as a central division, separating the hundred years before and the hundred years after—that is, the last century and the present century. If the previous century ran from 1900 to 2000, then this century runs from 2000 to 2100. The basic considerations with this division are: first, the millennium serves as a temporal junction, linking what has gone before with what will come after, and, generally speaking, these periods of millennial transition are often times of significant change; second, the major events driving the great changes in this transitional period will have an influence on both China and the world.
A number of major events occurred during the previous century: There were the First and Second World Wars, the October Revolution, the global communist movement that it triggered, the disintegration of the colonial system, the postwar reconstruction of the international order, and the spread of globalization. Generally speaking, looking at things from a global perspective, the first half of the decade and the second half of the decade were unalike. The first five decades was a time of great upheaval, with many major events occurring; the following five decades exhibited stable governance. In the postwar period, a global administrative system was established with the United Nations at its center. Owing to the period’s governance and stability, great progress was made in global development.
Speaking from the perspective of China, the year 1900 represents a painful beginning: the Eight-Nation Alliance entered Beijing and the great powers directly interfered in Chinese domestic politics.3 After the Second World War ended, New China was founded, the country’s downward spiral was halted, and Reform and Opening and rapid development were realized.
From the beginning of the millennium, a number of significant events have occurred. Observing this from a global perspective, the terrorist attack on America spurred a global counterterrorism movement, and there was also the 2008 financial crisis, as well as the rise of both protectionism and populism. Of course, there have been positives, such as the new technology revolution.
Speaking from the perspective of China, accession to the World Trade Organization in 2000 and entry into the rules-based global order represents a major event, which has had a lasting influence. China’s GDP exceeding a trillion USD was a turning point. China proposed the goal of achieving national rejuvenation in this century.
Looking at the trends for profound changes in this century, some have become quite clear:
I. Relative Changes in the Configuration of Power
On the basis of integrating [multiple] forecasting models, the greatest change within the first fifty years of this century will be a change in the relative power of states. The general trend is for developing nations to achieve the predominant position by mid-century, accounting for 60% of global economic activity. This seems to herald a major transformation in the global development history. Following industrialization, Western nations maintained the predominant position, which makes the coming shift in the power structure very important in many aspects, including its impact on the institutional framework built during the previous transition, its influence on value systems, as well as its [impact on] various aspects of science and technology. We can analyze this problem by looking at many possible results. There is no shortage of integrated projections, since everyone is observing these changes to see how significant they might be.
II. Changes in the relative strength of great powers
The majority of what are now called great powers will decline and be pushed aside by the middle of this century, with most of the venerable European nations not even making the top five. Looking at the composition of the great powers, we see the rise of nations from outside the community of Western superpowers. In global development the predominant [role] of the great powers is an important factor, meaning a change in the structure will be profound and far-reaching.
III. Changes in the relative strength of regions
The center of gravity for global power and development has shifted from Europe to Asia, and in particular Greater East Asia, which includes China, Japan, India, and Indonesia, which will all rank in the top four in terms of population and economic power.
Generally speaking, power shifts lead to unrest and war. The Thucydides Trap4 refers to irreconcilable conflict between a great power that wants to hold onto its status and a rising power. In the second half of the previous century, the major powers were America and the Soviet Union, which resulted in the Cold War. In this century, the major powers seem to be America and China, but is there any way to avoid history repeating itself? This is the critical question regarding the overall situation.
The greatest impact of this power shift will be a change in leadership. It will move from traditional Western leadership to the guidance of the non-Western states. Since industrialization in Europe, the West has set the course for the development paradigm, value system, and the theories of international relations. What are the implications of non-Western leadership? Will it be inclusive or exclusive? How will it observe the world and orient itself? These questions merit scrutiny and research.
Will a power shift lead to a decline in hegemony? Will the future bring new power struggles and new hegemons? People are not satisfied with the hegemonic order, but they are also worried about future power struggles and have misgivings over the possibility of a global order without hegemons. Looking back at history, the establishment of a hegemon invariably requires conflict—other states are beaten down [so that] your own power rises. It is unlikely that the future holds anything resembling the warfare of the previous century, so does that mean that humanity will see the end of hegemony?
The deepening of globalization and the increasing decentralization of finance, technology, and so forth, may also weaken the existing foundations for domination by a single country. Since the establishment of the institutions of the nation-state, nation-states have been the foundation of international relations and the international order. Now, and especially in the future, the Internet will transcend nations; in all aspects, supranational forces are becoming stronger.
Western industrialization created the model for the industrialization and modernization that propelled global development and allowed other countries to enter the ranks of industrialized nations. Currently, the catch-up model of modernization presents various problems; it has led to climate change, which threatens the existence of the human race. Material production-oriented industrialization, as long as it keeps pace with world population and consumption, is unsustainable. The planet cannot support ten billion people with the traditional industrialization model.
The development paradigm must change, but there must be something to replace it. There must be a new dominant driving force. New views on development have been put forward, but, intellectually, there is a lack of consensus, and actions taken have lacked follow up. The Paris Agreement, for example, was the first joint pledge in human history to address climate change, but America withdrew, and there were limited means to enforce implementation.
In the first fifty years of this century, what is the power paradigm that will drag us into the future? The easiest solution would be to continue in our present pattern, but that heads directly toward an existential crisis for humanity. According to forecasts, there will be a three degree rise in temperature by 2050; if we cannot halt it there, we face disaster. Marx said: Your today is our tomorrow, and what we are remaking is the same.5
The biggest challenge to development is climate change, and the situation at present is not hopeful. In the first fifty years of this century, addressing the required paradigm shift in development will require strong international governance, but this is in conflict with predicted global changes. This is the greatest risk we face in this century of profound change; it's a problem that must be addressed in all aspects.
China's own strategic plan is at odds with the global turbulence of this fifty year period. China's unequivocal strategic orientation—achieving the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and comprehensive development by 2050—faces a series of challenges from these great global changes.
Does China have the ability to push the world to develop in a more positive direction? This is an important question. China has proposed the construction of a community of common destiny for mankind. In official documents from the Nineteenth National Party Congress, the official English translation is “community for a shared future,” which suggests an order based on peace and development. As the future largest country, the question is, what does China have to offer the world? This is an important question that must be considered not only by ourselves but also by the world. A community of common destiny for mankind is an ideal. There is a gap between the ideal and reality. Turning an ideal into reality requires effective and pragmatic actions, not only unilaterally by China, but through a mutual effort made possible by the mobilization of the international community, including developed Western countries.
3 Despite its name, the Eight-Nation Alliance was not a formal alliance, but a temporary military coalition that included forces from Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Russia, Italy, the United States, and Austria-Hungary. The alliance invaded northern China in 1900 to relieve the foreign legations under siege by the forces of the Boxer Rebellion. In the peace treaty that followed the Qing dynasty was not only forced to pay an indemnity to the eight powers, but was required to adopt structural reforms to its government that were intended to make it more responsive to their needs in the future.
4 The phrase “Thucydides Trap” alludes to the Greek historian’s concise explanation for the origin of the great war between Athens and Sparta. Said he: “The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable” (Thucydides 1.23.6). Harvard professor Graham Allison would popularize the allusion in a 2012 op-ed which argued war between rising powers and existing hegemons was a common pattern in human history, a pattern that threatened to reoccur with China’s rise. The term gained immense popularity in China and soon entered into the official party lexicon. Though Allison portrayed the “Thucydides Trap” as a universal tendency, Chinese commentators often describe it as evidence that the belligerence they perceive in American behavior is in fact a quintessential trait of Western culture with a two thousand year pedigree.
5 This is a fairly common phrase in Chinese; the editors of the Center for Strategic Translation have not been able to locate the source of it in either the Chinese or English editions of Marx’s works. It is likely spurious.