The rise and fall of great powers change the dynamics of world politics. When the key players in the global system rise or fall, changes occur in the global power structure, players and interests. So, tension mounts between old and new players over retention or transition of power. No country—particularly those which are important for competing powers—can escape this global transformation and power struggle.
In retrospect, power transition had occurred either between civilizations or nation states with the painful tragedy of war and conflict. Power transition, for example, between the Geeks to Romans, Romans to Muslims, Muslims to British and British to the most recent dominant power, the US, ended up with war and destruction. The US and British, however, didn’t go to war over power transition after the end of World War II because the British had exhausted in the war and didn’t have the energy to go to another conflict for power retention.
US and China: the great power competition
Now, in the 21st century, the US and China are at daggers drawn over global supremacy. The US has been the dominant actor in international politics after the end of the Cold War, but China’s rise as the economic superpower has trembled the US with fear of being replaced as the world’s hegemonic power. Both powers will compete to redefine the global power structure, norms and values that may suit their interests.
Change in global power configuration has been triggered by emerging economies. Many countries, particularly in Asia, have experienced economic growth that has changed the global wealth structure. China, Japan, India, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia have achieved remarkable economic growth in the past two decades. Parag Kanna writes in the book ‘The Future is Asian’ that ‘in the 19th century, the world was Europeanized, in the 20th century, it was Americanized. Now in the 21st century, the world is being irreversibly Asianized.’ As the global wealth structure changes, it will alter the power dynamics in different regions of the world.
China has become the economic powerhouse in Asia; it will as projected, overtake the US as the leading economy of the world within two decades. Shifting global wealth dynamics defines the future course of the great power structure in the international system. The US and China will be the dominant actors; both powers endeavor to wield greater clout on world affairs.
The US, after attaining a hegemonic position, has become the status quo power so it will use its strength and energy to preserve its standing on world affairs. But China is an emerging power that will challenge the US to provide space for its interests in the existing global structure, which is led by the US. Will the US make an adjustment to China is the critical question in the minds of realists. As the realpolitik saying goes, compromise can be made for interest, but interest can never be compromised.
Looking at Pakistan’s stance during current power shifts
Changing global power dynamics from one actor to another, from one region to another will create foreign policy challenges for smaller countries. Pakistan’s engagement with great powers has been on the basis of geopolitics. Pakistan’s geostrategic position has provided the opportunity to engage with great powers to deal with the regional crises. The US-Pak relations, notwithstanding several other avenues of cooperation, mainly evolve around Afghanistan, which has been the umbilical cord that has connected both countries in the Cold war, post-9/11, and now post-US Afghanistan.
But the US interests have changed from fighting global terrorism to managing great powers. The US sees China as its ‘greatest national security threat’ than terrorism, so it will shift its focus on China to contain it. In this scenario, Pakistan faces foreign policy challenges to craft a balanced approach by neither antagonizing the US nor compromising its relations with China. Therefore, Pakistan needs inclusive policy measures to deal with both powers.
Pakistan’s geoeconomic shift is an inclusive strategy that encompasses all countries in the region and beyond to be equal partners on economic terms. Economic engagement is a tension-free area that enables Pakistan to redefine its relations with great powers and create new terms of engagement—while not getting sucked into the US-China mounting tension. Besides, good economic relations with neighbors, particularly India, will palliate the fear of conflict, opening windows for cooperation and confidence building measure that may create the path of reconciliation of Kashmir quagmire and strategic dialogue on the arms race in South Asia.
This doctrinal shift incorporates regional connectivity, investment, and commercial intercourse. Pakistan’s geostrategic position makes it the regional economic hub and energy transit corridor for two big energy-starved markets, China and India. Equally, China-Iran economic deal, TAPI, and CASA 1000 energy projects will revolutionize the regional economy by connecting all dots in the region through Pakistan.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is the central plank of Pakistan’s geoeconomic policy, connects all regional countries for trade and investment. Despite strained relations, Pakistan and India can engage with each other over connectivity as India needs access to the Central Asian Republics for energy and trade.
What could be the next geostrategic moves of Pakistan?
Besides, Pakistan and Iran, with converging interests, are partners of China’s economic development programs can benefit from regional economic connectivity. Although the US has withdrawn from Afghanistan, it wants to stabilize the post-US Afghanistan order. Pakistan’s geoeconomic policy attracts the US to cooperate with the country on Afghanistan; regional connectivity can stabilize Afghanistan’s economy.
To make the geoeconomic policy successful, Pakistan needs to bolster its economic diplomacy by appointing the best diplomates in Asia, which has become the fertile ground for economic growth in the 21st century. Besides, the regional organizations, such as the SCO and SAARC, through deft diplomacy, are to be introduced with this Pakistan’s new policy initiatives because all member countries will redefine their engagement with Pakistan.
However, the evolving situation in Afghanistan, internal political discord and the lack of economic reforms in Pakistan are the principal impediments that may put the country in reverse gear. Therefore, regional peace, national harmony and painful reforms are sins qua non for Pakistan’s engagement with other countries in a changing world.
The writer is strategic affairs and foreign policy analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.