At the opening ceremony of the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Chinese American Society and the "America and the World During Pandemic" Symposium, held April 24-25, 2021 in Guangzhou, China, renowned Chinese academic Huang Renwei, Vice President of the Chinese Society of International Relations and a distinguished professor at Fudan University, gave a speech. In it, he discussed how to characterize the "decline of U.S. hegemony" and the fundamental changes this "decline" has brought about in Sino-U.S. relations.
Explaining that the decline of U.S. hegemony and the decline of the U.S. are two separate concepts, Huang assessed that the decline of the hegemony has been "obvious" since the Obama era, "after the 2008-2011 financial crisis." He added that Washington's fear regarding this decline is combined with "worry and anxiety" about "China's rise."
According to Huang, the biggest challenge China faces is that it has become the U.S.'s No. 1 strategic rival, and that "when this kind of competition goes to its extreme, it will lead to the threat of a new cold or hot war."
Huang also stated that in the event of a U.S. decline, China will have opportunities in the fields of global governance, economy, digital currency, and technology, noting: "There is the reorganization of the technology chain, industrial chain, supply chain, and capital chain. The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly accelerated reorganization. Originally, China worried that these chains would be withdrawn from China and return to the U.S. [But] they could not get out of China or go back to the U.S. These chains are heading towards China. The flow and direction of world capital is changing." He added that opportunities and crises in China coexist.
Below is Huang's speech at the ceremony:
Huang Renwei (Source: Global Times)
'The United States Has Been Worried About Its Decline Since The Obama Administration'
"In my opinion, whether the United States is in decline or not is controversial. A core topic discussed here is the decline of U.S. hegemony. The decline of U.S. hegemony and the decline of the U.S. are two separate concepts. Many people confuse these two concepts. They believe that the United States has not declined or that American hegemony has not declined. Let me first define the difference between the decline of American hegemony and the decline of the United States.
"Hegemony, according to the American definition, is the exercise of a certain function of dominant world government. Whichever country plays the role of dominant world government in an anarchic world, such a country achieves hegemony. If we follow this logic, the hegemony we talk about is completely negative. In terms of central hegemony, that means the United States can dominate world affairs, control the international system, and forcefully intervene in other countries and regions. And it takes a leading position in technology, the economy and finance. It has the ability to shape international values, systems and public opinion. These add up to be the definitional content of hegemony.
"Hegemony is not only related to the overall national power of a country, but it is also different. Comprehensive national power is a relatively core concept. It is first the total GDP, then the total amount of advanced science and technology, the total amount of military power, population, geographic size, and soft power. There are many connotations of soft power, including education, culture, film and television, sports and so on. The multiplier of these additions is the comprehensive national strength. Comprehensive national power and hegemony are related. But their connotations are not exactly the same. GDP can be rising during the decline of hegemony. Military strength can be great during the decline of hegemony. Many people say that 'American hegemony has not declined.' They use the concept of comprehensive national power to define the concept of hegemony. These two concepts got confused.
"Such examples are not unprecedented in the world history. Those who study world history can agree on the British Isles example. Britain is much stronger than before. Its colonial system, however, has completely collapsed. There will be no British hegemony. Does this mean that Britain has declined or that British hegemony has declined? We know that the overall national strength of the United Kingdom has not decreased. The country is small geographically and population-wise. The sun never setting on the hegemonic empire and country comprised of the British Isles are two completely different concepts. The British Isles are in decline. This decline occurred almost 80 years after the disintegration of the British Empire. When British hegemony declined, did the United Kingdom decline? I don't think so.
"Another example is the Soviet Union. When did the disintegration of the Soviet Union begin? It started with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. The Warsaw Pact is the core of hegemony. Since the Soviet Union withdrew from Berlin, Eastern Europe, etc., it could no longer maintain this system. Later, there is the disintegration of one part of the Soviet Union after another. The real disintegration was the Soviet Communist Party. The self-disintegration of leaders of the Soviet Communist Party disintegrated the Soviet Union.
"If leaders of the Communist Party had not taken action, the military and economic strength of the Soviet Union could have been maintained for a long time. There would have been no decline of the Soviet state itself.
"Compare these examples with the United States. The United States is more powerful, though the time it takes to become strong far exceeds the time it takes to maintain its hegemony. This is the first topic we discussed. Hegemony and national decline are two different things. Now I will discuss the decline of American hegemony.
"The second question is: how do Americans perceive this issue? Americans confuse the decline of the United States with the decline of American hegemony. When Americans say that the United States is declining, they actually mean that U.S. hegemony is in decline, or that the U.S. is not declining. They confuse the hegemony of the United States with the U.S. not being in decline. Look carefully: the United States has been worried about its decline since the Obama administration. By the time of the Trump administration, this worry was manifested in the comprehensive abandonment of U.S. responsibility for world affairs, world leadership and international leadership. Trump manifested the characteristics of relinquishing America's world leadership and international obligations. We call this unilateralism. Trump recognized and acknowledged that hegemony of the United States is difficult to maintain. Later, he used offense as defense, and took many actions to suppress various countries. He used these tactics to withdraw from leadership positions in those countries. After Trump had done too much, the 'deep state' at the core of the United States could not accept or tolerate him. When the Biden administration returns the U.S. to a world leadership position, it will not return to the form of hegemony established under Bush and Clinton.
"The decline has been obvious since the Obama era. U.S. hegemony declined after the 2008-2011 financial crisis. It continued to go downhill after the Covid-19 pandemic. There were three stages of decline with distinctive time spans: 1. 9/11 in 2001; 2. the international financial crisis in 2010; and 3. the Covid -19 pandemic 2020-2021. The decision-makers in the United States are very aware that decline of hegemony is underway. They emphasize in public that we will not decline; we will not decline; we will not give up the number one position. These words are precisely the expression of its decline. It did not say things like this at all when it was not in decline. It made these statements when the problem appeared.
'China Has Become The Number One Strategic U.S. Competitor'
"Fear of U.S. hegemony decline is combined with worry and anxiety about China's rise. The U.S. is worried about losing its own hegemony and about the emergence of another hegemonic power, China. China is now second in the world. The U.S. insists that China wants to be the first. No matter how well China explains, the U.S. will not listen. It makes a lot of excuses and claims that you want to be number one. The U.S. worries about losing its first-place status and about China becoming number one. The combination of two worries has a direct impact on the decline of American hegemony vis a vis China.
"This has resulted in a major and fundamental adjustment of U.S. strategy. The adjustment is to reverse the decline of U.S. hegemony and to slow down or even thwart China's becoming number one in the world. The combination of these two concepts shows the U.S. strategic changes from when Trump came to power in 2016 until Biden took office in 2021. That is, how to prevent the decline of American hegemony. We have simplified the complex issues. Many of us argue about whether the United States has declined or not. Look at how the strategy has changed. The answer is clear.
"The implications of this change for China are twofold. From the perspective of crisis and challenges to China, as well as the perspective of opportunities for China, we must look at both aspects.
"First. The biggest challenge to China and possible resulting crisis is that China has become the number one strategic U.S. competitor.
"This fact has continually appeared in many of the highest official U.S. documents. There are more than a dozen important documents, including the 2017 National Security Strategy Report, the General Report on U.S. Strategy to China at the end of 2020, and most recently, Strategic Competition Law. These three documents fully position U.S. strategy on China. The United States' position may be seen as impulsive or expressed by a small number of people. However, there is a core concept of permanence. China is not only the number one strategic competitor, but also a major strategic threat, as well as a country with the largest competition subject to international order. These three positions put China at an historic height.
"Under this positioning, it can no longer be maintained that Sino-U.S. relations have not undergone qualitative changes. The relations will undergo further qualitative changes. China is using the U.S. policy of Nixon's visit to China in 1972, U.S. policy since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1979, or the U.S. policy of the Deng Xiaoping era since 1992. These are not enough to cope with the changes in U.S. strategic judgments on us. China has not prepared nor positioned itself for the changes. Earlier today, Professor Cui said that China talking to the U.S. is like a chicken talking to a duck. Neither knows what the other is talking about. Talk to Americans about the peaceful rise of China and Americans think you are trying to deceive them. They do not believe it at all. This is the biggest problem.
"Second. Another major issue is competition between China and the United States. Strategic competition has undergone fundamental changes in terms of the positioning and nature of strategic competition. Characteristics of strategic competition are overall, long-term, and all-round. It is not only the southeast coast, but also all sides of China. China signed a 25-year agreement with Iran. That is strategic competition. It involves politics, the economy, the military, culture, society, and all imaginable elements and areas of full competition. From the United States' point of view, it is full government competition. Every department in the United States must compete with China. The last is system competition between China and the United States. This is the nature of Sino-U.S. competition. China is far from prepared for this. China was caught off guard.
"There is an issue of competition and cooperation. What the Chinese are not clear about, Americans are. Competition is first. Cooperation is second. Cooperation is subordinate to competition. Cooperation is a means of competition. Climate control cooperation is a means of competition. Climate control can be used to combat fundamental problems, including China's carbon emissions, coal use and cancellation of coal use. China's energy will be ruined if using oil and natural gas is forbidden. China will stop importing so much oil. China is required to have transparency regarding carbon emissions. China has to report the carbon emissions of all provinces across the country to countries around the world. That is competition, is it not?
"More importantly, there have been many new competition focuses. China is far from prepared for them. For example, the Belt and Road program. Where did China and the U.S. compete in the Belt and Road program in the past? Now it has become the core content of Sino-U.S. competition.
"Wherever China has Belt and Road, the U.S. must compete. Wherever Belt and Road is performing the best, or the most, competition is fierce. Recently, Pakistan had a problem. The China-Pakistan Corridor is the flagship of Belt and Road. The U.S. is focusing on attacking the China-Pakistan Corridor.
"The China-Myanmar Corridor is the second flagship. These two flagships are corridors from Western China to the Indian Ocean. A problem emerged with the China-Myanmar Corridor. The U.S. is working hard on these two corridors: one approach exploits Burma's internal struggle, another uses Pakistan's terrorism. The U.S. is making programs in the two corridors impossible to continue.
"The second part of competition, which did not appear in the past, is establishment of an anti-China united front. This term was used publicly in the United States five years ago. At that time, I reported to China that the United States was going to establish an anti-China united front. It was treated as a joke in China. The U.S. use of the word itself is a huge strategy. It is a Chinese political term.
'The United States Tries To Turn China's Internal Problems Into China's Strategic Failure'
"Any country in the world, including Russia, is considered a member of the front if it has a conflict with China. This is undoubtedly using the concept of China to oppose China. The anti-China united front is an original creation. Some new competition hotspots, which we could not imagine in the past, have now become the focus of competition. The hotspots include human rights, Taiwan, Tibet, and so on.
"New competition is big strategic competition. When this kind of competition goes to its extreme, it will lead to the threat of a new cold or hot war.
"In the end, competition between China and the United States is the competition between the two countries' domestic governance capabilities. One needs to solve its internal problems, and at the same time make the other party's problems unsolvable. This means transforming external competition into internal competition. It is a very challenging problem. The United States is aware of its own problems. How the United States tries to turn China's internal problems into China's strategic failure must be fully appreciated. The fundamental issue of American hegemony has changed. This will bring about a completely new form of competition in Sino-U.S. relations. The new form must be fully studied.
"If the United States declines, where are the opportunities for China? First: the international system and global governance will undergo profound changes. The United States will not be able to undertake such a large global obligation. It will abandon many fields. There will be many new global governance and new international affairs. The U.S. will begin at the same starting line as China. These new areas of global governance, combined with the U.S. abandoning areas of global governance, are real opportunities for China.
"Second: reorganization of the global economy. Although the U.S. economy is still the biggest, its proportion will fall. The Chinese proportion will rise. The time it will take to catch up with the total GDP of the United States is shorter than everyone wants. If the Covid-19 pandemic continues to develop, China can reach the total U.S. GDP in about five years.
"If the exchange rate factor is added, this will accelerate. Adding the exchange rate factor, China will accelerate even faster and drive an incremental proportion of the world economy. At present, 25% of the world's growth comes from China. If the total GDP reaches the same level as the United States, 40% of the world's total economic output will come from China. This is our biggest trump card. The total amount and rate of increase determine that many countries are unwilling to be an enemy of China. They are unwilling to have a showdown with China. Conversely, if the United States wants to mobilize so many countries to participate in the anti-China united front, it will not be able to do so. China cannot give up this opportunity, nor can we underestimate it.
"Third: the U.S. dollar. There is no doubt about the status of the U.S. dollar as the world currency. The U.S. dollar's status as the world currency is declining. There may even be a currency crisis. China must prepare for this. Once this crisis occurs, it will also be a crisis for China which has huge dollar assets. This would be an opportunity to instigate reorganization of the world monetary system, including digital currency. China's digital currency programs are the most complete. The U.S. is far behind China in digital currency.
"Lastly, there is the reorganization of the technology chain, industrial chain, supply chain, and capital chain. The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly accelerated reorganization. Originally, China worried that these chains would be withdrawn from China and return to the United States. They could not get out of China or go back to the U.S. These chains are heading towards China. The flow and direction of world capital is changing.
"What I explained today was how to characterize the decline of U.S. hegemony, and what kind of fundamental changes this decline has brought about in Sino-U.S. relations. China and the United States have undergone tremendous changes in the nature and focus of competition. Opportunities and crises in China coexist.