A Game-Changing Decade

The world’s political and economic centers of gravity have shifted during past 10 years with rise of developing nations

As the first 10 years of the 21st century march into history, is the world finally bidding farewell to the so-called “decade from hell”? To many people in the United States, especially those whose lives were changed by the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, by Iraq War or the war in Afghanistan, or by the financial wipeout in 2008, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

Time magazine branded it “The Worst Decade Ever,” reacting to a decade that has seen the US mired in two unwinnable wars, its global dominance in a relative, but nonetheless, discernible decline and the American Dream losing its luster.

Prominent among the various mega-trends shaping the international landscape throughout the decade has been the collective rise of developing countries, with the reins of global economic governance passing from the exclusive Group of Eight (G8) developed countries to the more representative Group of 20 (G20) major economies.

Thus, labels like a hellish decade or a troubled decade are rather one sided. The past 10 years have been a decade of progress for many countries, a time of global rebalancing.

Since China’s WTO membership was formalized in 2001, the country has grown into a stalwart supporter of the multilateral trade system and a leading contributor to global economic growth. In 2009, when the world was struggling in the throes of the international financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn, the burgeoning Chinese economy accounted for over 50 percent of global economic growth.

While it is impossible to know the exact future, the world has unmistakably embarked upon a road toward a more pluralistic and balanced architecture. The political and economic centers of gravity have visibly shifted and the recent financial storm has accelerated the pace.

The North-South gap is narrowing. South-South cooperation is booming, and international relations are undergoing fundamental shifts. Coordinated cross-continental action is becoming a growing trend.

But, for all the talk about US economic health, the truth is simply relative: The US is not waning; others are waxing.

“The problem of American power in the 21st century, then, is not one of decline but what to do in light of the realization that even the largest country cannot achieve the outcomes it wants without the help of others,” Harvard University professor Joseph S. Nye wrote in the November/December issue of the journal Foreign Affairs.

This diagnosis cuts to the heart of the matter, as the overwhelming momentum of globalization has changed the world stage into a multi-tiered and multi-dimensional community of common interests, where almost every nation is a stakeholder. Technological innovations and new ideologies have only deepened the interdependence of its members.

Hegemony is no longer omnipotent, and unilateralism is destined for the ash heap of history. Multilateralism will steer the world into a more equitable and democratic future. The interwoven network of national interests has emerged clearly in the wake of the worldwide financial turbulence that erupted in 2008, evoking memories of the Great Depression.

A more fundamental lesson from the past 10 years is that the different nations sharing the same world are able to enjoy peaceful coexistence and common development. Through friendly exchanges different parties will better understand how the “flat world” works, and will accordingly modify their own development approaches on the basis of their realities to fit the global grid.

The development modes of China, Brazil and Russia all bear a non-Western stamp. Rather than resisting or subverting the international norms, the emerging economies are dovetailing with, and making amendments, to them. They champion multilateralism instead of unilateralism, pluralism instead of monism, toleration instead of confrontation and cooperation instead of contention. Their development not only relies on, but also contributes, to world peace. Take China, for example, and its continued commitment to worldwide peaceful development and win-win cooperation.

What is worrying is that certain countries remain stuck in hegemonic thinking, cling to a Cold War mentality, or retreat time and again into isolationist and protectionist shells for their own short-term interests.

The path of the future is yet to be trod but the beacons are already lit: modernization is not Westernization, cooperation outweighs confrontation, and human civilization is heading for a more harmonious world with different nations coexisting in peace and prosperity.

By Deng Yushan and Xu Jianmei (China Daily)

The authors are writers with Xinhua News Agency.

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