One doesn’t have to look too far to notice that America, once a superpower in world politics, is increasingly losing its cherished status as the mightiest nation in the globe. Countries like China and Russia have started to exert their influence in the gaping void which would otherwise be filled by the USA, while other Middle Eastern countries are gaining momentum to express their voice. An intriguing panel titled 'America: Asia’s setting sun' addressed the waning influence of America and how it affects smaller nations in Asia. The inspiring and well-informed panellists included the likes of Victor Mallet, Dominic Ziegler, Michael Vatikiotis and Jeff Kingston while the session was moderated by Zafar Sobhan.
Britain was perhaps the most influential nation for hundreds of years up until the The Second World War, after which, the world saw the bipolar rivalry of the USA-USSR to exert dominance before giving away to a unipolar world with American pre-eminence taking centerstage. However, the dominance seems to be coming to an abrupt end if one considers the timeframe – only a few decades. The country’s current economic woes, and divisions within their society and polity is giving way to countries like China, who have been going from strength to strength in recent times, to pick up the baton.
China which has historically been reserved in terms of exerting influence, is now doing so in many parts of the world. Russia too, is coming off the backfoot to make a statement in the Middle East by waging a proxy war in Syria. India, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia along with other Asian countries are starting to exert influence in their own right.
Zafar Sobhan kicked off the lively session by identifying the tectonic shift in US politics in recent years in the form of Donald Trump’s presidency to be “the final nail in the coffin for American influence around the world” with China being the biggest beneficiary of this.
Jeff Kingston, incidentally the lone American on the panel, concurred with Sobhan and added that Trump was indeed, the prime reason for the abysmal state of the country’s foreign policy. He said, “Stepping back from the multilateral system that it built up over the last few decades shows an America in retreat. And his (Donald Trump’s) role as appeaser-in-chief while dealing with China and Russia, I think, speaks volumes about its declining power. Xi (Jinping) doesn’t have to be a master tactician, he only has to sit back and watch Trump and his self-inflicted wounds.”
Victor Mallet shed more light on the issue when he pointed out the findings of a recent survey by the Perth USAsia Center which suggests that most respondents living in Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Australia and India now see China as the most powerful country in Asia. He added, “Personally, it doesn’t come as a surprise. Rather, I believe, instead of talking about the declining power of USA, we should be concentrating on the next superpower – China.” However, Mallet also believed that America was far from being over.
Nonetheless, Dominic Ziegler criticised Trump’s notion of success in foreign policy and his failure to understand the need to provide security to smaller nations who need it (and are scared to voice their concern about China’s dominance), in order for them to strive economically.
Sobhan then, rightfully brought up the topic of China’s inconsistency in regard to dealing with humanitarian crises like the on-going Rohingya refugee crisis on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. “India, China and Russia have been allies from the beginning of Bangladesh. However, the three countries seem to have disappeared in the hour of need and Bangladesh is having to appeal to the USA to exert pressure on the Myanmar government,” he added.
Talking about his recent trip to Washington, Michael Vatikiotis shared his concern about the vacancies at the top level at US State Department to be a crucial reason behind its depletion of diplomatic capacity. Vatikiotis said, “It’s not just the cut in numbers or the non-appointment of senior positions, it’s the way in which people of experience in diplomacy concentrating on different regions who have left the State Department that seriously undermines the capacity of the USA to wage peace and diplomacy. Not in terms of military though, which presents a strange paradox – the USA have been recently deploying military diplomacy and instead of actual diplomacy for instance in the Korean Peninsula.”