China’s economic growth over the last three decades has been nothing short of a miracle, and the world has benefited greatly from its emergence as one of the largest economies. According to a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Economic Perspectives by Professor Xiaodong Zhu, starting in 1978, China’s economy grew at the rate of 10 percent annually and its per capita income increased manifold. In 1977, the per capita income of an average Chinese was around 400 USD, and in 2009 the number rose to more than 10,000 USD. Rightly, Professor Zhu noted that “the pace and scale of China’s economic transformation have no historical precedent.” This enormous transformation in the Chinese economy brought structural changes.

 The traditional world order, which has been dominated by the United States (U.S.) and characterized by a high degree of assertive unilateralism, came under growing challenge from China as the latter became more confident and grew sensitive about its nascent role.

The article aspires to examine how China’s economic rise is contributing to the transformation to multilateralism from unilateralism.

Apparently, China encourages multilateralism in international affairs as one of the means of establishing a more multilateral world order. Contrastingly, the U.S. has always been blamed for dominating international affairs and has attracted flak for its extreme unilateralism. However, following Chinese Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping’s opening up of the economy in the late 1970s and the subsequent accumulation of power, it has worked harder to oppose this unilateralism and advance a more multipolar global order. The successive leaderships of the Communist Party of China (CPC) have also upheld international norms and have been a great supporter of international organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations (UN). Also, the successive CPC leaders have attempted to use these organizations to advance China’s interests and contribute to the establishment of the rules governing the global system. Despite benefiting the dominating economies and great powers, China’s support for multilateralism has contributed to the development of a more open and cooperative global environment. It has contributed to the expansion of a more cooperative and balanced international system by advocating multilateralism, which can help reduce the chances of conflicts and encourage global stability and economic growth.

With the fundamental aim to enhance connectivity through its economic initiatives, particularly the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China is also encouraging and producing favorable conditions for transforming the global order. The BRI is a massive infrastructure and investment initiative and aims to link China with other nations in Asia, Africa, and Europe by way of a huge network of ports, highways, and other development infrastructure. Resultantly, China has contributed to the development of a more multilateral global order, in which economic power could be distributed more fairly among states. Such ventures are to be realized by making investments in these nations and promoting economic cooperation, interdependence, and connectivity. The BRI has the potential to advance greater economic integration and interdependence between various regions while also opening new economic opportunities for states all over the world. However, it has also sparked worries about the project’s possible environmental and geopolitical ramifications, particularly considering China’s expanding influence in the BRI’s target regions.

Resultantly, the balance of power in the international system has changed as a result of China’s growing economic influence. It has challenged the established superiority of the U.S. and other Western powers more and more as it has grown stronger. Undoubtedly, China’s economic rise has enabled it to play a more active role in international politics, particularly in the Asia-Pacific area, thanks to its expanding economic influence. For instance, the China-Solomon Islands Security Deal in March 2022 made headlines and attracted much criticism from the U.S. and months later in September 2022, President Joe Biden hosted the First U.S.-Pacific Islands Summit.

The U.S. policymakers felt to host the said summit as China was ingressing in the East and South Pacific using its economic sway.

It is noteworthy that China has adopted a multilateral approach using International Law in dealing with its territorial disputes with its immediate neighbors in the South China Sea. However, Western commentators continue to argue that China has pushed its territorial claims and sought to establish more control over the region and its more assertive foreign policy has been mirrored. Further, China’s expanding military might have readily threatened the region’s established security architecture, which in turn is putting enormous stress on U.S.-China relations. It is to be remembered here that since the U.S.-Philippines War in 1899 and after the Second World War, the Asia Pacific region and the Pacific Ocean has remained an unchallenged arena of the U.S., especially in the military domain. Nonetheless, such ventures by China are a direct product of its economic rise and employing multilateral fora.

In hindsight, China’s economic growth has had a significant global impact, as the policymakers in Beijing see their economic policies as a key part of their long-term economic and geopolitical strategy. By promoting multilateralism and investing in infrastructure and economic development across the globe, China is helping to transform the world order from one that is predominantly unilateral to one that is increasingly bilateral and multilateral. However, it remains to be seen how successful these efforts will be in promoting greater stability, cooperation, and prosperity globally. The world order is evolving rapidly, and China’s role in shaping it is likely to continue to grow in the coming years.

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