The rise of the East; claim or fact?

The full text of the memo is as follows:

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khamenei, recently held a speech in the presence of a group of students, where he spoke about the transfer of political, economic, cultural and even scientific power from the west to Asia, as well as the transformation of this ancient continent into the global center of knowledge, economics, political and military power. Is this talk about the shift of the center of the world from the west to the east merely a claim, or do Western scholars and analysts of international relations acknowledge the same thing?  

A brief overview of the discussions among prominent scholars of international relations in the world regarding the future state of the international order is all that is needed to show that the issue of the gradual transfer of power from the west to the east is not just a claim made by non-Western countries such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, but it has been discussed in Western scientific circles for a period of time. Various events that have occurred over the past several years have solidified its validity, to the extent that many prominent figures in the field of international relations confirm the essence of this issue, even though they might have differing views regarding the details of its occurrence. 

Today, many analysts believe that the world is currently in a state of fundamental change and transformation. They believe the world order is situated in a crucial transitional period, in such a way that it has changed its previous course of movement and due to the extensive number of changes, it is moving in a new direction at an incredibly high speed. 

According to Joseph Nye – a renowned neoliberal theorists – one of the most important dimensions of this transformation is the change in the structure of the world order, in the way that workers are arranged according to the distribution of their capabilities. The change in the power structure is occurring on two levels: one is power transition and the other is power diffusion. The transition of power is related to the relations between governments, in the process of which we witness the gradual transfer of the center of global power and wealth from the west to the east and the restoration of Asia’s former position. 

Historically, prior to the industrial revolution, more than half of the world’s population lived in Asia and more than half of the world’s production took place in this continent. After the industrial revolution in the 18th century, the situation changed in such a way that during the 19th and 20th centuries, Asia still housed more than half of the world’s population. However, its share of global production decreased to about one-fifth, and the center of power and wealth shifted to the west (Europe and America). Despite this, analysts and experts consider the 21st century to be the century of Asia. They believe that the ancient continent is resurging and will return to its former position again during this century. 

Regarding the reason for this transfer of power from the west to the east, it can be said that after the Second World War, Europe practically lost the ability to play an independent and developing role at the macro-level of international politics and economy and completely oriented itself towards the United States. 

Some unsuccessful efforts have been made by European governments over the past few decades to adopt independent positions and escape the heavy shadow of the US that has been hovering over them. However, these efforts have all led to disappointing failures, such as the case of the Iraq war and the JCPOA negotiations. Therefore, scholars of international relations do not give any special weight to Europe in the future of global power equations. They define the fate of the world in a triangle with the US, Russia and China forming the three sides. 

Even though the US is still considered the only superpower in the current world order, for years we have witnessed the gradual decentralization of its leadership power in such a way that the hegemonic authority of the United States has weakened and new competitors such as China, Russia, Brazil and India have emerged. 

These countries challenge the US’s declining position and conflicts occur that officials in Washington are unable to resolve on their own. In this regard, Joseph Nye acknowledges that supremacy is not necessarily synonymous with imperiality and hegemony and that the US currently has the power to influence other parts of the world, but not the power to contain and control it and quotes the words of Richard Haass: “Even though America is still the most powerful country in the world, it is not able to maintain world peace and prosperity on its own, let alone develop it.”

Based on this, a number of international relations scholars consider the current structure of the world order as a “uni-multipolar” system. In this situation, the superpower is not able to manage international issues and problems on its own and needs to cooperate and collaborate with other great powers. The system is governed by a board of directors in such a way that the superpower country, as the head of the board and despite its higher position, needs the cooperation and intervention of others to manage global affairs and challenges. 

The global financial crisis of 2008, which is considered the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, dealt a heavy blow to America’s international reputation because it reflected the failure of the neoliberal model, especially in the United States and England, which had implemented financial deregulation to the maximum extent. 

The reputational blow of the 2008 crisis for American hegemony was due to the fact that this financial crisis, in its deeper layers, was a symptom of the disease, defects and vulnerabilities of the new form of neoliberalism, which has been called “casino capitalism” which, as a result of financial deregulation, causes speculative bubbles to form, grow, and then suddenly explode all around the world – a phenomenon that leads to the unpredictability of the economic system. 

As a result, this great crisis has increased doubts about Western values ​​and led to the growing desire of other countries, especially emerging economies, for “Asian values” and the Chinese economic model, and therefore, in parts of the developing world, the “Beijing Consensus” (in the sense of following the Chinese governance model) is more popular than the “Washington Consensus”.

Today, China, with its successful model of governance, which is a mixture of a market economy and authoritarian government, has challenged Western assumptions regarding the existence of a causal relationship between political development and economic development. It is currently considered as the most serious competitor on par with the United States and the liberal model of capitalism in the world economy. 

According to predictions made by international relations analysts, if China continues this growth process, it will be able to match the US in the coming decades. During both the crisis of 2008 and the management of the coronavirus pandemic, China left a much more successful track record behind than then neoliberal countries. The impressive achievements made by a number of eastern countries that rely on Asian values was so obvious that Western scholars have openly admitted to its outcomes. 

An example of this can be found in the introduction that Steve Smith, Patricia Owens, and John Baylis have written in their book, The Globalization of World Politics: 

Consider the so-called “Tigers” of Asia, countries such as Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Korea, which have enjoyed some of the highest growth rates in the international economy but, according to some, subscribe to very different “Asian” values. These nations emphatically reject certain “Western” values, and yet they have had enormous economic success. The paradox, then, is whether these countries can continue to modernize so successfully without adopting Western values… If these countries do continue to follow their own roads towards economic and social modernization, then we must anticipate future disputes between “Western” and “Asian” values over issues like human rights, gender, and religion. 

As a result, the change in the pattern of distribution of global power and its gradual transition towards the east and the emergence of Asian governance patterns as a serious competitor to Western patterns is a subject that scholars and analysts of international relations have been talking about for a long time and they have portrayed the future of the world system with this in mind. 

An accurate understanding of this transition of power and its dimensions and consequences, followed by the correct description of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s position in this process, should be carefully considered by the country’s decision-makers at the highest levels in order to determine where Iran will be placed on the world’s newfound chess board.

Ruholamin Saeidi is an Assistant Professor at Imam Sadiq (pbuh) Univ., Faculty of Political Science and International Relations.  

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