By Shi Yinhong

Difficulties of unprecedented scale confront global governance and inefficient multilateral mechanisms. To face the difficulties which challenge the formation and implementation of global governance rules, multilateral mechanisms must find ways to avert the threat of world economic recession, reform the international financial system, resolve issues in the Doha round, prevent nuclear weapon proliferation, resolve maritime disputes and antagonism, handle surging Muslim inflows in Europe, and combat terrorism. The global undertaking to combat climate change is a  rare bright spot;  the significant global progress on climate change since 2013 is largely attributable to China’s major initiatives and effective consultation and coordination between China and the United States, the world’s primary emitters.

Global Governance’s Bleak Outlook

Beside geopolitical competition between powers, there are four reasons for the bleak outlook for global governance: vested interests of powers; obstinacy of some small states; unusually complicated and novel technical issues; and changes in the global political culture.  In addition, international collective actions are more difficult to achieve in hard times because economic difficulties and changes to the power structure incentivize self-protection and decrease the desire for cooperation.

This trend is illustrated by many examples:  the high isolationist tide represented by Trump and Sanders in the United States; result of referendum on a UK exit from EU; Europe’s increasing anti-Muslim refugees rhetoric; Putin’s aggressive, yet popular, posture of fierce strategic and military confrontation with the West; Erdogan’s populist Islamization measures and increasing concentration of power in Turkey; major political change in Taiwan and adverse currents in Hong Kong; and even some prominent opinions and behaviors in China. All these examples point to increasing populism, nativism, and nationalism worldwide.

Increasing Geopolitical Competition

As stated previously, another reason for the bleak prospect of global governance is increasing geopolitical competition among world powers, which is at a height that hasn’t been seen since the Cold War. Relations between powers are highly turbulent, with rapidly increasing strategic competition between China and the United States, as well as confrontation between Russia and both the United States and Europe. As a result, strategic collaboration between China and Russia has markedly increased.

Two developments show the increasing strategic competition between China and the United States: the decision by United States and ROK to deploy THAAD anti-missile system, which will seriously undermine China’s strategic deterrence capability, and China’s negative reaction to the ruling by the International Arbitration Tribunal in The Hague on the case filed by the Philippines. China’s denouncement of the ruling, calling it a  “a piece of trash paper,” declared all islands and reefs inside the nine-dashed line as Chinese territory and their adjunct waters as Chinese territorial sea based on historic rights.

In terms of increased strategic collaboration between China and Russia, there have also been two major developments: a joint statement on global strategic stability between the two heads of states in late June, and China’s announcement in late July of joint naval and air force exercises with Russia in the South China Sea, where China-US strategic competition is especially tense.

All these challenges to global governance are further exacerbated by the traditional liberal internationalist elites’ inability  to confront the trends challenging global international order.  

The Way Forward

Despite pervasive challenges, it’s still necessary to advance multilateral cooperation at both global and regional levels. However, amid changes in global political culture and turbulent relations between powers, it is unprecedentedly difficult to create, readjust, and implement rules of global governance. Whether there will be progress in global governance first of all depends on whether all important countries are able to block and then reverse the turbulence. Efforts must be made to resist the populist, nativist, and nationalist political culture that is increasing throughout the world and to strive for stability and improvement of major-power relations, especially those between China and the United States and between Russia and the United States.


About the Author
Shi Yinhong is Professor, Institute of International Relations, Renmin University of China. This article was originally published on China Focus.

Posted by Shi Yinhong