Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
December 6, 2023
Change of Paradigm is inevitable, human civilization moves forward irreversibly for the good or bad. So, geopolitical uncertainty is part of our fate, we should not fear for the future. Further, we should not be fixed by the past but meet the future with an open mind.
It is now acknowledged that the US and China are the two leading powers in the world. However, a decade or so ago, China asked the US to grant her the Number two spot, the so called G2, but the US slighted China then. Now the US is setting up a global alliance with the stated goal of confronting China all over the world and in all aspects such as technology, military etc. This hardline principle is amplified, and resonated, with the underline anti-communism ideology.
Yes, there is a dangerous global credibility gap, mainly between the US and China. However, the more significant challenge is what we have been working on eliminating the credibility gap. Or on the contrary, more efforts are focused on increasing the credibility gap. For example, it sounds cheap to discredit the other siderather than enhance one’s own credibility. So, if something good happens, one takes all the credit but on the other hand it is always someone else’s fault if anything goes wrong.
For example, the Ukraine war is already having far-reaching consequences for trade and markets worldwide. However, these consequences are mainly caused by the west-imposed sanctions, measures totally against market economy and free trade, against Russia with the purpose of degrading Russia. The question is that the Ukraine war will have to end soon, how the credibility of the west be maintained? Will the sanctions on Russia end or not?
Fundamentally, credibility is based on actions and not words. That is the problem with Biden Administration, for example, Biden pledged to Zelenskyy that “we will support Ukraine as long as takes!” Question No. one is who can afford this never-ending war or why the US taxpayers? Question No. two is what is the end game?
The Global Credibility Gap
No one power or group can uphold the international order anymore—and that means much more geopolitical uncertainty ahead.
DECEMBER 6, 2023, 10:42 AM
After decades of relative geopolitical calm, the world has entered its most volatile and dangerous period since the depths of the Cold War. Consider recent events. Despite U.S. President Joe Biden’s high-profile meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco last month, relations between their two countries have deteriorated so sharply that a war between them, though unlikely, is no longer unthinkable. The COVID-19 pandemic, although largely in the rearview mirror, unleashed political and economic shocks that continue to reverberate across the global system. Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine plunged Europe into a destabilizing war with far-reaching consequences for trade and markets worldwide. And on Oct. 7, Hamas’s terror attacks against Israel sparked a new Middle East war that threatens to destroy years of progress toward economic transformation and regional stability.
These global shifts and shocks are often grouped together, and for good reason. According to International Monetary Fund (IMF) economists, they are among the drivers of a “policy-driven reversal of global economic integration” termed “geoeconomic fragmentation.” For some analysts, they are constituents of a so-called polycrisis, in which a series of disparate shocks “interact so that the whole is even more overwhelming than the sum of the parts.” And the White House itself has repeatedly highlighted how it helped crystalize thinking about the links between national security and economic policy to produce a “New Washington Consensus.”
But in our view, recent events are best understood as symptoms of a broader, metastasizing crisis in global politics: a crisis of credibility. As it becomes apparent that no one power is seen as both willing and able to single-handedly uphold the international order, and great powers refuse to cooperate to do the same, the international system itself is rapidly losing credibility. This global credibility gap, in turn, is compounding geopolitical instability and uncertainty as actors ranging from competitive and opportunistic states to terrorists and criminal elements take advantage of the political vacuum. Though hardly irreversible, it’s a trend that is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Interactions between states depend on perceptions of power, which are correlated with assessments of credibility. In its everyday meaning, credibility is whether someone or something is trusted or believed in. The same holds true for states, especially great powers and the regional and international orders that they shape. If an order lacks credibility, its detractors—and even disillusioned adherents—cease to abide by established rules and conventions. The result, unsurprisingly, is disorder and instability of the type we are witnessing today.
For states, credibility involves several key variables: hard military and economic power; the soft power of political and cultural attraction; and more intangible qualities related to reputation, history, and context. Hard and soft power are necessary but not sufficient for a state to be credible; others must also believe that it will follow through on commitments and meet expectations.
Credibility is the leverage that allows states to turn power into influence. States use threats and promises to deter adversaries, reassure allies and partners, and compel actions. But carrying out threats and making good on promises is costly. Credibility allows states to achieve their desired outcomes at minimal cost to themselves, advancing their priorities beyond what raw power would allow.
Although policymakers often conflate the two, credibility is not synonymous with resolve. Indeed, scholars have rightly questioned the invocation of credibility as a justification for policy misadventures. “Instead of bolstering one’s credibility,” as Stephen Walt has argued in these pages, “defending a lot of secondary interests for the sake of one’s future reputation may unintentionally undermine it.” Yet even skeptics do not argue that credibility is unimportant—just that it is too often invoked recklessly.
At the global level, credibility makes alliances and deterrence work, increasing cooperation and reducing the risk of conflict. When major powers possess credibility, the orders that they uphold are perceived as legitimate by other states, which recognize their own interest in the preservation of those orders and willingly operate within them. But when the credibility of major powers erodes, so too do the incentives for other actors to moderate their behavior. The credibility of the world’s leading powers is thus a prerequisite for the creation and maintenance of international order and geopolitical stability.
Despite recent efforts to stabilize U.S.-China relations, the most important dynamic in global politics remains the deepening competition between Washington and Beijing. And at the heart of that rivalry is a contest to shape the international order. While U.S. policymakers believe that Washington is “better positioned than any other nation [to] define the world we want to live in,” they recognize that Beijing “is the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and the growing capacity to do it.”
Not only are the United States and China competing for global leadership, they are also, given their overwhelming lead in terms of economic size and military might, the only states that can plausibly claim the capacity for it. The question is whether Washington or Beijing possesses the credibility to persuade other states to follow their lead. The ongoing geopolitical recalibration that we’re seeing worldwide suggests that there are reasons to doubt it.
As the incumbent global leader, the United States is the guarantor of the current global order. But it is increasingly seen as unwilling and unable to play that role, at least without a broad concert of likeminded powers. And as the only plausible challenger, China is positioning itself as the principal alternative to the United States, although Beijing is often seen as unable to fill Washington’s shoes. In the absence of great power cooperation, then, geopolitical stability and a renewed international order appear a long way off.
The United States and China, however, are not starting from the same position. Nor does their credibility matter equally. Given the scale and scope of America’s global commitments, Washington’s power is significantly more leveraged on credibility than Beijing’s. The trajectory of geopolitical stability accordingly depends far more on the credibility of U.S. threats and promises than those of its strategic rival.