World Falls Apart as the US Withdraws

by Martin Wolf

July 7, 2020

original article on

butting heads

Covid-19 has not transformed the world, at least so far. But it has accelerated its development, technologically, socially and politically. This has been strikingly true in international relations: the divide between China and the west and the failure of US leadership of the west have both deepened. The western-led world order is in crisis. If the US re-elects Donald Trump, this will be terminal.

China is increasingly assertive. It pays no respect to western pieties about human rights, as shown in the brutal treatment of the Uighurs and the new security law in Hong Kong. Under Xi Jinping, emperor for life, the assertion of China’s status as a superpower and a despotism is complete. The abandonment of Deng Xiaoping’s celebrated advice to “hide your strength, bide your time, never take the lead” is unambiguous. Yet China must also be a partner in managing every global challenge.


The west has valuable assets in any competition for influence with China. Many still admire its core values of freedom and democracy. Western cultural and intellectual influence remains far greater than that of China.

The US has been able to create and sustain long-lived alliances of like-minded countries. If one adds together the nations that naturally align with the US, including those of Europe, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australasia and, increasingly, India, their economic and political weight remains huge.

Yet things have fallen apart. The US has succumbed to fierce internal divisions that have ended up in a destructive zero-sum nationalism. Mr Trump is the embodiment of these divisions, as former secretary of defence Jim Mattis has asserted. He is also the chief protagonist of his country’s rejection of its historic role as global model of liberal democracy and leader of an alliance of similarly inclined countries.

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