A new world order is taking shape

By Wu Jianmin
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China.org.cn, December 21, 2009
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Editor's Note: The following remarks are reflections on the international situation in 2009 by Wu Jianmin, president of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies and a professor at the China Foreign Affairs Institute.

2009 is drawing to a close. Reflecting on changes in the international situation that have taken place this year, I believe we are witnessing the emergence of a new world order.

World orders are relatively stable and usually retain their basic structure over a long period. On December 25, 1991 Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved, and the Soviet flag was lowered over the Kremlin. This event signaled the crumbling of the Yalta system established at the end of the Second World War. The world was in transition to a new world order. World orders owe their stability to a rough balance among the various powers. The collapse of the old world order means the old balance has been upset. The transitional period is simply the period in which the world seeks a new balance. Once a new balance is achieved, a new order is formed.

What defines the outlines of a new world order? Firstly, we must ask which countries are going to be at the center of the international arena in the new order? Secondly, which regions are going to dominate international relations? Thirdly, which nations will become less influential than in the past? If we look at the international situation in 2009, bearing in mind the above-mentioned three points, we can see that a new world order has begun to emerge this year.

Usually nations at the center of the international arena make proposals on the major issues facing the world. After discussion and amendment through various mechanisms, they eventually become the consensus of the entire world community.

Peace and development are the two major themes in today's world. With the world still mired in a severe economic downturn, economic and financial issues have topped the agenda this year. The G20 summits held in London on April 2 and in Pittsburg on September 24 were the focus of global attention. The U.S. and China held intensive negotiations prior to the summits and the proposals they made became the basis of the agreements reached at the summits.

Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction continues to pose a threat to world peace. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) conducted its second underground nuclear test on May 25, 2009, arousing strong opposition from the international community. The United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1874 on June 12 condemning the DPRK "in the strongest terms" and imposing new sanctions. Public opinion recognized that the U.S. and China had played a key role in the adoption of the resolution.

The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference held from Dec 7 to Dec 18 is one of the most important multilateral conferences of the new century. The U.S. and China have conducted extensive negotiations in the run up to the conference. We may well imagine that the consensus reached by the two nations will have an important influence on the results of the conference.

After the Opium War in 1840, China's role in international affairs was marginalized. The Chinese people had to fight for more than a century to regain their independence and achieve liberation. But since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 our nation has been on the road to recovery. China has moved from the margins to center stage in international affairs over the past 60 years. International public opinion now recognizes China is at the center of the international arena. To be frank, China's world standing is rising faster than we expected.

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