The Evolution of Great Power Competition and Regional Cooperation

October 12, 2022

About the author:

Vladimir Lukin, Research Professor of National Research University Higher School of Economics; Deputy Chairman of the State Duma (2000-2004) 


Today I will focus my remarks on the points of turmoil found in the title of this conference – Great Power Competition and Regional Cooperation, and the evolution of the process, which is a total process. 


In 1972, US President Richard Nixon made two historic visits: first to Beijing in February, and then to Moscow in June. This formed the basic structure for the establishment of triangular relations that have remained in existence for over half a century. However, the triangular world structure, which does not exist in a vacuum, but in a very complicated international environment, has changed in two substantive ways over recent years. The international relations environment both inside the triangle and outside the triangle has evolved. 


In the view of many analysts, the most successful actor within the triangular relationship over the past 50 years has been China. Despite centuries of turbulence, China not only achieved surprising and unquestionable success in building a new country but also created a powerful system of strategic influence in the world. It is the first and most important winner within the triangular model. Second, we must acknowledge the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the diminished global influence inherited by Russia. However, Russia remains a key actor in the global triangular combination. Russia sustains a high level of global influence due to its array of strategic weapons, vast geographical size, and its rich store of cultural, intellectual and scientific achievements. 


For the United States, which took the leading role in the construction and maintenance of the triangular model, primacy has come at a great cost. The US GDP has declined from past heights to only 22% of world GDP over the past 50 years. The cost of unilateral and multilateral relations with its main allies, and globally active military and economic interventions, has drained it of vigor and wealth. While the U.S. retains importance and power second to none, its progress has stalled. US loss of prestige and power is the major preoccupation for its governing class and political and diplomatic elites.


The external triangular relations period is far more complicated now than 50 years ago. Relational changes within the triangular construct manifest in more frequent changes to the geopolitical environment beyond the triangle. The most important alteration to the external triangular environment is an increasing level of regional participation in global actions and ventures. This is widely observed in the increased role of regional actors and multilaterals on the international stage and a major evolution in the post-WWII world order. Consider the situations of both the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where local actors play an increasingly influential role. It is sufficient to mention Turkey, Iran, Israel, and other regional countries. 


Long-term decisions regarding the problems of our planet demand much broader cooperation than just within the triangle. The recent COVID-19 pandemic illustrates how global actions from within the triangular balance did not meet expectations and how local measures to rid community spread of the virus achieved significant success. Regional cooperative measures have increased food supply and advanced space and cyber technology, amongst other scientific and material advances. This dynamic may continue as triangular dialogue becomes less effective. Only multipolar cooperation can rebalance the extant triangular model’s pitfalls and avoid the perils of potential doomsday scenarios. 


The competition of great powers over the previous two centuries had been mainly centered in Europe. In the 20th century, Europe’s incessant territorial conflicts and constant redrawing of borders, both in Europe and in its empires resulted in the rise of the U.S. and Japan as global powers, and eventually, the entire globe was drawn into the two most destructive conflagrations in history. The past must not be repeated. Asia must collectively navigate a progressive path into a new international reality. 


Any global solution will require a rebalance away from increasing internal triangular competition while boosting regional and global external triangular motivations for cooperation. As such, the Asia Pacific has demonstrated much promise, placing cooperative motivations ahead of narrow competition. China will play a key role in the development of a new cooperative pathway, because it operates both within and without the triangle and is a central part of the Asian continent. 


China has developed unique traditions in its millennia of political and economic interaction with neighbors and partners. China’s approach is about being constructive, avoiding red lines and embracing compromise. In this view, China is a “mild” and “soft” power. This designation is not an invention of Anglo-American scholars, but grounded in the philosophical, traditional and historical practice of Chinese statecraft over millennia. China’s unique experience can be elevated, propagated and practiced more widely. China can play an active role to foster Asian alternatives to outdated and unresponsive geopolitical perspectives. A rapid peaceful solution in Ukraine could allow Russia’s proximity to both China and Europe to provide it with a key bridging role in collective efforts to foster multipolar cooperation.


Please note: The above contents only represent the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of Taihe Institute.


This article is from the September issue of TI Observer (TIO), which is a monthly publication devoted to bringing China and the rest of the world closer together by facilitating mutual understanding and promoting exchanges of views. If you are interested in knowing more about the September issue, please click here:




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