Theory & Struggle

The 2020 turning point: Towards a new cold war or a new era of multipolarity?

Theory & Struggle (2021), 122, (1), 68–79.


The contest between the United States and China is entering a decisive phase, with the world configured between a new cold war and a multipolar order with the five big powers more evenly balanced. Discussion of the situation proceeds from an examination of the US trade war against China, revealing the underlying structural inequality in the relationship, moving on to a review of China’s recently adopted ‘dual circulation strategy’. This strategy maps out a new development phase to 2035, looking to achieve technological self-reliance so as to escape the US hegemonic reach, as well as to promote China’s own global economic and political influence. The strategy involves further market reforms and a wider opening to international markets, as well as the extension of the role of the state to manage circulation and production together, raising new perspectives in the application of Marxist analysis and understanding of socialism. Similarly, the new regional arrangements — the EU-China Investment treaty (CAI) and the regional economic partnership for East Asia (RCEP), intended to serve as a bridge between China’s domestic market and the US-dominated international markets — present a challenge in analysis of the contradictions shaping the five-power multipolar dynamics. Finally, bearing in mind possible modifications in US strategy towards China under President Joe Biden, the discussion considers the implications of the new developments for the advance of the multipolar trend with the rise of regionalism in the developing world, as well as for the advance of the world’s progressive movements.

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Author details

Clegg, Jenny