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Multilateralism Will Survive the Great Fracture

Although China and the US are strategic rivals, each depends on global markets, finance, and innovation, and needs to co-opt other countries and regions in order to sustain its own power. For this reason, both will use multilateralism, formal and informal, to protect the system within which they have flourished and to solidify their alliances.

OXFORD – At the recent opening of the United Nations General Assembly, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the United States and China could “split the globe” into separate trade and financial blocs with diverging Internet and artificial-intelligence capacities. Moreover, he said, such a “Great Fracture” between the world’s two largest economies could become a geostrategic and military divide.

The emerging Sino-American tensions in international organizations are indeed alarming. US President Donald Trump’s administration, having previously accused the World Health Organization of cozying up to China, has announced its intention to withdraw the US from the agency and is withholding funding, thus depriving the WHO of its largest single financial contributor. The US has also stalled the World Trade Organization’s dispute-settlement system by vetoing the appointment of new judges to its appellate body.

Fortunately, however, three strands of multilateralism will contain the risk of a great superpower fracture.

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