Trends in International Relations
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1. Shiite-Sunni violence. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and exacerbated by the 'Arab Spring', we've seen sectarian violence between these two Muslim groups in many countries. Since the civil war started in Syria, between Alawites (a branch of Shiites) and the Sunni majority, Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon are increasingly backing their co-religionists. Shiite Iran backs Assad, Sunni Saudi Arabia backs the rebels. As a commentator said, "This will get worse before it gets worse."
2. A new 'Scramble for Africa'. Africa is blessed/cursed with immense mineral resources: oil, natural gas, iron, copper, nickel, uranium, gold, diamonds, etc. China wants them. But they are clashing with the neo-colonial interests of Europe and the U.S. Now Brazil is becoming a major player in the region. Will Africa benefit, or get raped (again)? Or a bit of both.
As well as mineral resources, Africa has a young and growing population willing to work for low wages, while wages are rising rapidly in China and Southeast Asia. Watch as the world's multinationals rush in.
3. Europe: a crisis that should have changed everything, but didn't. The recent crisis has proven the impossibility of maintaining a single currency without a single economic policy, and a single entity to decide that policy. Europe should have taken the opportunity to unite as a true federation, a 'United States of Europe'. Or it should have decided to go its seperate ways.
Instead, Europe has decided to limp along like a lame duck until the next crisis... (**sigh**)
4. Forget about 'BRICS'. It was a nice idea, but those 5 countries have less to unite them than to divide them. All 5 countries will play an important role in the future, but they will go their seperate ways, geopolitically.
5. The Rise and Rise of China. Unless something completely unexpected happens, China will soon replace the U.S. as the dominant power in East Asia and the Western Pacific. Taiwan will return to China, and China will unilaterally decide its maritime boundaries.
China will move into high tech industries and surprise the world by being far more innovative than anyone imagined. Most of the new technology in the 2020s and after will come from China.
Well, those are my crystal-ball predictions. I could be wrong about some or all of them.
- Rising ocean levels and the general changing of agricultural patterns that will be caused by global warming. Both of which will cause major social and economic dislocations in the world's poorest societies.
- The spread of nuclear weapons (or at least a breakout nuclear-weapons capability) to about a dozen more countries and the complete crumbling of the nonproliferation regime.
- Starting from about 2020, the shifting of the engine of global economic growth back to the world's developed states as rising states like China begin to stagnate due to an inability or an unwillingness to reform their educational and political systems and their production markets to compete in the technologies that will drive economic growth for the next 30 years (technologies that will invariably come out of the US with lesser pockets of innovation in places like Germany, Canada, France, Japan, etc.).
- Remember that China hasn't been a technological innovator on a mass scale for centuries, and the ability to innovate isn't something that you can import the way you can capital machinery.
- The spread of new, highly virulent diseases for which mankind has little to no ability to combat using the medical techniques developed over the last 60 years. Humanity is long overdue for a major pandemic.
- The scrapping of all real attempts at a global trading regime in favor of regional blocs with the US, by virtue of its geostrategic position, alone at the center of several different blocs.
- The UN to continue its virtual insignificance in the realm of foreign relations due to the P5's inability to agree on a reform that gives the Security Council any kind of legitimacy in the eyes of an increasingly disgusted international community (especially due to the fact that France and the UK will retain their no longer deserved status as veto-wielding members of the Council).
- Winter will finally return bringing both the Wildlings and the White Walkers south of the Wall and causing great sorrow to the people of Westeros. (Sorry. I couldn't resist that one.)
I've heard Westerners say that Chinese can't innovate. It's very comforting, no doubt, for the West to believe that. "It doesn't matter if the Chinese take all the manufacturing jobs- at least the new technology will come from us!"
Here's why I think they're wrong. First, because a large portion of the world's industrial production has moved to China. Most innovation happens not in some labratory, but within the factory itself. Where the production is, the innovation is. And the production is mostly in China now.
Secondly, Chinese are more innovative than you think. I've seen that first hand, living in China. This complacency in the West is dangerous. It's the same kind of complacency that lead China to be surprised by the rise of Europe ("What, those barbarians?") and Japan in the 19th Century.
The primary reason for this is that the human rights situation in China is so stifling that the ability to freely express themselves on any topic that people like this crave and frankly require to build the kinds of business empires that people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates created in the US is simply lacking in China. The CCP has a choice to make: either it can continue to rule China as a one-party state without a true rule of law and continue to crack down on criticism about it, or it can have a truly technologically advanced and world-leading innovation economy; but it can't have both. Relying on people who are willing to live under these conditions for the good of their country will only get them so far. Patriotism is a thin shield when someone from the security services is bashing you in the head with a baton because you actually have the temerity to say that the people who govern your country should be selected by the citizenry in free and fair elections.
Even those who are willing to put up with the human rights situation are not eager to start businesses in China because the legal system is a joke. Americans like to say it's not what you know but who you know that matters. Well, in China, that is true in spades. The legal system in China doesn't uphold justice, it upholds the privileges of the powerful and connected. Chinese entrepreneurs see the US legal system as something that can protect them and what they've created through their hard work. They view the Chinese legal system as the means by which someone more powerful will take the fruits of their labor away from them, even if it's just that the Chinese legal system ignores their pleas to take up their cases.
Both the political and legal situations in China continue to improve on a yearly basis, but they are both far from what is required if China wants to be a truly innovative country. The West didn't surpass China because China was complacent; the West surpassed China because Western societies developed the kinds of political and legal systems that permitted Westerners to develop and exploit the innovations of their people. All societies have innovative people, but not all societies permit those innovative people the political and legal space they need to do the kinds of things they've done in the West over the last 500 years. Until China reforms its political and legal systems it will continue to be at least one-step behind the West in technological advancement, and most of its best minds will continue to find their way to countries that permit them the political and legal space to flourish to their full potentials, and most of those countries are in the West.
However, as you noted, a lot is changing. There is a growing middle class in China which travels and studies abroad, and is dissatisfied with censorship at home. There is also a cyber-culture which is constantly finding ways around the 'great firewall of China'. Chinese hackers are now world-class, and they don't all work for the government.
Even now, speech isn't as repressed as it appears to outsiders. Chinese can- and do- say whatever they want in private discussions, and that discussion often spills over into social media. The Chinese government keeps trying to censor discussion online, but they are always one step behind. I've taught university classes in China where we discussed religious and political issues, avoiding only the more sensitive "3Ts". In 'English Corner' discussions, we've discussed even those topics-- the students brought them up, and I was more nervous than they were about discussing them.