Friday, 5 June, 2020

Changing Power Equation

P Kharel


By now, the writings on the wall are clear: Global power equations are changing with certainty. It’s only a question of how and at what speed. North Korea recently provided an inkling of what might be in store for especially the major powers that wielded much of the say in global agenda in the post-World War II decades.
To the United States’ President Donald Trump the other day, who made not so subtle appeal for another summit with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean signalled that he had no interest in giving any meeting to brag about unless Pyongyang got something substantial in return. Hoping that a US decision a few days earlier to call off joint military exercises with South Korea would do a narcotising trick, Trump tweeted, asking the North Korean leader to “act quickly, get the deal done’ and hinted at anther summit between them, saying ‘See you soon!”.
Until a few years the American press used to describe China’s next-door hard core communist neighbour as “pariah” and “rogue” state suffering from acute poverty and rampant famine. Enter Trump in January 2016 as the boss of the White House, first sounding a salvo of fire and fury and threatening to use all available resources and ammunition to bring the “recalcitrant” ruler to due order. In return, Kim last fortnight made a blunt rebuff as if avenging the manner in which he at one time was ridiculed by the American press about his age, physical shape and looks in a “poverty-stricken” country.

Failed tactic
The tactics of denigrating and demonising the determined communist leader did not work, persistent and tough as the youngest living executive head of state was. Pyongyang is well aware of how Western allies and heavily-aid dependent states find themselves arm-twisted to pack off North Korean businesses to their home. Undeterred, the adamantly persistent one-party communist regime has demonstrated its staying power, notwithstanding increasingly punishing relentless sanctions from various corners.
Kim’s possession of long-range missiles and other quite sophisticated weapons serves as a deterrent against the fire and fury that Trump spoke of less than three years ago before Washington changed lane to pursue summit level talks. Two summits have not produced any major breakthroughs, except for some form of atmospherics. So how come a supposedly poverty-ridden country, shunned and boycotted by the industrial West with worldwide clout, gets going largely on its own?
North Korea’s is but an indicator of the emerging scenario. China is fast emerging with a reputation of a global power and economic clout. The US-led European powers, which enjoyed deep dominance in the world affairs since the end of World War II, today, suffer daily heartburns at the prospect of being compelled to concede the higher spot to an Eastern country—that too of a community variety. This is especially hard to bear for Washington on whose coattails European powers relied so heavily and for so long for pushing their agendas.
For most of the West’s allies in Africa and Asia and quite a few parts of South America, the anticipated change does not give any big reason for consternation. China is five times larger than the population as well as area of Continental Europe. The traditionally dominant capitals need to learn getting used to the changing equation. Their dominance in setting the world agendas, thanks to their economic clout and technological prowess, is already on the decline.
In the nearly decade-long Vietnam War, beginning in the 1960s, 1 million local people and troops were killed whereas Americans suffered 55,000 casualties. The disorderly breakup of the first communist country, the Soviet Union in the early 1990s created a socio-political-economic chaos that sends shudders down the spine of most Russians even today. In Afghanistan, the US-led foreign forces invaded and ousted the Taliban rule, but Washington remains trapped 18 years later too unable to maintain law and order in that country.
Libya’s long-time ruler Moammer Kadhafi was murdered but the country has fallen into disorder, with we have two governments claiming to rule from two different cities. In Syria, Sudan and Iraq, the tales are similar with slight variations as far as promises of political reforms, economic prosperity and political stability are concerned. Moscow, with China discreet support, put its foot down in Syria, and the West’s claim that Syrian leader Assad’s rule was doomed to end proved sharply premature. Outside efforts at orchestrating a regime change in Venezuela stand ridiculed.
As a mark of its confidence in its increasing presence and influence on the Africa, China funded the entire $200 million cost of African Union’s headquarters at the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. In Latin America, Brazil’s largest trading partner is China and no longer the US. Chile and Peru also have similar record-books. Arrogance and complacency led to the West’s ignorance about China’s progress rate in marshalling its resources for expanding trade markets and advancing technological sophistication. Beijing’s investment strategy has been quietly aggressive. Britain and France have been reduced to middle ranking incomes.
The United Nations was born with allocation of veto powers to five countries—at its backbone, the Security Council. China is the only permanent member that represents the largest continent with the largest population and the highest number of member states. “After a century of humiliation,” Beijing wants to become a regional power for its share of due space under the sun. Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew, who rubbed shoulders with the big and mighty in the comity of nations during his drive at making his city state a dazzling economic success in an oasis of peace, order and stability, wrote in his autography: “Theirs is a culture 4,000 years old with 1.3 billion people, many of great talent. How could they not aspire to be number one in Asia, and in time the world?”

Multipolar world
China shines from the 2030s to at least 2050s before some other country in Asia or Latin America takes its place in a multipolar world. Even Russia could shine in such spot if it played its role calculated and utilised its vast natural resources carefully in an effectively commercial manner. The former Iron Curtain’s strategic partnership with communist China could pay rich dividends. Most countries are developing or poorest among the poor. They have nothing much to lose: One set of powers just might replace another, perhaps only to spin off the same yarn its predecessor nursed and cultivated for so long.

(Former chief editor of The Rising Nepal, P. Kharel has been writing for this daily since 1973) 

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