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  1. Global conditions rife for rise of 2 nations as superpowers – India, China; here’s is what we must do

Global conditions rife for rise of 2 nations as superpowers – India, China; here’s is what we must do

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, the world is dominated by three “super-states,” Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia.

By: | Published: May 19, 2017 5:51 AM
In this hellish vision, Africa and South and West Asia (the latter more commonly known by Westerners as the Middle East) are sites of perpetual warfare. (Express Photo)

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, the world is dominated by three “super-states,” Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. In this hellish vision, Africa and South and West Asia (the latter more commonly known by Westerners as the Middle East) are sites of perpetual warfare. There are an enormous number of differences between Orwell’s vision and the world in 2017, but the presence of three superpowers, the United States, Russia and China, with their perpetual contestation and shifting alliances, is eerily reminiscent of the novel.
Indeed, US president Donald Trump seems to have embraced Newspeak, where he regularly tells outright falsehoods, embraces right-wing conspiracy theorists, and accuses the mainstream free press of being “fake news.” The head of his Environmental Protection Agency seems more focused on destroying the environment, and his education secretary has little idea of what an educated citizen should be like, or how to achieve that goal. Instead, Trump promises to put coal miners back to work in the mines, in an homage to the condition of the “proles” in Orwell’s story.
Trump’s authoritarian instincts and actions seem to align well with those of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, although the latter seems to be more skilled in achieving his ends, thanks to his KGB past, which seems more conducive to manipulation and power plays than any number of real-estate deals. Although the United States remains by far the world’s most powerful and prosperous nation, the combination of Trump’s narcissism and incompetence with Putin’s ego and mastery of covert operations seems to leave China as a potential bright spot in the world for the immediate future.
China has plenty of authoritarian skeletons of its own, including support for unsavoury regimes around the world, but its latest push for influence is different from the disastrous future of Orwell’s nightmares. To start with, its leader, Xi Jinping, appears to have a different personality than his counterparts, even if the system he operates within is repressive. The Chinese strategy seems quite different than that of the US and Russia, perhaps because of the different worldview of its leadership, but also because China has the resources to pursue a global economic vision.
Devesh Kapur, Director of the Center for Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania (and—full disclosure—one of my co-authors, with Sanjoy Chakravorty, on the book, The Other One Percent: Indians in America) has recently provided a cogent analysis of China’s strategy in a paper titled The Quest for Global Leadership, in which he writes, “And—much like the U.S. seven decades ago—China is now attempting to transform its material power and massive current account surpluses into international influence and ideational power. Ideas need to be embedded in institutions if they are to have lasting influence. The U.S. achieved that with the Bretton Woods Institutions and later the WTO. And China is now attempting to leverage its growing economic prowess by creating new international financial institutions that can further its international and domestic goals.”
The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and New Development Bank of the BRICS are the financial institutions discussed by Kapur. The “One Belt, One Road” initiative that has been hitting the headlines is the key step in harnessing these new institutions for projects that will use Chinese capital and know-how to build infrastructure across dozens of nations, which will strengthen their economic ties with China as a result. A positive prospect is that China’s initiatives will help to fuel and sustain world economic growth, even if it does come with the negative side-effect of greater global influence that damages the prospects of democracy and human rights. (In that context, one might note that the United States’ record has been far from unblemished.) Coming at a time in which internal political dysfunctions have made the US less influential on the world stage, perhaps one can temporarily live with these changes.
If a greater global role makes China a more responsible global player (something already seen in climate change negotiations and agreements), this might help the US realise how to get back on track in its role as a superpower. Russia, on the other hand, seems destined for disaster under Putin. If nuclear and other military power can be made to take a backseat to economic clout, and as Europe struggles with its unity and its identity crisis, then the potential third economic power of the future could be India.
Kapur notes China’s potential for transformative impact on the world’s future. India, on the other hand, has a very long way to go. But the Chinese example is instructive of a possible path. The strategic steps for India include overall engagement with the global economy, building strong bilateral economic partnerships, educating and training its workforce properly, investing in infrastructure, and so on. If India can do this without sacrificing its ostensible commitment to pluralism and human rights (however imperfect it has been in practice), the distance from the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four will be comfortingly maximised, not just for India but also for many other nations.

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