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How would the BRI impact a Continuing World Order?

Posted By Carl Michael, Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Carl Michael checks the effect of Belt and Road Initiative on world order in his ninth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


The theme of this scenario is: ‘The BRI Impedes Globalisation – A Continuing World Order’. The key drivers are continuing support for globalisation, coupled with the BRI working as an impediment in the global order, which is how it is viewed by the international community. In this scenario the dominant themes are continuity, multipolarity, business-as-usual, and a weakening of a universal approach to the international order.


In this scenario, states form blocs with those in geographical proximity or with similar civilisational foundations. They coordinate within blocs, though blocs compete with each other. The US and China as the leaders of the largest blocs, have not quite escaped the Thucydides trap; with conflict addressed through ‘a long peace’ approach. Disconnection, distrust and antagonism are rife. The heightened potential for conflict raises military expenditure although actual conflict remains limited.


By 2050 the Chinese economy is the largest but that of the US is dominant. Intra-bloc trade is limited by barriers and actual international institutions are given little attention. The economies of Africa, ASEAN, India and China continue to grow but with an internal prosperity divide. Economic growth is strongly viewed through a resilience lens and long-term planning is viewed as crucial.


From a social perspective, cohesion is emphasized in most advanced regions and the provision of welfare and social services is controlled. Values and lifestyles are less given to trends because of an emphasis on ‘discipline’. Developed countries experience a collective decline in population but migration is highly controlled, leading to economic and social pressures being alleviated through growing levels of personal augmentation.


Technology and information remain a critical driver of growth, but the drivers for technological innovation are the military and security. Technology availability is constrained by a lack of international cooperation and is poorly regulated in social and ethical terms. Most states or blocs prioritise locking-down and securing their information environments in order to defend them, but this has an inadvertent effect on the free flow of people, knowledge and material.


Governance is characterised by the lack of global initiatives to address global problems because of a lack of respected multilateral institutions. This leads to stronger intra-bloc frameworks further undermining global institutions. Low-intensity hybrid conflict is commonplace, which strengthens the hands of bloc leaders as they manage their states, the governance of which is strongly impacted by technological advancements. The megacity rules the day with high levels of intra-urban connectivity within blocs but not between them.


In the context of protecting and managing the global natural environment, there are few international initiatives to provide mitigation for environmental stress arising from the changing climate. Access to water, energy, mineral and food resources is regulated at the bloc level, in order to manage both short-term shocks as well as long-term resilience structures. There is strong global competition for key mineral resources. The result is inconsistency, disconnection, and a lack of coordination for environmental management.


In this scenario, in 2050, the BRI has hindered globalisation and instead upheld the continuing of the current world order. Despite the BRI being designed to be multilateral and geo-economic, its perception as an instrument of hegemony enhanced polarisation, and the challenges it created engendered distrust among many powerful nations. As a result, China did not increase its soft-power, and this added to the perception that it was different from the rest of the world. Taiwan, the South China Sea and North Korea will continue to be flashpoints, but a pre-emptive strike remains unlikely. The emphasis will be on deterrence and ambiguity rather than overt provocation since all parties know that any counterproductive moves would upset the ongoing balance of the prevailing multipolar world order.


© Carl Michael 2020

Tags:  Belt and Road Initiative  globalization  world order 

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