inspects the effect of Belt and Road Initiative on a conflicting world order in
his tenth 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 Facilitates Nationalism – A Conflicting
World Order’. The key drivers are decreasing support for globalisation, coupled
with the BRI working as a facilitator even though it engendered greater
divergence. This is a scenario where the dominant themes are antagonism,
fragmentation and the collapse of globalisation, and where a universal approach
to cooperation is perceived as irrelevant. This and the following scenario
differ from the previous ones which portrayed the future as ‘the more things
change, the more they stay the same’.
From a political perspective, states and sub-states compete with each other
incessantly, with cooperation and coalitions being transient and used as
mechanisms for self-interest. There are few effective multilateral ‘referee’
institutions. Chaos and conflict are rampant, and military and security spending
are high. However, because of strong military deterrence, conflicts are
Economic imbalances grow because of unregulated global trade and increasing
inequality cause greater dysfunction in the international system, in which there
are few long-term multilateral agreements. The rate of development remains high
and is not constrained by consideration for the long-term good of society.
From a social perspective, the impact of environmental stress increase migration
to more liveable and prosperous regions. Since the migration is driven by
economics, societies become less socially cohesive and numbers of stateless
persons continually grows.
Technological advances are fuelled by weapons development and security and are
largely driven by regional powers and large corporations. Technological and
digital global governance is weak which exacerbates corruption and inequality.
The information environment is open and is a key driver of innovation, yet
remains vulnerable to increasing manipulation, theft and exploitation.
From a legal and governance perspective, international institutions such as the
UN and WTO are undermined and weak. Megalopolises act in concert with large
corporations to provide services, enforce laws and raise taxes. This weakens
some states and increases the prominence of relatively unaccountable non-state
actors, thus providing fertile ground for an increase in corruption.
From an environmental perspective, the background of conflict reduces the
ability to mitigate the impact of environmental stress resulting in a focus on
resilience and adaptation. Resource constraints increase tensions. Responses to
natural disasters are inefficiently addressed leading to an increase in the
power of private enterprises and the depletion of the global commons.
In this scenario, in 2050, the BRI has hindered globalisation and contributed to
conflict and the fragmentation of the current world order. Despite the
multilateral and geo-economic nature of the BRI, as a China led initiative it
has provided a platform which enhanced polarisation, and because of the
hegemonistic challenges it exposed, the BRI became distrusted and feared by
other nations. China’s soft power did not grow, it did not dominate, nor did it
stagnate. China continued to be the dominant economy in Asia and managed its
neighbours’ apprehensions triggered by its authoritarian and mercantile
approach. Since the growing automation of production and digitalisation reduced
inherent manufacturing advantage, China asserted its authority by creating the
occasional geopolitical crisis to deflect domestic discontent with its slowing
China retained the BRI at the centre of its strategic intent. For those nations
that were not partners, apprehension and the potential for conflict was less
about military conflict and more about the weaponization of the free-movement
networked elements of globalisation such as ideas, data and people which
underpinned prosperity and security. Throughout this, the driving logic of
trans-continental integration remained undiminished there by strengthening the
role of the Belt in the BRI. Despite the background of constant information
warfare, the Thucydides trap was eluded, though conflict was approached by the
major parties with mindsets reflecting the games, Chess and Go.
© Carl Michael 2020