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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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How would the BRI impact a Converging World Order?

Posted By Carl Michael, Monday, August 3, 2020

Carl Michael checks the facilitating role of Belt and Road Initiative on globalization in his eighth 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 Globalisation – A Converging World Order’. The key drivers are increasing support for globalisation, coupled with the BRI working to support the evolving new global order in a manner which is perceived as positive and useful. This is a scenario where the dominant themes are convergence, multilateralism and transformation, and where the universal aspect of specific political or civilisational doctrines becomes weakened.


In this scenario, states retain their independent perspectives and at the same time, cooperate in order to address global issues. The US and China have escaped the Thucydides trap. Clarification of interests and sustained growth provides no incentive to allow conflict to disturb the status quo. When conflict does occur, it does so at a regional level and even then the international treaty system adapts to ensure an ongoing balance of power and provision of a quick resolution of grievances and mitigation of root causes.


By 2050 the Chinese economy is considerably larger than that of the US. Economic growth is maximised through globalisation, considered cooperation, free-markets, prudent regulations and relatively stable financial markets. The economies of Africa, ASEAN, India and China continue to grow but with an internal prosperity divide. This divide is not only economic, but also urban/rural and digital/manual and is the cause for potential unrest.


From a social perspective, citizens in most advanced regions are politically and socially empowered and regulated migration to these regions is normalised, though illegal migration remains a challenge, being driven by inequality and environmental stress. There are tensions between ethnic and national identities. Values, beliefs and lifestyles remain stable in some areas and change rapidly in others leading to a degree of turmoil in states which are less ‘disciplined’ than others. Developed countries experience a collective decline in population and corruption increases in many countries where centralised control is too strong or too weak.


Technology is a key driver of economic growth, and digital technologies are at the heart of the innovation which drives growth. Most people have access to the information they need. The information environment is fairly well-regulated, but the rate of change makes this hard to control. At the same time technological changes make the many national government systems redundant.


Governance is characterised by the increase of enhanced global initiatives to address global structural and environmental challenges as well as international disputes. Multilateral treaties are positioned within strong institutions that have the capability to address any of a spectrum of challenges, including the transformation to a digital economy and dealing with international crime.


In the larger context of protecting and managing natural environments with long-term sustainability in mind, there are broad collaborative international initiatives to provide mitigation for environmental stress due to the changing climate and to increase social resilience. Access to water, energy, mineral and food resources is regulated in order to manage both short-term shocks as well as long-term good.


In this scenario, in 2050, the BRI has helped to cement the smooth transition to a converging world order in areas such as trade, finance, industry, resource-management, infrastructure, cultural interchange, and environment management. The BRI has addressed inequality by helping to raise living standards, and productivity outside of China, which has helped to address the impact of declining Chinese demographics. Since the BRI is multilateral and geo-economic by its very nature, though a China led initiative, it has provided most of the benefits and little of the geopolitical hegemonistic challenges feared by other nations. China’s soft power has increased through interaction and culturalization along the sections of the BRI and the logic of Eurasian integration has been made manifest.


© Carl Michael 2020

Tags:  Belt and Road Initiative  China  globalization 

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Is globalization fuelling inequality?

Posted By Felistus Mbole, Friday, June 14, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program investigates the impact of globalization on inequality in her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.


The wind of globalization has been blowing for decades and digital technology is fuelling it. The world is more interconnected today than at any other point in history. There has been a significant increase in free trade and cultural exchange. Cross-border trade deals between both private sector players and national governments form part of everyday news. What are the economic implications of this massive level of interconnectedness? What does globalization mean for inequality?


Technology has created a connected world where opportunities are shared. Globalization is the integration of markets. National boundaries have become more porous to goods, services, capital, and people. While some boundaries remain physically closed, this does not hinder flow of capital, services, and data. Social media applications like Twitter has particularly accelerated movement of information. The last couple of decades have especially seen a marked growth in cross-border exchange of human capital. The increasing use of sophisticated technology has generated need for specialised skills which are globally limited. Organisations are able to hire such technical services globally. Supported by internet connectivity, technical service providers do not need permits to work in particular countries. They can permeate national boundaries by providing their services virtually.


Who are the winners and losers from globalization? Globalization doesn’t seem to be benefitting everyone. Currently, there are an anti-globalization campaigns and policies in countries that view themselves as benefiting the world at the expense of their national interests. Offshoring of certain aspects of business to developing countries has enabled them to participate in global supply chains, positively contributing to their economic growth. On the other hand, labour has tended to flow from the less developed to developed countries and capital in the opposite direction. Developing countries have therefore benefitted most from globalization compared to the more developed ones. The effect has been decreased inequality between the global north and south.


Nevertheless, it is only the economically productive developing countries that benefit from joining global supply chain. The less productive ones that are simply an end market for goods manufactured in other countries. For instance, India and China are big beneficiaries of globalization currently. However, many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa continue to lag. The less skilled segments of the population, both locally and globally, are being left behind economically, widening the inequality divergence. Globalization is clearly a tide that is not lifting all boats.


What does this mean? The perceived inability of globalization to create mutual benefits could lead to political tensions between countries as seen currently between the United States of America and China. Trade wars and related conflicts could emerge if these perceived imbalances are sustained.  Trade has been shown to be the greatest driver of economic success and thus the convergence between developing and developed economies. Policies aimed at enhancing human capital through broadened access to quality education and healthcare, and reducing barriers to trade could reduce global inequality.


Globalization is a good thing. As the ageing economies such as Japan and parts of Europe start to fall short of the labour that is needed to drive their economies, Africa will be experiencing its demographic dividend. The world’s labour can be developed and effectively harnessed and distributed to benefit everyone. This is only possible if the wind of globalization continues to blow unabatedly.  


© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  economics  globalization  inequality 

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What visions of society from the Global South can we learn from?

Posted By Administration, Friday, October 12, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Daniel Riveong has written his sixth post in our Emerging Fellows program. He examines globalization through African and Islamic approaches to social values and economic thought. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

While globalization recalibrates the relationship between the West and the Rest, our discussions of socio-economic systems are too often dominated by Western sources. More specifically, our choices seem to be either neoliberal capitalism or socialism. This both marginalizes the full diversity of human thought and also deprives us of new ways of imagining socio-economic systems. We should look towards other traditions and consider what we can learn from African and Islamic approach to social values and economic thought, as a way expand our options on building new socio-economic systems and also helping us revisit Western thought.

African social-economic concepts are deeply rooted in communalism, such as in ujaama (familyhood), ubuntu (“I am because we are”), masakhane (“let us build together”), and others. Tanzania’s first president promoted ujaama is an African approach to socio-economics. Ujaama draws upon the idea of an extended family. The individual is deemphasized in favor of communal land ownership, communal labor, and village self-sufficiency. The primary difference from socialism and capitalism is that ujaama, as an economic plan, sought to regenerate the socio-economic systems of communal African villages.

While the ujamaa socio-economic plan ultimately failed, the idea of a more communal system of governance and economics continues in Africa, as represented by Desmond Tutu’s promotion of ubuntu and Tony Elumelu’s Afri-Capitalism. These African concepts emphasize reciprocity over selfishness, collaboration over competition, and reconciliation over punishment. While these concepts arise from the African context, they share similarities with the ideas of conscious capitalism and inclusive capitalism.

In contrast to African guiding socio-economic philosophies, Islamic thought has long sought specific guidelines over wealth and trade. Islamic jurisprudence on economics, called muamalat, encourages trade and wealth. Yet in Islam wealth and trade comes with its limits: profits must be earned responsibility and spending must have a social benefit. There are guidelines on how wealth can be earned, how much profit can be attained, and how it is to be used.

Islamic economic guidelines state that profits must come from being productive, fair, and socially responsible. For this reason, making money from money is prohibited; thus, charging interest, selling uncertainties, and gambling is off-limits. The absolute prohibition on interest was common in the Christian tradition as well, until debates in the 15th century helped to differentiate between interest and usury.

Eleventh-century Islamic scholar Al-Ghazali prohibited excessive profits, warning against attaining more than 10% profit margins or more than 5% for essential goods. (In comparison, in 2016 companies like Apple achieved margins of 21% and John & Johnson 23%.) Echoing today’s socially responsible investing movement (SRI), Shariah-compliant funds have long prohibited investing in socially harmful companies, such as in tobacco, defense industry, etc.

While there is much to learn from rethinking socio-economic systems within the context of communitarian values (such as in ujamaa) or social responsibilities (as outlined in muamalat), such thinking does also exist in the West. We should revisit these similarities in traditions and reinterpret older Western concepts such as “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (what does brotherhood mean today?) and the Roman law of res communis (how can we rethink the Roman concept of the commons?). We should treat these times of uncertainty about capitalism and neoliberalism as an opportunity to revisit the moral basics. Even Adam Smith, the figurehead of capitalism, warned against selfishness and ignoring the poor. What would he say about where we are today?

© Daniel Riveong 2018

Tags:  Africa  globalization  social value 

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