After China in December 2022 suddenly changed course from zero-Covid to total termination of all restrictions, all the usual Western China bashers were rejoicing. See, it was a failure! We handled the epidemic the right way, while Xi’s China bungled it! But if we make a comparison of the performance of the leading Western powers with China’s, it is hard to justify this rejoicing.
In the UN, Russia has been condemned for its war in Ukraine by an overwhelming majority of nations. Despite this, very few countries outside NATO+ are joining the sanctions against Russia. How come that the Global South is unwilling to support the sanctions? And will it be possible for the US to twist the arms of these unwilling countries to get them to align?
Whether there will be a technological and trade decoupling between China and NATO+ is not up for discussion any longer – it is already ongoing. What we still don’t know, is how far it will go, and how fast. A vicious political circle may imply that it will go very far, and very fast, at least if the US is to decide. Whether China will be able to prosper despite this technology war, is anybody’s guess. My guess is that it will.
Many countries build up reserves of gold and foreign exchange to hedge against sudden adverse events. As the currencies such as the US dollar and the Euro are not linked to any physical asset (as e.g., gold), their value is based on trust (called fiat money). However, the increasing politicization of the international financial system is eroding this trust. This may have far-reaching repercussions as some countries are now looking for alternatives.
It looks as if sanctions haven’t had the expected disastrous consequences for Russia compared to say Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, at least in the short term. But what about the longer perspective? Will the Russian economy implode or stagnate? Or will it be able to survive and perhaps even prosper? History tells us that both scenarios are possible and that the outcome to a high degree depends on how well the situation is managed and the legitimacy of the political leadership.
The ongoing US trade war against China will have deep longer term repercussions, independently of whether a trade deal is reached to end it. Had it only been a question of erratic actions by a lunatic president, the effects could have been limited. But Trump is not alone. The general mood in the US establishment is that China should be contained, or even rolled back. So the key-word is now ‘disentangling’ of the US economy from China.
The ongoing trade war that the US has unleashed against China will change the history of the 21st century, independently of whether an agreement is eventually reached between the parties or not. It signals the decision of the US to prevent China from growing into an economic superpower, using whatever means it has at hand. But this is an extremely dangerous and futile policy. China has more than four times the population of the US. As it develops, its economy will inevitably surpass the US. There is nothing the US can do to prevent that, so they will have to find out how best to live with it. Unfortunately, this is not how an important part of the US establishment sees it.
China is no longer a low-wage economy. To avoid being caught in a trap where its products are neither really cheap, nor really good, it wants to go upmarket, moving from low-tech standard products to high-tech, high-value products. This is what the strategy “China 2025” is about, supported by big government funding. Is this a legitimate strategy, or is it unfair competition? The US thinks the latter and is determined to do what it can to stop it. But they are unlikely to succeed.
The spectacular arrest in Canada of the chief financial officer from Chinese telecom giant Huawei follows on the heels of the US punishing another Chinese telecom company, ZTE, earlier this year. The argument is that these companies have violated the US sanctions against Iran. But this is a much deeper conflict and of existential importance for both the US and China and the consequences are far-reaching. How far is the US willing to go to prevent China from becoming a technological great power?
The Paris summit ended with an agreement, fortunately. Not good enough to save our grandchildren from climate disaster, but at least a beginning, which we hopefully will be able to build upon. Apart from the climate change deniers, who live in their own claustrophobic world, much of the disagreement is about justice: which are the countries to blame, and which should clean up their acts first? The Paris summit tried to avoid the question of justice and convince us that we all have to contribute, including the developing countries. And the developing countries seem to have gruntingly accepted that.