Sun, Dec 30, 2012 - Page 9 News List

China is the elephant in the situation room

The significance of China’s development in shaping the future of the world is fundamental

By Ian Bremmer  /  Reuters

4. Wider scope of regional instability: “Will regional instability, especially in the Middle East and South Asia, spill over and create global insecurity?”

In this section, East Asia gets an honorable mention, but it should be front and center. The NIC aptly explains the regional dynamic: “Regional trends will pull countries in two directions: Toward China economically, but toward the US and each other for security.” As China grows, this balancing act will become unsustainable. And with such an outsized percentage of global growth slated to come from East Asia, this region’s issues are the world’s issues.

I do not mean to give prospects for Middle Eastern and South Asian instability short shrift — they will have their fair share and more. However, China and its neighbors are at the center of this trend.

5. Impact of new technologies: Can the advent of new technologies help address global challenges like population growth and climate change?

Technological innovation is a global positive, but its potential to negatively impact China is a substantial piece of the puzzle.

Let us focus first on social media and innovation in information and technology. Any trend that scrambles the “status quo” of public perception and could potentially pierce the Chinese Politburo’s opacity has the potential to be structurally destabilizing. An estimated 570 million Chinese are on the Internet, and approximately 100,000 log in for the first time each day. Can the government keep pace with the lightning speed of technological innovation? What happens if it cannot?

Another field of cutting-edge technology between now and 2030 will be in 3D printing for manufacturing and robotics. As the NIC explains, these technologies could eliminate low and middle-wage jobs in developed countries, as has already happened with outsourcing.

However, what of their impact on a developing nation such as China? A similar “outsourcing” from human labor to a machine equivalent could be hugely disruptive. Machine-driven economic growth could exacerbate the dichotomy between the poor rural China and the rich urban one. What happens when China’s most valuable resource — ample cheap labor — becomes the most serious threat to central political control?

6. Role of the US: “Will the US be able to work with new partners to reinvent the economic system?”

The report correctly depicts the role of the US as a game-changer, but China could use a parallel section. China and the US’ global actions will increasingly be informed by the other.

The report’s question would better read: “Will the US be able to work with countries like China to reinvent the economic system?” Or, if their bilateral relationship proves more contentious, tweak as follows: “Will the US be able to work around China?”

POTENTIAL WORLDS

In the potential worlds section, we get four distinct global scenarios for 2030 — and a disclaimer that the real outcome will likely contain elements from all of them. On one end of the spectrum, we get a world of Stalled Engines, in which the US has pulled inward, globalization has largely ceased and the powerhouses of global growth have halted. On the other end, there is Fusion-a world where “China and the US collaborate on a range of issues, leading to broader global cooperation.”

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