Global trends: possible impact in 2022

It is important to look at major global, regional events and trends that will influence politics and economy

Talat Masood December 29, 2021
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

As the year 2021 comes to a close it is important to look at the major global and regional events and trends that will influence the politics and economy of the world and how these would affect our lives in the coming years.

Covid-19 will be a major challenge especially for Europe, Russia, Latin America and Africa. China, by adopting stern measures, is expected to keep its spread under control. Although Pakistan has been able to largely restrict its spread by the use of vaccines, the new strain of Omicron and resurgence remain a threat. The remarkable achievement in the field of medicine was the speed at which vaccines had been developed by major producers and distributed globally in less than a year.

The world is still adjusting to the adverse fallout of the pandemic on the global economy with strategic significance for the world order. The US and most countries suffered economic decline and are now striving to revive it, although the impact of the new variants on global health introduces another element of uncertainty. One country whose economy continues to fare well despite the pandemic is China. In 2020 and 2021 its economy grew by approximately 2.5%. This was no mean achievement and according to experts would hasten its march to be the world’s largest economy by 2027. Economic success and political stability have given China the confidence to take measures to consolidate its internal power and extend its outer reach by being more geopolitically assertive. These tendencies were reflected in its supply of medicines and vaccines and its handling of the territorial dispute with India and in dealing with the integration of Hong Kong with the mainland. The US and Western countries are taking several economic and political measures to thwart China’s rise that have implications for countries like Pakistan.

The spread of Covid-19 as a pandemic is a stark reminder that nations need to prepare themselves to deal with such extraordinary challenges. Unfortunately, instead of cooperating in fighting the pandemic at the global level and complementing each other’s efforts, the US and China are competing strategically that could lead to dividing the world in different spheres of influence. The alternate view is that in some ways competition brings in the best and allows less developed nations to benefit from both.

Major powers, by delivering vaccines and medicines to developing countries, have used the spread of pandemic to strategic advantage. Claiming superiority within the hierarchy of vaccines in terms of quality is another area of competition between major powers. The US and Western countries grade Chinese vaccines inferior in its effectiveness but irrespective of their claim the Chinese through better organisation and mass vaccinations have been the most successful in combating the pandemic.

To prevent the ill effects of climate change, China and the US ought to be cooperating closely, but on the contrary, the same instincts of competition govern their policies. The race for having monopoly on raw materials that are essential components for achieving a carbon-free economy such as batteries, magnets, etcetera has already started. The very concept of inter-dependence for promoting global economy has been replaced by severe competition and mutual sanctions. Countries of the developing world are under pressure for choosing one or the other major power which is reminiscent of the Cold War era. Many major polluters like Brazil and other Latin American, South Asian and African countries remain indifferent to this ominous challenge.

A comprehensive approach has to be adopted in dealing with traditional and non-traditional threats. Nonetheless, as indications are the Sino-US competition would intensify. Perhaps it would not be as serious and conflictual as the US-Soviet Cold War but still create sharp divisions within the international system and place countries like Pakistan in difficult position that aims at having a strategic partnership with China and good relations with the US. Some of the European countries like Germany and Italy, besides being part of the Western camp, would like to maintain mutually beneficial economic and commercial relations with China.

The outcome of the competition between China and the US will also depend on the stability and intrinsic strength of their political and economic systems. No doubt, China has made remarkable progress in promoting economic progress and political stability. It claims to have practically wiped out poverty which is an extraordinary achievement considering that their population of over a billion people. But will China be able to continue with its upward march in the face of the hostile economic and political policies of the US? Is it that easy for the US to shift its economic focus away from China? Which alternate markets are available to it that have the capacity for mass production and at the same cost?

The progress in the scientific and technological field and the stability of the political systems will ultimately determine whether the US will continue to influence and dominate the world or in a decade or so China will be a serious rival.

Russia and China presently are focused on the stability of nations at the regional level. China’s interest in the stability of Pakistan is for everyone to see. Along with Russia and Central Asian states, it is working towards promoting peace in Afghanistan. The spillover effect from an unstable Afghanistan seriously affects the security and economy of neighbouring countries. It is disconcerting the way the Taliban government is treating women and confirms that they haven’t changed from their medieval thinking. Their policies could encourage retrogressive elements and groups within Pakistan and neighbouring countries. More so it would give the US and Western countries good reason to withhold aid and recognition at the official level.

No less important is the race to dominate the space. In this, the US and Russia will remain in the lead but China is expected to fast catch up. It is making progress with several space-related initiatives which the US and its allies find disconcerting. There are clear signs that space would be another area of competition between major powers.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2021.

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