Acid in India, educated in the United Arab Emirates, Germany and New York, and professionally trained in the United States, Europe and Asia, Parag Khanna at 43 is a “son of globalization.” With a degree in International Relations from Georgetown University and a doctorate from the London School of Economics, he has worked for the Davos and Brookings Forum and has been an advisor to the Bush Administration in Iraq and Afghanistan and to Obama at the National Intelligence Council. In addition to advising governments on all continents, he has written six books and countless essays on the new world order of the 21st century. After analyzing the loss of US hegemony and the configuration of a multipolar planet in the trilogy that began with “The Second World” and concluded with “Conectography”, his latest work, “The future is Asian”, describes the turnaround economic growth from West to East not only because of the rise of China, but also of the other countries in this region. Wearing a Barcelona jersey, at whose Singapore academy his son studies, Parag Khanna attends ABC by video conference from his home on the shores of the Straits of Malacca, the busiest sea route in globalization.
Will the coronavirus change the globalized world?
We will continue to have a globalized world. But the mode and levels of globalization change. Some say that it is the end of globalization or that it is going backwards, but it is not true. There are aspects of globalization that did not exist a decade ago, when some were already predicting its end due to the financial crisis of 2008. Millions of people work remotely and Western pension funds are invested in China. It is ridiculous when it comes to globalization in one aspect only.
The 2008 financial crisis fueled the rise of China and the decline of the West, or at least helped level them out. Will the coronavirus do the same? There are already studies that predict that China’s GDP will exceed that of the US in 2028, earlier than expected.
GDP per capita rises in China because the economy grows and poverty is reduced. Other than that, I don’t think the date China becomes a larger economy than the US in nominal terms is important. China’s population is so large that this is inevitable. In addition, in terms of purchasing power parity, China’s economy has been larger than that of the US for six years. China’s purpose is not to have a per capita income of $ 60,000, at least not under the current environmental model. The important thing is the quality of life. An Indian lives in a freer society than a Chinese, but the Indian’s ability to lead a decent life is only a fraction of that of the Chinese. The quality of life for a Chinese is higher even with less political freedom.
Speaking of India, will it ever catch up with China?
India will never match China. It will have more population in five or ten years. But will it be that important geopolitical or economic? Will it be the first commercial partner of 130 countries? Will it have an Army that reaches the whole world? Will it be that relevant or will it have a permanent seat on the Security Council? Of course not. India has to focus on being better and attracting the investment that China and its infrastructures have made.
Will Biden change US policy with China? Will he be able to form a “democratic bloc” to confront China on issues like Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the increasing repression under President Xi Jinping?
I am very skeptical. I don’t think the US has a policy with China, but it has always been reacting. If there is a policy towards China, it has not been successful. The policy was to tackle the trade deficit, but it has grown. The Biden Administration will also be reactive. Trump tried to unite other countries, such as Japan, India, Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia, supporting their navies to defend themselves in the South China Sea. That is considered “good policy” and Biden will continue it. Pressuring China on other issues, such as opening its market, intellectual protection, and ending state subsidies, are problems that have persisted since it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) twenty years ago. Europe has been more effective in this regard than the US, as it has just signed an investment treaty with China and is going to press for its economic interests regardless of whether or not Biden joins. It remains to be seen if Biden has anything to offer, but he has already said that he will not join the Trans-Pacific Economic Cooperation Agreement (TPP). In addition, he has promised that he will not sign trade agreements unless they benefit American workers. But if American companies know that Biden will not join the TPP, they will outsource even more to Asia, operating as joint ventures to gain better access to their markets. Right now we are hearing ideological proposals such as having a “conference of democracies”, but not pragmatic ones. In Asia it is all more material, it is about the economy, trade, investment …
Will that give China room to be even more influential?
Yes, but, in commercial terms, the US is no longer so influential. North America only accounts for 14 percent of global trade because its self-sufficiency is greater. China trades more because it needs it. Europe does the same and also sets the rules of the game.
China has also formed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Association (RCEP), the world’s largest trading bloc, with 14 other Asia-Pacific countries. Does Beijing emerge as the winner of the pandemic against the West, sunk by the coronavirus?
China benefits and the other nations too. And, if you don’t trust Beijing, you can produce your items in Vietnam, Thailand, or the Philippines, then export them to China with fewer hurdles. We have to see how it turns out. China may violate the agreement and continue its exports while imposing restrictions on its market… But these countries can also impose restrictions on China and limit foreign investment in critical sectors. China will now have more influence in Asia, not only because of this treaty, but also because of the growing trade in the region, dating back to 1998, and because of the “New Silk Roads.”
Will trade solve the confrontations that Beijing has with other countries of that treaty, such as Australia, Japan or Vietnam?
Asia has achieved geoeconomic convergence with trade, technology and investment, reducing geopolitical frictions. The question is whether that trend can be sustained. There are indicators in both directions. On the positive side, we have this trade agreement and the rapprochement between China, Japan and South Korea. But there are also pessimistic examples, such as China’s tension with Taiwan, India and Australia. This balance must be analyzed, and if a crisis or war breaks out, that does not mean that all of Asia will collapse.
On the fronts of China with Taiwan and India Vietnam is added. Can they all explode together?
China has many open fronts in Asia. When I go to Beijing, I warn officials, academics and journalists: Do you want to have a war with 14 fronts? Sometimes it seems that China wants that. The US is supporting very positive and correct initiatives from my point of view, creating a stable and multipolar Asia, but it is not an American idea, but from Japan and India: the Indo-Pacific. The idea of equilibrium, in which there is a role for secondary powers, comes from Europe and Asia.
China’s image is damaged by the pandemic, but Xi Jinping continues to toughen his diplomacy with the “warrior wolves.” Are we already in a “New Cold War”?
We do not live on a planet where countries have to choose sides. How can there be a “New Cold War” then? It is a term invented in Washington but it does not correspond to reality, where different coalitions between countries are forming. On the other hand, the diplomacy of the “warrior wolves” started before the pandemic, it is part of Xi Jinping’s nationalism to maintain the support of the people and not appear weak. Most of this diplomacy is for domestic consumption. To think that it is for foreigners is not to interpret these countries well. I think it is Beijing that has done permanent damage to confidence in China. There is zero confidence in China for a long time. And it’s not because of Trump or because of the trade war or because of the pandemic… It’s because of history! China is not the type of country you trust, but the one you do business with.
In recent times, China’s “saber rattling” against Taiwan has increased. Would Beijing dare to invade the island as Russia did Crimea?
It is possible, but they are two different scenarios. Taiwan’s level of preparedness to defend itself is very poor. Militarily, there would be more civil resistance and that would be very ugly.
There was a time when it was thought that China’s economic openness would bring democracy, but the opposite is happening and Xi Jinping is the most authoritarian leader since Mao. What should the West do?
Europe takes a legalistic approach with China, not necessarily ideological like the US The European institutions promote the rule of law through technical assistance, for example by training judges, police officers, civil servants, political parties … The EU acts and the US . speaks. Talking about democracy does not create democracy. You prepare people for democracy or not. This is also the context of the EU investment agreement with China, which has never until now committed to respecting environmental principles or improving its working conditions… If it had not made these promises, it would not have achieved such an agreement. Now, he has promised it in writing and it is a legal success for Europe. It is a good position because you cannot change societies only with sanctions, as seen with Russia, Syria, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Burma… I firmly support the European position. I don’t care if Merkel doesn’t read China’s primer on democracy. As we well know, you don’t make friends in Beijing with public reprimands, but with private conversations. If you don’t know that, you don’t know anything about China.
But the repression has gotten much worse and atrocities are taking place such as the confinement of Uighurs in re-education camps in Xinjiang without having committed any crime, just because they are Muslim.
In 2006 I spent months traveling through Xinjiang and Tibet. I reported on human rights violations and state surveillance. I find it tragic, repressive and genocidal. But that is not new. I repeat: sanctions don’t work. You change a society by investing in it.
Is there a risk that Chinese authoritarianism will influence other developing countries, or even advanced nations, because of its economic success and control of the pandemic?
There has been talk of the “Chinese model” for fifteen years, but there is no such model outside of China. Nobody likes China. It is China that aspires to be like Europe. Europe has sustainability, a high standard of living, skilled workers, universal health care, free education, good infrastructure, the welfare state … China wants to be a gigantic version of Germany. The flow of ideas, innovation, knowledge and politics still goes from West to East. Europeans should have more confidence in themselves.
So why is the pandemic in the West so much worse than in the East?
Due to the lack of trust in governments and insufficient independence and fiscal support for the public administration, which is boring but more important than democracy.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism