GLOBAL politics is being diminished gradually to a numbers game, reducing slowly from G-20 to G-7 until it reaches the power of G-2: United States and China.
The foreign policy of the United States is dependent crucially on the forthcoming presidential election. Should Donald Trump win a second term, the world and China can expect more of the same, perhaps even worse, for his knee-jerk style of diplomacy is unlikely to settle into the more conventional rhythms of inter-state relations.
If Trump had his way, he would pitch for a constitutional amendment that would give him a third term. (The only other president to serve three full terms — and 23 days into a fourth — was Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933-1945). Trump’s second term would parallel that of Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, already Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
Netanyahu’s present term will expire in 2024. He is currently 70 years old — younger even than the state of Israel. Trump’s re-election would ensure their partnership (and Jared Kushner’s pseudo statesmanship) will continue for four more years, with serious consequences for this region.
Pakistan is still a semi-state.
On the opposite side of the globe, China’s premier Xi Jinping has been voted to hold office for life. He is 67 years old, and in a country where the average life expectancy of a male is 75 years, he has, like the Queen of England, a job for life. Interestingly, 70 years was the life expectancy of UK women in the 1940s when the Queen, on her 21st birthday in 1947, pledged her “whole life whether it be long or short” to serve her country and the Commonwealth. She is now 94 years old.
Since attaining statehood in 1949, the Chinese leadership has achieved unprecedented social betterment for its people. By comparison, it took the United States 200 years to bring its largely immigrant population (“the wretched refuse of your teeming shore”, including Trump’s Bavarian grandfather) out of poverty and squalor.
China’s increasing economic might and its commercial tendrils will continue to spread (despite the prayers of China’s detractors) well until the end of this century. China has nothing to fear (as Franklin Roosevelt once told his fellow Americans) other than fear itself. Certainly the Chinese are not afraid of Trump. He is dismissed by them as a hood with presidential powers, in contrast to their favourite Richard Nixon, a president with the habits of a hood.
China knows it will have to share the stage with other countries that, through sheer force of presence, are emerging as regional powers. Some states already have revealed a significant measure of territorial influence — in South America: Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Venezuela; in Africa: Nigeria and South Africa (if it can resolve its lingering racial divide); in the Middle East: Zionist Israel, leaderless Egypt, Wahabi Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran (each jostling for primary influence); and in Asia: Indonesia, Australia, South Korea, and Japan. Moving ahead of this pack, at different speeds, are Russia, India and the European Union (if it can find the right adhesive to keep itself together).
Some analysts have suggested that Pakistan’s geography, its human and agricultural potential could make it a power to reckon with, but in the future. If only it would stop behaving like a dyslexic democracy born of a gun barrel-shaped ballot box.
Pakistan is still a semi-state. It does not fulfil all the qualifying properties of a complete state. Certainly, it has a permanent population (give or take three million Afghan refugees). It has an effective government (albeit splintered into provincial satrapies). It has the sovereign capacity to enter into relations with other states, yet dodges the decisions of international courts. And it would have a ‘defined territory’ of undisputed borders, if only India and Afghanistan were not so intransigent.
‘Time-tested’ is a phrase often used to describe Pakistan’s friendship with China. That time has passed. China’s strategic outreach through commercial initiatives in Africa, South America, and Asia has pushed us down the list of China’s priorities.
China’s expansionist intentions are clear. It has a military hard power that is second only to the United States. As a country with the second largest economy in the world, it now wants to wield that soft-power. To smaller countries which experienced the ravages of colonialism, the long-term impact of China’s strategically significant — if financially unviable — forays are yet unproven. Historians in the year 2100 will be better informed. Today we can only surmise.
Meanwhile, elected and self-appointed leaders of any age should heed the timeless wisdom of the sage Confucius who, like China’s economy, stands rehabilitated: “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”
The writer is an author.
Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2020