The time for what many people often consider as conspiracies as far as the political agenda of US-led global empire (or the West for short) is over. The Western tactics and strategy in pursuing its global agenda have been a subject of disagreement for a long time. The continuing trade wars that have been initiated on the side of the United States reveal that these antics have reached a cul-de-sac as Washington seeks to replace internationalism with isolationism.
Thus, the arguments of this article are multi-fold. The United States is on a right path that will disentangle the present power relations in the international system. The power of US-led capitalism could be undermined by Donald Trump’s drive to build an American economy and could eventually undermine US a dominance of international trade and finance. The actions by Google to discard Huawei, for instance, is seen as a positive development that must be encouraged as it could create new opportunities for the developing world.
Books such as John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man(2004) and Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism(2007) paint a gloomy picture about how the West and its institutions manipulate the global system to advance an agenda that cripples other countries, particularly those in Africa and rest of the developing world. These institutions include the Bretton-Woods (IMF and World Bank), World Trade Organisation (WTO) and other seemingly less contagious bodies like the World Economic Forum (WEF), Amnesty International, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, etc. Also complimentary to these structures are multinational corporations and global banks.
The rules governing the international political and economic multilateral frameworks are tailored to create favourable conditions for the Western empire at all cost. The protocols on banking, defence, energy, commerce, intellectual property and trade, for example, are designed in such a manner that they put the developed world above other countries. And the powerful countries have latitude to break them the minute they feel that these no longer benefit them. The US actions in the past few months on a number of issues, e.g. the UN system and international trade, serve as concrete evidence to prove this point.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union almost three decades ago, the advent of capitalism and its structures have incessantly shaped the world. And the US has been in the forefront. It and its allies have benefit much more than others from this system it helped to create. The rise of international companies, and foreign direct investment as their potent tool, signalled the invincibility of this unequal relationship as they obliterated local economies under the guise of economic development. Economies of many countries from Mexico to Ghana were left in ruins as global giants in Google, Walmart, British Petroleum and others thrived on the back of this unjust and unfair economic bullying.
Parallel to economic tyranny were wars in diverse places such as the Middle East and various parts of Africa as well as economic sanctions against democratic governments, which were all aimed at imposing Western rule and their collaborators with a single goal in mind: to loot resources and install puppet governments. Democracy, human rights and free-market economics underlie the use of force and other extreme forms of coercion. Economic dominance by the West simply prolonged colonialism and transatlantic slave trade as maintained their unrivalled advantage over the places and people they had helped to impoverish.
However, events took an unexpected turn when China emerged as a serious player in the global economic arena. Boasting a population of more than a billion people and a refined state machinery, Beijing stared the bully in the eye and announced its arrival. It not only amassed US bonds and stored greenbacks in its foreign exchange reserves, China became the largest market for consumer and industrial goods patented in the West. This allowed it to amass so much wealth that China has risen to become the second largest economy after the US. Its state-driven capitalism created large industries and products that put China on an equal footing with the West and its corporations.
In order to grow and sustain its economic trajectory, China also adopted similar strategies to the West to extend its political and economic influence beyond its traditional sphere of influence, namely South East Asia and South China Sea. China was behind efforts to establish parallel or alternative economic structures to forcefully reform the international economic system. For example, Beijing and its partners in some instances rejected the US dollar in their trade arrangements and also built institutions that lent billions of dollars to other developing countries at reasonable rates as a way of displacing the IMF.
At political level, China continues to flex its muscle with the assistance of one of the disruptors of our time, the Russian Federation. As things stand, a visible line splits the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. China and Russia stand in one corner and the other three – France, United Kingdom and USA – stand in the opposite end. The P5 standoff is evident in key issues such as Israel-Palestine debacle, Syria and Venezuela. China’s influence in Africa, Asia and Latin America has also not gone unnoticed and continues to create discomfort in the West.
In an unusual move in political game akin to chess, the West touched the queen after its pawns could no longer deal with the Chinese power. The US elected Donald Trump to serve as a counterforce to tame the power of the dragon. Trump was allowed to circumvent all formal political processes that were initially formulated to make the US governance system one of the best in restricting political overreach. With an endless streak of executive orders to not only pull the US out of trade agreements but also to shape the agreements with neighbours and allies. The revised NAFTA agreement with Mexico and Canada, for example, sought to keep out Chinese companies in Northern America. Even the future of AGOA hangs in the balance should the Chinese influence in Africa remain undisturbed.
Trump’s approach to US-China relations has been largely unconventional. If China was not as strong as it is, he could have sent soldiers to bomb it like in Libya and Syria, or even instituted gripping economic sanctions such as in Venezuela and Cuba. He resorted to trade wars that are likely to go deeper than previously anticipated in shaping the world’s economic system. What is not known to the US is that Trump’s actions could undermine the American influence and reach in all areas of human endeavour. Washington has rattled a wasps nest and that could easily come back to haunt it. The goal has been to curtail Chinese power and influence but Trump overlooked the fact that the US and Chinese economies are intertwined, and that a simple trade imbalance is not enough to impose tariffs. US companies feel the pinch.
In an unprecedented move, the US agitated the imprisonment of a Huawei representative in Canada in order to frustrate Chinese government. Soon thereafter Britain, a close ally of the US, appointed the Chinese multinational to help build its 5G network. In response, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that that such a move would ‘threaten intelligence sharing’. Britain has been steadfast in its unwillingness to copy the US where Trump has effectively blocked Huawei products from the US. In what has become a norm, Trump ‘signed an order declaring a national emergency and barring American companies from using equipment made by firms that pose a national security risk’. Furthermore, America also ‘banned such firms, which could include Huawei, from buying vital US technology without special approval’.
Nonetheless, US tech giant Google recently announced that it will revoke access to its Android mobile operating system from Huawei. With the exception of Apple devices which run on iOS, the majority of smartphones makers such as Samsung and LG rely on the Google-developed Android operating system to power their devices. The decision by Google basically means that present and future Huawei products will be affected. In addition, this means that users of Huawei phones and tablets all over the world will not be able access the Android app store Google Play and the security protections provided by Google Play Protect. A Huawei user will not access YouTube and Gmail, amongst others.
The suggestion from technology experts is that the outcome of the Google decision is not at all bad considering the company’s dominance of the internet world. There is a proposal that Huawei should consider a homemade operating system to power its devices. In the short run, however, a custom Huawei-built operating system would cause no problems in China, where most Google apps are banned. But massive problems could be expected in other markets outside China. Sky News predicts that a custom Huawei-built operating system ‘would likely be rejected by Western customers’.
The outcome of the ongoing international trade standoff between the US and other countries, not just China, could seriously impact the US dominance of the world economy. And its companies will become the biggest losers. While Trump’s focus is trying to consolidate the US economic power and strength, the side-effect of his actions appear not to consider the present realities in the world economy. First, the US is not a stand-alone so it needs others to grow its economy. Second, while the US insisted that globalisation was good in spite of the problems it created, it cannot now withdraw from its project since it faces stiff competition from China and others. Third, other countries have long thought of a world system that could potentially exclude the US, the dollar and its sponsored institutions.
The US economic aggression literally gives power to the likes of China and Russia to chart a new chapter in world affairs that will isolate the United States, and possibly disintegrate the Western alliance. This would be good news for the developing world in that serious reforms of the international system could yield easy gains. The biggest hindrance to Africa’s economic development is found in the present rules governing trade, IPs, politics, commerce and finance. A weakened US will escalate anarchy as many players would assert themselves in the short term but when the chaos eventually subside the world would look much different from what it is today. Hence, Donald Trump deserves unwavering support for obvious reasons. This is the time that many of us have been waiting for.
By Siyabonga P. Hadebe
Image by Margie Edwards/élan Concepts