In the post-Cold War period when competition from the Soviet Union subsided, American civilization painted itself as the bearer of the torch of globalization.
It claimed to have defeated other ideologies and civilizations sometimes with nuclear bombs, sometimes with sanctions and sometimes by wresting away their allies and its approach to modernity was heralded as the final solution.
As history has witnessed, however, different parts of the world have progressed at different paces and in different directions, defying the concept that the road to modernity is singular. Traders and travellers have, since time immemorial, been fascinated by the ways various nations become industrially and intellectually superior in various fields.
It was through interaction that those past commuters used to realize that theirs was not the preeminent civilization in all respects. But that interaction was limited, infrequent and short term; thus allowing contrastive systems to run distinctively parallel.
Enter the hyper-connected world of the twenty-first century. Travel is cheap, communication is ubiquitous and trade is flowing in all directions all the time.
Ultimately, globalization is accelerating unprecedentedly with ideas, goods and people becoming borderless. Academics, theorists, innovators and businessmen have become part of a collective human thought that is enabling each of them to benefit from the best.
The effect of what happens in one part of the world no longer remains restricted to the local landscape. This astonishing phenomenon has disadvantages (like any drought in Colombia affecting the global coffee market) and advantages (like Western companies outsourcing call centres to Pakistan to provide 24/7 customer support). But the latter is overwhelmingly greater.
Just as the gains of interdependence were being harnessed, the “Trumpian” era appeared out of nowhere and started disrupting the pillars of international cooperation. Since taking office, U.S. President Donald Trump has challenged nearly all frameworks that aim to solve problems through collaboration.
The “America First” slogan has damaged the international order to an extent that even a change in the Oval Office would require considerable efforts to undo the impact. Touting the primacy of American interests while banking only on the primacy of his impulses, Trump has unleashed trade and tech wars, subverting domestic and foreign enterprises alike. He minces no words when stating that he rejects globalism under the garb of patriotism.
Consequently, the U.S. economy is in an abysmal condition while other countries are expanding theirs by working on bilateral and multilateral mechanisms. U.S. voters, manufacturers and traders are watching from the sidelines as the world’s economic centre of gravity shifts from the middle of the Atlantic to somewhere around the eastern edge of Europe.
To adjust to the pace of globalization, American policymakers will have to change their egotistical dealing with the world. When offering internationalization of a country’s economy, they attach despicable strings, resulting in the developing nations viewing the U.S. as an overarching hegemony.
U.S. partners are forced to accept American values that often contrast with their own. This has become quite precarious as Trump’s stint has increased the aversion against these values.
On the other hand, Trump’s aversion to globalization was evident right from the start when he promised to build a border wall. Although it did not materialize as he wished, he did raise a digital wall around his country.
The rise of two non-American tech companies, Huawei and ByteDance, is a textbook example of globalisation’s advantages. Under an unsubstantiated pretext that these companies “could” pose a risk to U.S. citizen data, the American establishment has joined forces against them to give an implicit message that globalization is useful only if the U.S. is leading it.
Now that China has integrated itself with international markets during the opening up and reform process, it is one of the staunchest supporters of globalization and multilateralism. The logic is simple: when trade flows freely, it benefits everybody.
The biggest embodiment of China’s commitment is the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) which connects major economic hubs, boosts their industrial capabilities and streamlines supply chains spanning across continents.
In the true spirit of globalization, the BRI is lifting infrastructure of impoverished regions and plugging them into transportation flows. Localities that previously did not even exist on maps are now turning into main drivers of national growth in many countries.
China was the second-largest contributor to global growth by 2012, a year before the launch of the BRI. But today it ranks at the first place in clear proof that its initiatives are augmenting efforts of taking industrialization’s fruits to all corners of the world.
Economists agree that the future lies in embracing globalization rather than unilateralism or protectionism. As engagement of ideas and values continues to increase, we will have to learn to work together while respecting our differences and coming up with ways to make these differences complement each other.
The thesis of a “clash of civilizations” has lately been receiving more criticism than acceptance. Several civilizations are following alternative paths to modernization and their cooperation is strengthening globalization, as against attempts at Americanization of the world order by the current U.S. administration.
Author: Iram Khan
Editor’s Note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of the editorial opinion of Belt & Road News.