[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he word “sustainable” has acquired many meanings in recent years. However, in essence, the word means “able to keep going” and it is with this meaning which it is here applied to organisations and individuals as well as to their physical, social and cultural environments.
The challenges we face in our economies and societies in our divided unsustainable world are perhaps greater than at any other time. These challenges have arisen because of how we have been trained to think, plan and act as individuals and how we have applied this training to the way we organise and govern ourselves. We have thought, planned, organised, governed and acted as though our world is comprised of parts which can be separately exploited by humans and managed by us from one stable state to another. We have forgotten we are just one species in a complex natural world. We have tended to act without a sense of wholeness – without integrity. Meeting these challenges will require new approaches to how we are trained to think, plan and act as individuals and how we are trained to organise and govern. These new approaches will need to be based on our current scientific understanding of our world and the human mind.
How we think is not how we are trained to think!
Broadly, we tend to be trained in critical thinking. In educational institutions, at work and even at home we train what may be called our Critical Mind. We train people to reason in a disembodied way as though our minds were symbol manipulators like computers, unconnected with the remainder of our bodies and our physical, social and cultural environment. We train them to break problems down into parts, to put these parts into rigid categories with shared properties and to manipulate symbols representing these categories. We train them to hypothesise using these rigid categories ( thereby excluding all other possibilities) and look for a grain of the “truth” about these categories which is imagined to be “out there” in the “real” world and to justify that “truth” with propositions expressed in words or mathematical symbols joined together in accordance with the rules of logic. We train them to think in a straight line towards a conclusion. We train them as though the way we justify our thoughts – in logical statements – is the way we think. In short, we train people to think “inside the box”. We dehumanise reasoning.
The effects of this on our lives and work include:-
• People who are predisposed to be less comfortable with manipulating symbols tend to become alienated from the better justifiers.
• As justifications become more specialised the difficulty of communicating increases and trust decreases.
• We tend to become locked into our justifications.
• We make a habit of being critical first and thinking constructively second or not at all.
• We continue doing what has worked in the past even when circumstances change.
• Critical thinking based on different, crude and rigid categorisations often leads to unresolved conflict in groups and organisations. This unresolved conflict can surface later and undermine the group or organisation as may be seen in organisations in which management does not consult meaningfully with staff.
• Similarly, as individuals we can be left with unresolved internal conflict. This can damage the individual and others and lead to poor relationships and unhappiness.
• All this unresolved conflict leads to cruelty, unhappiness and inefficiency and hinders our creativity and performance as individuals, in groups and in organisations.
• Overall, this “parts” thinking is not compatible with the thinking necessary to achieve sustainable development, as explained by Paul Weaver in “The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century” (pp.246-253).
For instance, he states:- “In the process of breaking down real world systems into parts, most of the links and relationships that are the central concerns of sustainable development – the links between the natural and social systems or between levels in hierarchical structures or between time periods – are severed and are not studied by the specialized disciplines. Relatively new academic fields such as resilience and complex systems theory seek to address these issues by integrating the social and natural sciences.” (p.250).
Critical thinking has produced and will continue to produce much knowledge of parts of the world around us but it is inconsistent with the integrative way in which nature, our bodies, brains and minds function. There is mounting evidence in our increasingly interdependent world that in addition we need to be trained specifically in something like NEW Integrative Thinking (NEW IT) which is consistent with the integrative way nature, our bodies, brains and minds function. While continuing to train in and employ critical thinking we need also to train what may be called our Integrative Mind of which our Critical Mind is a part.
NEW Integrative Thinking (NEW IT)
NEW IT is based on extensive research in Mind Science in recent years. Mind Science draws on work from the brain sciences (which include neuroscience, immunology and endocrinology); biology; ethology; computer science; social, evolutionary and cognitive psychology; physics; anthropology; neurophilosophy (a new science established with a view to building a unified science of the mind and brain); linguistics; systems theory; complexity science including self-organisation, chaos, uncertainty, and emergence; the philosophy of mind; the philosophy of science and evolutionary epistemology (a branch of philosophy concerned with the origin, nature, methods and limits of human knowledge). Based on this work the human mind may be defined as the process of the living human brain interacting with the rest of the human body, which is interacting with its physical, social and cultural environment.
Among other things this research has shown:-
• Our mind and reasoning are inherently embodied, that is, shaped by our bodily interaction within itself and with its physical, social and cultural environment.
• Most thought is unconscious and much of our reasoning is done when we are not conscious of its being done.
• Over a lifetime of experiences we develop a number of prototypes in our minds which are reflected in patterns in our brains.
• It is difficult to change these prototypes so solving novel and complex problems in a creative way usually involves redeploying prototypes from another domain to the novel or complex domain.
• The more prototypes we have (the broader and deeper our knowledge) and the greater our ability to trigger those prototypes, the easier it is for us to creatively address novel and complex problems.
• We tend to be simplifiers because we can keep only about four items, plus or minus one, in our short-term memory while we are working on other information.
(For a concise introduction to the Mind Science which underpins my work please see the interview with leading cognitive scientist George Lakoff about his and philosopher Mark Johnson’s book “Philosophy in the Flesh” at http://www.edge.org/discourse/lakoff.html. For an annotated bibliography relating to Applied Mind Science in the field of Integrative Thinking please see NEW IT Module 1 at http:www.integrative-thinking.com.)
While encouraging and applying critical thinking when appropriate, NEW IT is a process of habitually and almost automatically making connections to create a whole new picture rather than habitually and almost automatically breaking down an old picture into its parts. NEW IT may be thought of as a more comprehensive successor to lateral thinking and using multiple intelligences but, not surprisingly, is fully integrated, not an add-on extra. It is a practical application of Mind Science so is a form of technology but it is human-based rather than machine-based technology. It is a NEW way of thinking which helps us think “outside and inside the box” and integrate the two as we plan and act.
The process of NEW IT may be thought of as our wondering (W) about a situation, creating a narrative (N) connecting our wonderings and managing our experiences (E) in acting out our narrative. It is distinctive in that it helps integrate intuition, reason and imagination. It involves understanding and learning what our basic human needs and aspects of our human will are, what guides us in balancing those needs and will, clarifying what we have and what we want to set our goal, exploring possible connections when relaxed, arriving at a strategy to negotiate the change from what we have to what we want, devising tactics to advance the strategy, taking bold, assertive and timely action to achieve our goal, reviewing and evaluating our performance.
Becoming an Effective NEW Integrative Thinker (NEW IT) Is Not Difficult
For example, the SOARA (Satisfying, Optimum, Achievable Results Ahead) Process of Integrative Thinking in NEW IT includes a comprehensive set of aids to memory to help trigger connections in our minds, help us see analogies in unrelated fields and provide a way of self monitoring our thinking and acting. All these aids to memory are joined together in a meaningful sentence so the Process as a whole can be learned in about the time it takes to learn to drive a car (about twelve hours) and is easily remembered. With practice its application can become almost automatic. At all stages of the Process provision is made for learners to record their reflections and possible actions based on those reflections. People can be introduced to the basic concepts of the Process at almost any age. The Process is culturally neutral because it accepts the uniqueness of each human being.
With practice, applying the SOARA Process of Integrative Thinking becomes a habit which empowers people and makes easier our struggle to achieve successful outcomes on a life-long journey among possibilities. It helps us refine our perceptions, expand our horizons, sense and respond successfully to emerging trends and events. By helping us to make analogies from other domains it brings out and enhances our creativity. By helping us to always consider a comprehensive range of variables it ensures we always take others into account including our “customers” and stakeholders. NEW IT helps us and our enterprises thrive.
By helping improve our creativity and performance NEW IT helps us gain a sense of meaning, a sense of belonging and a sense of personal power. This is because NEW IT helps us reconcile our needs and wants and balance and integrate our thoughts, feelings and actions in harmony with our physical, social and cultural environment. In this way NEW IT helps us to a self-reliant state of mind from which we can work towards uplifting sustainable development and the better linking of life and work.
In all contexts NEW IT provides an essential ingredient for sustainable successful connections, relationships and interactions – a common basis for communication between individuals.
Against this background, the Integrative Improvement Institutes Project directly addresses our challenges in a novel way. It is designed to improve the well-being of people and their physical, social and cultural environments through low-cost adaptive diffusion, refinement and implementation of a unique bottom-up Integrative Improvement (II) approach for uplifting sustainable development.
II emphasises dynamic connections, relationships and interactions in line with our current scientific understanding of the world as tending to be self-organising with human beings whose minds are naturally integrative. II improves in a balanced, integrative and sustainable way the lives people already have. II involves training individuals in NEW Integrative Thinking and encouraging and facilitating Integrative Governance enabled by technology in all government, business and civil society organisations. II progress is measured by a Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI).
The project is at the stage of seeking people and institutions which would like to advance Integrative Improvement in the world. In line with the adaptive tendency inherent in the Integrative Improvement approach, the current draft plan is designed to adapt as other catalysts join as one of a maximum of seven founding members of the Federation Integrators Team of the first Integrative Federation (IF) or in other roles as the project evolves. Alternatively, start-up or existing business, government and civil society organisations may like to apply the Integrative Improvement approach in their own organisations now.
The current draft project plan is as follows:-
Aim:- Improve the well-being of people and their environments through low-cost diffusion, refinement and implementation of the Integrative Improvement (II) approach for uplifting sustainable development.
Strategy:- Establish an adaptive networked Integrative Federation (IF) of largely virtual Integrative Improvement Institutes (IIIs)) in a number of countries using the training modules and templates at http://www.integrative-thinking.com and complementary tools for uplifting sustainable development.
Outline plan:- Have one IF website for teaching, research and consulting in Integrative Improvement with a page for each Institute, for each tool and for research related to NEW Integrative Thinking, Integrative Governance, Integrative Improvement, Integrative Capitalism and Integrative Democracy. A catalyst in each of 7 countries would attract and train 7 people to be the IIIs Integrators Team (IIIsIT) in their country. Each Institute would attract, train and license 7 people with experience in 7 industries to provide personal contact in 7 local areas to further diffuse Integrative Improvement and, for a fee, train successive groups of 7 people from government, business and civil society organisations based on material on the IF website. These trained people would implement Integrative Improvement in start-up and existing organisations and help in the further diffusion, refinement and implementation of Integrative Improvement in line with the model outlined here.
Tactics:- Sense and respond adaptively to other catalysts and end-users/citizens as the Integrative Improvement Institutes “virus” spreads.
Other relevant project information is as follows:-
Catalysts:- A provisional list (this and the whole project is designed to adapt as catalysts join) of the sort of catalysts needed is: a) people from a range of countries and practical settings; b) people committed enough to obtain all the modules and learn about the processes; (Money raised goes to advance the Project.) c) people with institutional bases which would lift credibility and lower overheads; d) web builder and webmaster to provide and maintain the virtual presence of the Federation and its Institutes as per the outline plan; e) facilitator for meetings – mostly virtual; f) executive secretary; g) people to seek content for and coordinate the pages on the website under the headings “Institutes”, “Tools” and “Research”. Overall, fields, interests and skills will need to cover Planning; People; Market; Product; Money; Physical, Social and Cultural Environment.
Affordability:- The basic modules offered at www.integrative-thinking.com may be purchased and learned one at a time so they should be affordable by even the smallest and poorest organisation.
However, if even the existing low prices are not affordable one copy of each module and template can be provided at whatever price an organisation certifies it can afford. Special arrangements can be made if multiple copies are required so all involved in the organisation can learn the processes and thereby acquire a common basis for communication – essential for success in any relationship or organisation. Each organisation is invited to suggest the financial arrangement that would suit it best.
Time:- The material is in easily digested small “bites” with a page at the end of each group of “bites” on which the learner records reflections and possible actions. In this way busy people can keep track of their learning. Moreover they can retain what they have learned because there are aids to memory and revision sections built-in.
Practicality:- The material is designed to be learned by each learner applying it to a problem of their own so each needs a copy of all the material to retain and refer to in future. It is designed to be accessible to people whose frontal lobes are more or less developed (mid-teens onwards) but the concepts could be taught to young children too.
Applicability:- To meet the many challenges we all face as individuals and in groups we all need integrative problem solving skills. This is what learning NEW Integrative Thinking teaches quickly, economically and permanently. Moreover, every organisation needs good governance policies. Douglas Integrative Governance 247 templates help organisations produce them quickly, economically and permanently. The potential market for a licensee would be huge as the material is applicable outside formal education channels and to people in the existing economy.
Joint venture basis:- Joint venture agreements are used to record contractual arrangements between all parties.
Uplifting sustainable development
Implementing the Integrative Improvement Institutes Project would be uplifting and sustainable for individuals because it would provide them with integrative problem solving skills to enable them to be self-reliant, innovative and reach with more confidence their full potential in the face the realities of life in general and the labour market in particular. It would be uplifting and sustainable for organisations because it would help them be adaptive in rapidly changing market conditions and assist their employees to contribute most to the organisation. It would be uplifting and sustainable for economies because all people would have an understanding of the need for and means of achieving sustainable development and economic activity would be generated by more people. It would be uplifting and sustainable for the global community as all could have a common basis for communication and problem solving.
Do you want to be involved in this uplifting project? Please contact Graham Douglas at integrative[at]optusnet.com.au
Khashoggi crisis highlights why investment in Asia is more productive than in the Middle East
Growing Western political and corporate reluctance to be associated with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the suspected killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi spotlights fundamentally different investment strategies and environments in the bulk of Asia and the oil-rich Gulf states, the continent’s most western flank.
The Khashoggi crisis highlighted the fact that much of investment in the Gulf, irrespective of whether it is domestic, Western or Chinese, comes from financial, technology and other service industries, the arms industry or Gulf governments. It is focused on services, infrastructure or enhancing the state’s capacities rather than on manufacturing, industrial development, and the nurturing of an independent private sector.
The crisis has put on display the risks Gulf governments run by adopting policies that significantly tarnish their international reputations. Technology, media, financial and other services industries as well as various European ministers and the US Treasury Secretary have cancelled, in the wake of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and likely killing while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, their participation in Davos in the Desert, a high-profile investors’ conference in Riyadh later this month.
By contrast, the military industry, with US President Donald J. Trump’s encouragement, has proven so far less worried about reputational damage.
Sponsored by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is suspected of being responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s likely murder, the conference was intended to attract investment in his Vision 2030 plan to reform and diversify the Saudi economy.
In highlighting differences in investment strategies in the Middle East and the rest of Asia, the fallout of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance goes beyond the parameters of a single incident. It suggests that foreign investment must be embedded in broader social and economic policies as well as an environment that promises stability to ensure that it is productive, contributes to sustainable growth, and benefits broad segments of the population.
In contrast to the Gulf where, with the exception of state-run airlines and DP World, Dubai’s global port operator, the bulk of investment is portfolios managed by sovereign wealth funds, trophies or investment designed to enhance a country’s international prestige and soft power, major Asian nations like China and India have used investment to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, foster a substantial middle class, and create an industrial base.
To be sure, with small populations, Gulf states are more likely to ensure sustainability in services and oil and gas derivatives rather than in manufacturing and industry. Nonetheless, that too requires enabling policies and an education system that encourages critical thinking and the freedom to question, allow one’s mind to roam without fear of repercussion, and grants free, unfettered access to information – categories that are becoming increasingly rare in a part of the world in which freedoms are severely curtailed.
China’s US$1 trillion, infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiative may be the Asian exception that would come closest to some of the Gulf’s soft power investments. Yet, even so, the Belt and Road initiative, designed to alleviate domestic over capacity by state-owned companies that are not beholden to shareholders’ short term demands and/or geo-political gain, contributes to productive economic growth in the People’s Republic itself.
Asian nations, moreover, have been able to manage investors’ expectations in an environment of relative political stability. By contrast, Saudi Arabia damaged confidence in its ability to reform and diversify its oil-based economy when after repeated delays it suspended indefinitely plans to list five percent of its national oil company, Saudi Arabian Oil Company or Aramco, in what would have been the world’s largest ever initial public offering.
The Khashoggi crisis and the Aramco delay followed a series of political initiatives for which there was little equivalent in the rest of Asia. These included the Saudi-United Arab Emirates military campaign in Yemen causing the world’s worst post-World War Two humanitarian crisis; the 16-month-old diplomatic and economic embargo of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt; the detention and failed effort to force Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign; and the diplomatic Saudi spat with Canada in response to a tweet criticizing the kingdom’s human rights record. As a result, foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia last year plunged to a 14-year low.
All of this is not to say that the rest of Asia does not have its own questionable policies such as Chinese claims in the South China Sea or the Pakistani-Indian feud, and questionable business practices such as China’s alleged industrial espionage. However, with the exception of China’s massive repression of Turkic Muslims in its north-western province of Xinjiang, none of these are likely to fundamentally undermine investor confidence, derail existing social and economic polices that have produced results or produce situations in which avoidance of reputational damage becomes a priority.
At the bottom line, China is no less autocratic than the Gulf states, while Hindu nationalism in India fits a global trend towards populism and illiberal democracy. Nevertheless, what differentiates much of Asia from the Gulf and accounts for its economic success are policies that ensure a relatively stable environment and are focused on social and economic enhancement rather than primarily on regime survival. That may be the lesson for Gulf rulers.
A version of this story was first published by Syndication Bureau
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and India
Regional or bilateral free trade agreements between India and other countries/institutions have always faced local resistance because of intrinsic anxiety that low cost imported goods would stifle the growth of domestic industry. Commentators have justified this apprehension advocating that domestic industry in India is still unprepared for international competition, and there are no state subsidies that the government provides to the industry for reducing costs and facilitating unfair cost advantage with regard to exports. Within India, sector specific associations are powerful and a result of which many items such as tea, palm oil, coffee and pepper were enlisted as highly sensitive list items (very less reduction in tariffs) when India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement was signed in 2009. India is witnessing a very high percentage of growth in services sector (contributes nearly two-thirds of India’s GDP)and therefore has always sought to offset the negative balance of merchandise trade with promotion of services sector and investment as an integral component of bilateral or multilateral trade talks.
RCEP is proposed to be one free trade area which will include 3.4 billion people across the East Asian and Oceania region, with a GDP of more than US $22 trillion and the intra RCEP trade would account for more than 30 percent of global trade, as it would integrate the three largest economies of Asia-China, Japan and India. For India, accession to this economic trading bloc would mean opening its large market of 1.25 billion people for the products from 15 countries including 10 ASEAN members and the five dialogue partner countries -China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Korea. During the last few meetings of RCEP negotiations, India has made it very clear that it would not compromise on issues related to trade in services and also addressing concerns related to the small and medium enterprises in the negotiations.
As discussed, RCEP is expected to bring the ASEAN countries and its six dialogue partners under one large geographic and economic landmass which would be one of the largest economic blocs in the world. India has Free Trade agreements or Comprehensive Economic Cooperation/ Partnership Agreements (CECA/CEPA) with Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Korea while it is negotiating terms of bilateral free trade along with services agreement with Australia, and New Zealand. India has proposed to include services sector into the larger negotiation process while many countries do not want to open their market for highly talented and qualified professionals from India. The bone of contention in this regard is Mode IV which ‘deals with movement of natural persons who are service providers or independent professionals’ to another WTO member country. India has pressed for the Mode IV negotiations while negotiating with Malaysia and Singapore. However, both the countries have only opened Mode IV for select individuals such as consultants, accountants, nurses and financial experts. The limited access to the emerging markets have annoyed Indian negotiators to such an extent that at one time India decided not to enter into any free trade negotiations without including services and investment in the negotiation blueprint.
India started economic liberalization process in early 1992, it is yet to integrate with the global economy given the intrinsic problems with regard to tariff structures, customs procedures and the inherent red tape which was a legacy of the license regime. However, putting onus on India for failed attempts with regard to free trade and better terms of trade with other countries across Asia would be unfair. India has not gained the promised advantage while trading with the price competitive economies of the Asian region. On the contrary, the low cost production centres, particularly China, which thrives on state subsidized production has easy access to the India market while it has not bestowed the same privileges to Indian exports. The tariff and non-tariff barriers in China are still not conducive to Indian exports leading to skewed balance of trade. Taking cue from China’s re-routing of its products through ASEAN nations, India has stressed on the stringently following the Rules of Origin (ROO) template with 35 percent of local value addition as a necessary prerequisite.
This year, in the post Wuhan summit bonhomie, Chinese government has opened its pharmaceutical market to select Indian drugs such as anti-cancer, and other lifesaving drugs which are relatively cheaper than Western imports. Overall China has removed import duties on 28 medicines imported from India. The trade frictions between India and China still exists as India has registered a number of anti-dumping and unfair trade practices case in WTO against China. Indian industry particularly Small and Medium Enterprises(SMEs) however accept the fact that cheap Chinese input material in sectors such as steel, pharma and other related industries have brought down the costs, and have also indirectly helped in real estate, automobile spares, and textile sectors. Nonetheless, larger industrial houses are not in favour of such opening up of market as they feel their future endeavors would be jeopardized if Chinese cheap products both in terms of raw materials and semi-finished products would curtail their market expansion plans through new products. These large industrial houses do control the Indian politics through their corporate funds given to various political parties to fight elections and have a sizeable influence among the country’s parliamentarians and legislators. SME sector in India is relatively unorganized, both in terms of associations and political clout.
In order to increase its trade with countries in East Asia and Oceania, India has been trying to adopt international production methods, and be a part of the Regional Value Chain(RVC). However, India’s incremental approach for market liberalization and other market facilitation efforts have not met with active engagement from the regional community. India has not yet been inducted into the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) which could have prepared the country for business standardization and harmonization of tariffs as per the APEC provisions. This would have created the base for effective implementation of the RCEP trade provisions with necessary structural support. Indian economists have made it very clear that only market access to merchandise trade without any quid pro quo would not be acceptable to the Indian entrepreneurs. It might also create social problems given the fact that Chinese cheap products have already decimated electronics, mobile, toys and silk industry in India. The cascading effect has left very large number of both skilled and unskilled labour jobless. Given the fact that select sectors in India are still labour intensive, retrenchment of workers has a political cost. There are apprehensions projected by industry associations that cheap imports would adversely impact the steel, chemicals, textiles, copper, aluminum, and pharma industry. India is has a sizeable share of global trade in automotive parts, pharma and textile industry, and so negotiations would be a long drawn affair. Further, strategic experts feel that India must not become an ancillary industry to Chinese production network as it would jeopardize India’s rise in future as a production and skill center in Asia. Also, it will put China as the benefactor of India’s industrial change which might not be palatable to the political class.
Indian negotiators still believe that until and unless the demands with regard to trade in services, investment and also concerns related to SMEs is addressed, the RCEP would be facing an invisible deadlock. Opening up services sector would help the Indian economy and partly offset the effect that would be felt from the cheap products from relatively cheaper production and export centres. Indian economy still faces stiff competition from China and as a result of this the negotiations with China, would be long drawn affairs. However, there is still a silver lining that RCEP would be concluded in 2019 but the deadline from the Indian side would be after the general elections in 2019 when the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be looking for a second term to bring about comprehensive set of economic and financial reforms. In case a coalition government comes into power, it would seriously jeopardize the RCEP negotiations because then the different associations and lobbies would be playing the political game to protect their economic interests.
‘America First’ vs. Global Financial Stability
The recently concluded annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank group, held in Indonesia last weekend, has highlighted a series of concerning trends with regard to the global economy. It has subsequently left many considering the impacts of a possible global recession that may be looming ahead in the next of couple of years to come. These fears were evident in the worldwide sell-off in global equities last Thursday that has been widely attributed to the IMF revising down its global growth forecast in its World Economic Outlook (WEO) report. The report highlighted growth in a number of developed economies as having plateaued, with rising trade tensions and policy uncertainty greatly contributing to the slow-down. This includes the ongoing trade war between the US and China, as well as the numerous uncertainties pervading within the Euro-Zone.
All of this has had a significant knock-on effect on emerging markets, including Pakistan which has already been struggling with massive fiscal and current account deficits amid rampant inflationary pressures. With tensions between the United States and China still on the rise, Pakistan presents a notable example of how deteriorating global macro-economic conditions have been exacerbated by rising geo-political tensions between these two global powers.
For instance, it took Imran Khan’s fledgling government months to accept the reality of another IMF bailout (Pakistan’s 13th in the last 30 years) despite its $68 billion investment commitment with China. This is because the US, being the largest contributor of funds to the IMF has increasingly politicized this bailout in light of its own deteriorating relations with China. In fact, the US has directly blamed China for Pakistan’s recent debt woes referring to what has been come to known as China’s ‘Debt Trap Diplomacy’. The argument being that the massive loans being doled out by China to developing countries under its Belt & Road Initiative are leading to unsustainable debt levels, eroding their sovereignty while expanding China’s hold over them. Pakistan’s loan obligations to China as part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor are presented as a case in point.
Despite both Pakistan’s and China’s protests to the contrary, it is widely expected that some of the IMF’s conditions attached to Pakistan’s requested bailout are thus likely to include greater scrutiny and revisions regarding the CPEC initiative. This is likely to form part of the US’s overall objective of limiting and constraining China’s influence over Pakistan and the wider region. The impact this would have on Pakistan however is likely to prove critical considering its precarious economic as well as geo-political position. Not only would the IMF’s conditions limit the new government’s ability to maneuver its economy around an increasingly unstable world financial system; it would also delay the much needed infrastructure projects being planned and implemented under CPEC with Chinese assistance. Therefore, the very purpose of the IMF bailout which is to provide some semblance of stability to Pakistan’s ailing economy, would embroil it deeper in uncertainty as a direct result of the US’s unilateral push against China.
It is worth noting here that during its annual meeting, the IMF clearly voiced its concerns regarding escalating trade tensions between the US and China. While calling for increased dialogue and a careful examination of debt induced risks across the world, the IMF seems to be warning both sides over the fragility of prevailing global economic conditions. At the same meeting, China too echoed these concerns and called for increased dialogue with the US to promote open trade and growth. As a country that has for the last few decades championed globalization, China’s vision of shared global growth and win-win partnerships in emerging markets such as Pakistan, have however been directly challenged by the US. A US, that is in contrast aggressively willing to defend the prevailing status quo, as part of President Trump’s mantra of ‘America First’. Hence it was no surprise that US representatives, in response to these concerns brought up by the IMF and China, have continued to downplay the risks of their policies on global economic stability.
With respect to China and numerous emerging markets such as Pakistan, the fact still remains that the world financial system is currently replete with risks and uncertainty as a direct result of US policy. All of this is occurring while the US President continues to boast about surging US equities and record employment figures as a direct outcome of these policies. While the US economy has experienced sustained growth since the 2008 financial crisis, markets and business cycles have a way of correcting themselves, especially when world leaders themselves point to overbought and overextended conditions.
If the US economy truly is on the cusp of a potential downturn, then present geo-political tensions are more than likely to exacerbate the impacts of an impending global recession. For Pakistan, with its precariously low foreign currency reserves and an unsustainable debt to GDP ratio, such a recession is likely to bring on even bigger problems than any of the potential cuts the IMF may propose on CPEC. Thus, while the US may limit China’s rise as an economic power in the short-term, it does so at the expense of emerging markets and global economic stability in the long-run. This lack of foresight is likely to hurt the US more as it realizes how economies cannot exist within a vacuum in an increasingly interdependent world.
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