At present, it makes no sense for anyone to discard membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the US’ exit from it will not become fatal, -said the Russian Minister of Economic Development Maxim Oreshkin commenting on a statement made by US President Donald Trump to the effect that Washington could leave the WTO.
The minister remarked that “it is not the first time that the United States has suggested the possibility of withdrawing from the WTO. When these kinds of “reminders” begin to appear too often, they become negotiating techniques designed to impress counterparties on trade deals under discussion. ” According to the Russian minister, the position of American trade diplomats that they stick to at talks on a dispute resolution system in Geneva is suggesting the same idea. It seems that by blocking the work of WTO’s appeals organ, the United States is trying to create an additional instrument for influencing trading partners with a view to encourage them to take decisions that would be beneficial for the White House on how to reform the WTO, ” – said Maxim Oreshkin. According to him, “since there is no global alternative to WTO which would be equally effective, there is no reason for such large international trade players as the United States to walk out of it. As for the World Trade Organization itself, a loss of even one of top players will not be fatal .
Simultaneously, the Russian Minister of Economic Development has suggested that the US withdrawal from the World Trade Organization (if it takes place) will stimulate WTO reform, change the configuration of “tactical alliances” and interest groups within the WTO, and will alter multilateral rules in those areas where negotiations have long been in a deadlock.
If the United States chooses to leave the World Trade Organization (WTO), then the entire existence of this organization will be put into question, ” – confirmed presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov. According to Peskov, “there are no doubts that the existence of, let’s say, a global system-forming economic organization after the world’s top economy walks out will cast doubt on its future”. “In any case, this is an internal affair of the United States,” – Dmitry Peskov added.
That the US might leave the main international trade organization was signaled by President Trump as he addressed employees of the Royal Dutch Shell chemical plant in Monaca, PA. “We will leave the organization if necessary.” He warned that a situation like now when the WTO is helping other member countries to “use” the US, will not happen again.
As an instance of that, Donald Trump predictably cited his main “opponent” in its trade and economic debate – China. The American president spoke about a rapid development of the Chinese industry after Beijing joined the WTO. In the meantime, the USA complained about the theft of American technology in China, – the US president added.
Donald Trump’s current speech can be seen as a key feature of his own election campaign, considering that the US’ possible exit from the WTO served as an important point of his election program back in 2016. Back then he promised to take such a step if his plans to use tariffs to protect domestic producers ran into resistance from the above organization.
A similar idea was voiced by Donald Trump in 2018. The then WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo tried to reduce tensions saying that the US concern about those areas of the organization’s work that they wanted to improve was not new. What Donald Trump is speaking about now is “consistent with what the US has said before,” – Roberto Azevedo said.
However, given that the current situation in the world is strikingly different from what it was just a couple of years ago, the future of international trade and economic relations becomes a matter of serious concern. The “trade war” between Washington and Beijing is not only showing no signs of subsiding but threatens to hit a new high. Donald Trump has promised to slap higher tariffs on the remaining imports from China totaling about $ 300 billion as of September 1, despite a “trade ceasefire” which was reached earlier with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Osaka. Although the American leader has postponed the introduction of duties on a number of goods (primarily electronics) till December 15 this year, world markets do not expect any stabilization yet, particularly after Donald Trump declared China a “currency manipulator” following a sharp fall in the yuan rate.
Significantly, despite higher tariffs already imposed by the two parties on the total volume of bilateral supplies of $ 360 billion, it is China that is clearly taking upper hand in the “trade war”. Despite the duties, the Chinese surplus in trade with the United States continues to grow, having increased in the first half of the year to $ 140.48 billion, against $ 133.76 billion in the same period of 2018. In July, US exports to China fell by 19%, while Chinese exports to the United States fell only by 6.5%. The new round of tariff increases will be more noticeable, also in terms of its negative impact on the socio-economic situation in the United States, Capital Economics experts warn in this regard.
However, it’s the US’ European partners that are sustaining yet greater losses. In AugustGermany’s monthly economic index, published by the Center for Economic Research in Europe, fell to the December 2011 low, while national economy found itself on the verge of the first recession in six years. The Center’s experts say this situation was triggered by the ongoing “trade war” between the US and China, along with the growing possibility that Britain will likely exit the European Union in line with the “tough” scenario.
“Trade conflicts, global uncertainty and the problems experienced by the car manufacturers have finally thrown the German economy down on its knees,” – ING economist Carsten Brzeski says.
Negative trends are also visible in the British economy, where inflation has exceeded the Bank of England target of 2%. “Where is the world, and especially the historical allies of Washington, pushing the ever worsening economic conflict between the USA and China?” – the London newspaper The Financial Times asks and continues: “Under normal circumstances, they would certainly side with the USA. But we have unusual circumstances. Under Donald Trump, the United States has turned into an unreliable rogue superpower: they even oppose the fundamental principles of a trading system based on multilateral agreement and strict compliance with the rules. Now, even the US allies are drawn into this mutual hunt. ” “And while the United States is locking horns with China, what should the American allies do?” The problem is not Trump. That he is concerned about the trade surplus is half the trouble. What is much worse, many Americans are dissatisfied not only with China’s behavior, but also with its economic growth ” – the British publication states not without reason and offers its own vision for resolving the situation: “ What should the US allies do? ” They should not support America’s attempts to hinder China’s growth – this would be dishonest. Instead, they should make clear what US goals in trade and technology they agree with, and if possible, adhere to this shared position. Significantly, the EU and Japan are already demonstrating similar views. They should support principles of the multilateral trading system under the auspices of the WTO. Should the US break the quorum needed to resolve disputes, then the rest should agree on some kind of informal mechanism. ” “Hostility between the US and China poses a threat to global peace and prosperity. Outsiders cannot stop this conflict. But they are far from helpless. If superpowers go beyond the multilateral trading system, others will take their place. The majority of them are also major players. All you need is to summon up your courage and behave appropriately, ” – The Financial Times points out.
However, the current problems in US relations with China and the WTO go far beyond the bounds of the trade organization itself. According to reports, Beijing is considering two options that could be really devastating for Washington: building up strategic cooperation with Iran and crushing financial markets and the dollar through the sale of US securities. According to Iranian sources, China has resumed cooperation with Iran on three oil projects and is considering what Washington and Beijing call the “nuclear option.” In particular, according to the director- general of the Iranian Pars Oil and Gas Company (POGC), negotiations with Chinese developers are already under way on the first of these projects – phase 11 on the super-giant South Pars field.
China has also agreed to boost production at Iranian oil fields off Western Karun, including North Azadegan and Yadavaran, by an additional 500 thousand barrels per day by the end of 2020. This is consistent with Iran’s plan to step up effort in these fields.
If one or another of these Chinese projects in Iran runs into a rejection from the United States, then Beijing will resort to the “nuclear option” of selling all or a significant part of its package of American bank-bills worth a total of 1.4 trillion dollars. A large-scale sale of these securities will result in the destabilization of the dollar, a surge in bond yields, a collapse of the real estate market and chaos in the stock market. This measure fits well into China’s long-term strategy, which wants the yuan to challenge the status of the US dollar as a key global reserve currency and the main currency for global energy operations. “China wants to get away from the dollar system,” – confirms Rory Green, an economist with TS Lombard.
What is currently happening in global trade opens up tremendous opportunities for Russia in terms of strengthening its relations with present and potential allies and partners, both on the bilateral and multilateral basis. Apparently, Moscow’s “need” for trade, economic (and, consequently, political) structures will increase visibly in the near future.
From our partner International Affairs
Pandemic Recovery: Follow the trail of silence
When common sense becomes the enemy of state; deep silence slowly slips and slides, covering high and low competence in order to survive; gagging new ideas and killing change. Discover hidden peaks of such fears, lack of skills and incompetency and follow the trail of silence and here to achieve a faster pandemic recovery engage in open discussions eliminating fears of change and encourage upskilling. Wake up the sleepy isolated Rip Van Winkle from the dreams as the world has already changed.
Now is post pandemic recovery time. Follow the silence and engage in constructive dialogue.
Trapped in post-pandemic paralysis of local economy facing restless citizenry; today, some 200 nations mostly in critical lack of digital transformation, without speed and efficiency to uplift the nation, all delayed for fears of change and lingering incompetency, already leaving some 100 high potential nation critically behind.
Digitization of Public and Private Bureaucracies of the world became critical necessity decade ago, almost free many years ago, but the deep silence never allowed any open bold debates on transformation for fear exposure of mismanagement risking job securities.
Today, stripped naked in public are broken economies of the world, buried under mountains of crumpled twisted paper, trying to figure out backlogs and deep losses. Nations without digitization will remain crumbled economies, businesses without digitization will not survive and individual office workers without advanced understanding on such topics may have no future. Any business model irrespective size, type, location to go forward must base on solid digitization to bounce of global stage.
When people stepped out of caves or from darkness into light, a time came when without electricity a business could not function. Digital transformations of world economies during the last decade were at a snail pace. Now Covid-19 simply stepped on that snail. Calling nations to digitize or linger on bankruptcies. Institutions lagging behind, like Chambers and Trade Associations in old models and Public Private Sectors of the world all now openly challenged.
Pandemic recovery needs massive real value creation, calls for revitalized national SME base, digitized on global standards, capable and upskilled citizenry to produce quality, performance and profitability. Ability to dance on global digital platforms and showcase talents creating collaborative synthesizim. Today, any absence of national mobilization of entrepreneurialism and upskilling of national SME on digital platforms for exportability is becoming number one national economic and political issue.
Trade wars mostly become issues when nations lack skilled citizenry with speed to earn exportability and create foreign exchange to boost economy and create grassroots prosperity….hence, chaos on the streets, towers of debts, broken economies. Today, the global masses are not waiting for The Fourth Industrial Revolution as what they need is ‘mental-industrialization’ a serious process of self-discovery gymnastics to liberate them from blockades of old mental-divides and enter into new digital-divides.
Daily Briefing 365 Days: Cold Facts and Harsh Realties
The world learned quickly, how national leadership could shine with daily LIVE briefings, regimented execution and presence with all hands on deck to tackle issues of national importance. The populace of the world is thrilled. Following are the current critical issues of national economy, craving for the national leadership to go LIVE daily and hold open and bold discussions with questions answers and shine. Make daily briefing a yearlong agenda to fast economic recovery.
The tectonic shifts, affecting nation by nation
Hastily, societies all over the world are losing addiction to endless consumption like repulsion; such shifts on buying behaviors will alter consumption based economic models and create new narratives. This may shrink Retail 50% in developed economies. Offices may shrink by 50% due to remote-work acceptance. Downtowns may shrink 50% in selected countries. The ‘cement-structure based retail’ as predicted decade ago will eventually give-in to ‘cyber-structured-retail’ now fully dressed up in cyber-windows with AI+AR+VR 24x7x365 a new thinking emerging.
What are the new game plans; how to bring all such calamities to calm and authoritative regional and global debates and Round-table discussions to achieve sustainable systematic solutions?
The global educational delivery system crashed decades ago; the value of education lost years ago, with heavy burden on society in times of crisis must try to save itself under new models, pricing and thinking. Now speed and execution skills with complex problem solving with entrepreneurial leadership flares are the top skill needed for future, national leaderships must create daily briefing on such special areas to uplift the smartness of working citizenry.
Where is the national umbrella to park all these conflicting ideas but open discussions with new discoveries?
The small and medium size business will play the most significant role on coming years. The national trade groups like vertical trade associations and Chambers of commerce of the world will all need new adjustments to deal with new and digitally advanced entrepreneurial centric world. Some 100,000-trade associations and 11,000 Chambers must come together on digital platforms to lead in the future.
How mobilization of all such institutions and trade bodies land on digital platforms with amazing results?
Metamorphosis of Coronavirus; hidden in the damage is a bright future, the isolation and break down of economies have shifted the cause and action; The global populace has now advanced, metamorphism has new craving; as if a caterpillar pretending asleep but in reality learning fast to fly; now leaves chrysalis, spread colorful wings and fly…
Firstly, speak, boldly explore and claim your path to victory and change; create big and small discussions, internal or companywide podcasts, local, national or global webcasts, but always bold and open discussions. After all, any lingering incompetency is only a proof of new grounds in big need of fertilization to uplift and upgrade knowledge. Lack of skills only represents that the discovery and exploration process of new skills never occurred. The world’s greatest people were all lifelong learners. They openly explored their own levels of competency, changed and advanced. The more you realize how little you know the more new doors you open to new ideas with amazing new information uplifting skills to advance your future, try it, share it. Follow the trail of silence and help achieve fastest economic recovery for all…
The rest is easy
The COVID-19 Pandemic and the “Phoenix” of the Globalized Technological Capitalist System?
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to acknowledge that three prominent intellectual figures spanning the 19th and 20th centuries forecasted the cataclysm of modernity. Thomas Carlyle, René Guénon, and Jacques Ellul provided reasoned accounts to justify their views that modernity is engulfed in a state of crisis on the basis that the not-mutually-exclusive hegemonies of technology, capitalism, and globalization are not invulnerable.
While each offered a slightly different viewpoint and a slightly different description of what they took to be the crisis, their views all coalesce around the general thesis that the continuous expansion of the material and technological built landscapes will eventually prove to be catastrophic. This is for two reasons. The first, because an ever-more complex system becomes ripe for error, an error which could cause the whole system to go haywire. Essentially, “the bigger it is the harder it falls.” The second reason is that in constructing an external environment as its hegemonic priority, humanity is neglecting giving attention to spirituality, philosophy, and developing the human inward nature. The external and material becomes the fog that humanity becomes ensconced in to such an extent that pursuing such things as the ascertainment of spiritual reality through intuition, the project Plato inaugurated academia with and inspired Christianity and Islam’s later development with, becomes wrested away wholesale from the consciousness of humanity. The two factors work in a type of synergy in that they mutually reinforce one another and precipitate cataclysm. The renunciation of the pursuit of constructing an ever vaster and more complex material system, which ostensibly implies a turn toward the spiritual as a premise, is the only means to stave off ever-greater cataclysms as the material system continuously grows more complex and more globalized.
Since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, technology, capitalism, and globalization have exerted their unquestioned domination only increasingly—until COVID-19. Technology, capitalism, and globalization have been unquestioned to such an extent that in hindsight it is obvious, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that a global emergency of major proportions was necessary to even entertain the question that they were bound all along to eventually lead to a breakdown and inflict unprecedented harm to global health and the global economy. World War II was a destructive moment, but in no way did it impede the post-war expansions of technology, capitalism, and globalization in the latter-half of the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st. The COVID-19 pandemic is dissimilar even to the catastrophe of World War II because of the magnitude and the nearly-universal geographic scope of the economic toll it has taken in such a short time. Moreover, while there was room for technology, globalization, and capitalism to both re-emerge and expand following World War II, their room for expansion from their forms immediately prior to the economic contraction COVID-19 exacted is likely to be minimal and is more likely to be non-existent or even negative. The contraction of the technological globalized capitalist system would inherently imply the beginning of a new post-globalization era.
What makes Carlyle, Guénon, and Ellul interesting to entertain in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is the grand, global, and “esoteric” natures of their philosophies of modern history. It should be noted that the dominance of scientific rationality, mechanization, and materialist economy in the modern era itself was the lens through which enabled their philosophies to bereceived as radical and “esoteric,” or not based on empirical, positivist, scientific evidence. If their views had found a way to usurp the hegemonic position in the popular collective consciousness, they would not have been seen as radical or off-base.
Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus is an 1836 fiction book that essentially inaugurated and epitomized modern social criticism toward the blind commitment to the Enlightenment and the resulting emergence of the non-spiritual materialistic basis of 19th century European politics, economy, and society. It was a chief inspiration for Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and a foundational book for American Transcendentalism as an intellectual movement in general. In Sartor Resartus, Carlyle offers a cryptic diagnosis of the ailment of modernity during the midst of its advent, the Victorian industrial age.
Speaking through the voice of the book’s protagonist, Professor Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, Carlyle theorizes of a “phoenix” that can be forecasted to take place roughly sometime in the 21st century. Carlyle writes, “we are at this hour in a most critical condition; beleaguered by that boundless ‘Armament of Mechanisers’ and Unbelievers, threatening to strip us bare! ‘The World,’ says [Teufelsdröckh], ‘as it needs must, is under a process of devastation and waste, which, whether by silent assiduous corrosion, or open quicker combustion, as the case chances, will effectually enough annihilate the past Forms of Society; replace them with what it may.’” This is flowery language that communicates Carlyle’s view that the world is destined to be consumed and destroyed as a function of the domination of those who uninterruptedly pursue the “boundless” construction of the material economy single-mindedly as their highest/only priority in conjunction with those who are non-spiritual, the “Unbelievers.” The “Armament of Mechanisers” and “Unbelievers” are synergistic and largely synonymous in that they are those who acknowledge only that which is material and perceptible by their senses.
To Carlyle, the “Armament of Mechanisers” and “Unbelievers,” by promoting the material economy, are inherently ignoring the spiritual realm, a realm that would be a moderator and reign in all-consuming materialism by embodying the virtue of renunciation (a virtue in nearly every theological and spiritual tradition). Humanity loses consciousness of the spiritual because modernity inherently divests the world of its spirit. Such a process is unsustainable because the finite nature of the world and its finite resources cannot sustain the pursuit of infinite material consumption and the increasing chaos that inherently manifests with a system that grows ever more complex. Thus, the materialist economy is bound to come into its full being, just like the mythic phoenix, before returning to ash and emerging in a different form. Carlyle reflects, “what time the Phoenix Death-Birth itself will require depends on unseen contingencies” and that it is a “handsome bargain would she engage to have [it] done ‘within two centuries.’”
René Guénon, a 20th century intellectual and metaphysician, offered what is perhaps the most sweeping and all-encompassing critique of the historical trajectory of Western civilization. He is also noteworthy in the contemporary sense as an inspiration for Steve Bannon, a chief political and policy adviser to President Donald Trump and a prominent promoter of traditionalist conservatism through such channels as Breitbart News Network. For Guénon, the West is in precipitous decline and he forecasted that it will reach a breaking point since the world is progressively displacing the realization of the quality of what he called the “Essence” of the transcendental realm (i.e. what lies beyond time and space and is perceived through the use of Platonic/spiritual intuition) with the realization of ever-greater quantity of the substance of what is material on Earth. Essentially, the progressive development of civilization corresponds to a cheapening of it and what he refers to as a “reign of quantity” rather than a reign of the quality of what can be nominally cast as the timeless Platonic Forms. Rather than conceiving of an ideal (i.e. a Platonic Form) through the use of intuition and then pursuing its realization in the Earthly material realm, everything modern defaults to gravitating around what Guénon takes to be the lowest-common-denominator, which is the measurement of everything by its quantitative rather than qualitative value. In other words, we are losing our ability to grasp and realize by intuition the ideal incarnation of all objects, concepts, and phenomena that are timeless and unchanging in the transcendent realm yet ephemeral in the material Earthly realm.
In The Crisis of the Modern World, published in 1927 shortly after World War I’s explicit embodiment of the rejection of the narrative of continual progress in modernity, Guénon reflects: “the belief in a never-ending ‘progress’, which until recently was held as a sort of inviolable and indisputable dogma, is no longer so widespread; there are those who perceive, though in a vague and confused manner , that the civilization of the West may not always go on developing in the same direction, but may some day reach a point where it will stop, or even be plunged in its entirety into some cataclysm.”
Guénon parallels Carlyle in Sartor Resartus in that he acknowledges the deeply problematic nature of cutting material existence on Earth off from any transcendent/spiritual/divine reality, a phenomenon which is only increasingly taking place in the context of modernity and not in previous ages. Devoid of any collective consciousness of transcendent reality that may prove effectual to moderating the continuous expansion of materialism and the “reign of quantity,” Guénon thinks modernity takes on a dimension antithetical to the transcendent and thus can be deemed “satanic” in the simplest nominal and non-theological use of the term. This narrative, Guénon maintains, explains the eventual dissolution of the modern world, as “the reign of quantity” will maximize the realization of quantity to its farthest limits, before triggering a cataclysmic contraction. According to Guénon in The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, the “rectification” of modernity “presupposes arrival at the point at which the ‘descent’ is completely accomplished, where ‘the wheel stops turning.’” Guénon concludes that until such a breaking point is attained, “it is impossible that these things should be understood by men in general…”
Jacques Ellul, who was perhaps the foremost philosopher-critic of technology in the 20th century (and a chief inspiration for the Unabomber), largely reincarnated without citation Carlyle’s original criticisms of modernity. Ellul felt that modernity was synonymous with one vast global technical civilization that was autonomous and not subject to human control since its overall historical development as a system and long-term consequences are not subject to human control.Ellul defines what he takes to be technical civilization in his magnum opus The Technological Society, published in 1954: “technical civilization means that our civilization is constructed by technique (makes a part of civilization only what belongs to technique), for technique (in that everything in this civilization must serve a technical end), and is exclusively technique (in that it excludes whatever is not technique or reduces it to technical form).”
Ellul made known his theory that the technical civilization will have to perfect itself and sustain its perfection, as the only other alternative to perfection is the commission of an error, either small or large, that has the ability to cause the vast and interconnected system to go haywire. Ellul declares, “the technical society must perfect the ‘man-machine’ complex or risk total collapse.” For Ellul, technical civilization is a “Behemoth” and it can “rest easy” as nothing “will prevent him from consuming mankind.” Such an elucidation of the stakes involved in creating an ever-more complex and gigantic globalized and technological system are deeply relevant to the narrative of how COVID-19 wreaked havoc on global health and the global economy so quickly and so easily. Air travel and other forms of transportation infrastructure were technological developments that had reached a zenith at the time of the onset of the pandemic as a function of globalized capitalism also being at a zenith. The totality of the network of global transportation infrastructure manifested by technical civilization’s progressive global development since the Industrial Revolution was compounded by the growth in the levels of global travel on the part of the largest global population in history at the time of COVID-19’s onset.
Ellul denounces liberal political economy for providing the favorable climate necessary for the unquestioned manifestation of technical civilization and refutes prospective critics who would maintain that liberal economy and technical civilization are compatible for the long-term:
“It will doubtless be pointed out, by way of refutation, that production techniques were developed during the ascendancy of liberalism, which furnished a favorable climate for their development and understood perfectly how to use them. But this is no counterargument. The simple fact is that liberalism permitted the development of its executioner, exactly as in a healthy tissue a constituent cell may proliferate and give rise to a fatal cancer. The healthy body represented the necessary condition for the cancer. But there was no contradiction between the two. The same relation holds between technique and economic liberalism.”
Just as Carlyle documented what he took to be the crisis of modernity at its advent during the initial industrialism of 19th century Victorian England, Guénon documented in the context of retrospectively accounting for the catastrophes of both World Wars I and II, and Ellul documented in the context of the post-World War II exponential growth of technology, the COVID-19 pandemic provides another milestone with which to, at a minimum, revisit their mutually compatible theses with respect to the cataclysm of modernity. Whether COVID-19 proves to be the “big one” and arrests the hegemonic triumvirate of technology, capitalism, and globalization remains to be seen. At a minimum, what can be gleaned from Carlyle, Guénon, and Ellul is that modernity’s improvement of the material standard of living for so many globally needs to be balanced with a view toward moderation and long-term sustainability. Liberal political economy, science, and technological innovation have until now been single-minded seekers of continuous growth without acknowledging the need to at some point ossify or plateau the technical civilization they have each been instrumental in constructing so that it does not become a phoenix and burn to ash.
Iron Fist for Pacific East
“Americans performed three very different policies on the People’s Republic: From a total negation (and the Mao-time mutual annihilation assurances), to Nixon’s sudden cohabitation. Finally, a Copernican-turn: the US spotted no real ideological differences between them and the post-Deng China. This signalled a ‘new opening’: West imagined China’s coastal areas as its own industrial suburbia. Soon after, both countries easily agreed on interdependence (in this marriage of convenience): Americans pleased their corporate (machine and tech) sector and unrestrained its greed, while Chinese in return offered a cheap labour, no environmental considerations and submissiveness in imitation.
However, for both countries this was far more than economy, it was a policy – Washington read it as interdependence for transformative containment and Beijing sow it as interdependence for a (global) penetration. In the meantime, Chinese acquired more sophisticated technology, and the American Big tech sophisticated itself in digital authoritarianism –‘technological monoculture’ met the political one.
But now with a tidal wave of Covid-19, the honeymoon is over.” – recently diagnosed prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic on these very pages.
Following lines are a gross-detail insights into a mesmerising dynamic engulfing lately Far East and eastern Pacific.
Currently, China escalated its economic coercion against Australia by imposing two tariffs on the import of Australian barley. The first is a 73.6 % tariff on the agricultural product and the second, an additional 6.9 % arguing that the Australian government subsidies its farmers to grow this lucrative crop. Seen in tandem with the beef import ban on four Australian abattoirs, Beijing is pressuring Canberra hard to drop its calls for an independent COVID-19 (C-19) investigation and enforcing painful economic pain on Australia for what Beijing perceives as intolerable behaviour to a country that has “benefitted so profoundly” from trade with China.
These actions raise serious questions for Japan and its friends. How does Japan respond to such a clear demonstration of punitive economic coercion against one of Tokyo’s closest friends in the region? What about other interested parties? Do Canadian, American, and other agricultural exporters take advantage of Australia’s thorny relationship with Beijing as Brazil did in the midst of the US-China trade war by exporting soya beans and other agricultural products?
Looking at the short term, especially in the wake economic damaged caused by the C-19 pandemic taking, the logic of expediency to quickly deliver economic goods to the struggling agricultural industry is sensible.
In that scenario, those countries with amicable relations with China would fill the vacuum being created by economic coercion against Australia. The candidates include Brazil, Russia, amongst others.
In the mid to long term, this sends the wrong message to states that engage in economic coercion. The message being sent here is that countries that are vulnerable to punitive economic measures have little choice to relent to Chinese or others states demands as other states will not collectively stand up to blatant economic coercion.
One by one, what can be done?
Japan and other liberal democratic states cannot make up for the sheer volume of agricultural and other exports that the Chinese market consumes. Even if they could open their markets as a temporary alternative, there would still be a huge gap. Nevertheless, an agreement to buy goods from a targeted state may relieve some of the economic pressure being applied by coercive states.
Duanjie Chen of Canada’s MacDonald Laurier Institute correctly points out that Beijing practices economic coercion in a sophisticated and well-worn manner, by discreet to evade World Trade Organisation (WTO) disputes, precise calculation for maximum impact, and they are tailored to split western allies.
To lessen the effectiveness of these practices, Japan and other like-minded states need to mindful of these patterns and build multilateral mechanisms to create more resilience against punitive economic tactics.
In the first area, discreet to evade WTO disputes, Japan and other middle powers need to work collectively to close the WTO loop holes such that they cannot be exploit to deliver painful economic messages to states that are deemed to cross Beijing’s red lines.
To accomplish this task, WTO reform is crucial and that means collectively lobbying the US to work with allies to reform the WTO such that it functions better and can protect member states from economic predation.
If consensus cannot be achieved to reform the WTO, then like-minded states should consider a scrap and build approach that starts with like-minded countries but aims to achieve the same objectives.
The 2nd area Chen identified was the precise calculation for maximum impact. Japan felt this in 2010 with the rare-earth embargo, an embargo that hurt its high-tech firms and automobile industry. Australia is feeling this now with its beef and barley industries beings targeted. Canada felt similar measures against its canola, soya and pork industries in the wake of Ms Meng Wanzhou arrest. The tactics even included the hostage diplomacy of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor who are still detained to this day.
Mitigating this hard-line approach requires a multilevel approach and multilateral cooperation. At the first level, like-minded states need to brainstorm and commit to collective and equal reciprocation of the economic coercion. For instance, collective stopping the export of a key or key ingredient, components or otherwise to China until the respective coercion stops.
Here agricultural products come to mind. The growing middle class in China also has a growing appetite for the high quality and safe agricultural from countries like Japan, Australia, Canada, the US, and the EU. These like-minded states should find ways to collectively limit their agricultural exports when one or more of its members are subject to economic coercion. China is vulnerable in other areas as well.
Reputational costs are also critical levers that should be collectively applied as well. Chen mentions withdrawing membership from the Asian Infrastructure and Investment bank (AIIB) as a possible measure. I would add MoUs signed with the BRI, and 3rd country infra-structure projects as well. These are crucial institutions that China has invested both treasure and political resources in to bolster its international credentials as a provider of global public goods.
Of Ban and Japan
Japan would play a key role here in that Beijing has assiduously courted Japan to join the BRI and 3rd country infrastructure as a way to build credibility for the BRI infrastructure projects. Without partners, China’s signature initiatives cannot be internationalized, and China will not recognized as a globally admired and responsible stakeholder.
Another key initiative to be collectively adopted by Japan and other countries in their trade negotiations with Beijing is a clause that expressly forbids economic coercion on Japan and or its allies. This kind of clause could be included in other trade agreements and negotiations that Beijing deems critical to its socio-economic development.
Thinking creatively, Japan and like-minded countries such as Canada, Australia, South Korea and others should think about ways to introduce their own “poison pill” into trade agreements. The US did this with he USMCA FTA between Canada, Mexico and the US by the inclusion of a clause in which the US had veto over Canada and Mexico’s other free trade partners, in particular if either entered a free trade deal with a with a “non-market country”, i.e. China.
In this hypothetic “poison pill” or let’s call it “Musketeer Clause”, trade agreements would include a clause that required partners to collectively respond to economic coercion of one of its members by applying diplomatic, economic and other pressure on the offending actor. This could be a collective boycott, collective lobbying in international organizations, collective reciprocal tariff increase, etc. In short, an embodiment of The Musketeers motto of One for all, all for one.
The third area that needs be addressed is the tactics deployed to tailored to split western allies. The above hypothetic clause would go far in doing that by creating as grouping of like-minded states that are interested in protecting their national and collective interests.
This will not be enough. With China being the largest trading partner of Japan, South Korea, Australia and many ASEAN states, an economic re-balancing must take place in which states collectively socially distance themselves from China. Here, the key that they are less dependent on bilateral relations for economic prosperity and more dependent on a balanced, multilateral trade relations with a collection of like-minded, rules-based countries and China.
Complete decoupling from China is not realistic considering the level of integration of our economies. It is also not in the economic or security interests of the states in questions nor the global community. What is in the interests of Japan, Australia, South Korea, Canada and other middle powers and smaller powers is finding ways to buttress a rules-based international order and to push back against a track record of punitive economic policies.
Resistance is not futile. Victims of economic coercion need to channel their own Winston Churchill and epitomize the his views on never giving up in the face of force.
“This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
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