2016: What’s ahead for the world?

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By and large the previous year was a year of crisis escalation, brought forth by the emergence of new sources of tension not only in diplomacy but also in actual military conflict. On the one hand, fresh sources of armed engagement and humanitarian issues had world leaders worried overnight (ISIS beyond Syria and Iraq, Russian intervention in Syria, migrant crisis in Europe). These events were not predicted before 2015.

2016 will be marked by an increase in local conflicts, like in Ukraine and in the Arabian Peninsula where the rift between Sunni and Shia Muslims will intensify. In fact, as of press time, Saudi Arabia has cut off all diplomatic ties with Iran, the latter infuriated over the execution of a prominent Shia cleric. It is expected to be joined by other Sunni majority countries in the Middle East. This year might just be the time for the spreading of these conflicts to more states.

The presidential elections in the United States will put on hold major foreign policy decisions, as the American public gets distracted by the convoluted race to the White House. As for the exiting American president, Obama will protect what he has accomplished in 2015, including the rapprochement with Iran and Cuba.

As the United States continues to be rejected in many areas of the world, the leadership vacuum that it will create will give opportunities to other major powers, and with it, a new era of anti-West geopolitics will emerge. The post-American century is an irreversible occurrence now as other major powers like Russia, China, and Brazil take on responsibilities beyond their typical spheres of influence. In the military sphere, Russia has re-entered the Middle East in a big way, while China will now formally launch the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), aimed at rivaling the IMF and World Bank.

The global economy is expected to be ‘disappointing and uneven’ in 2016 because of the continuing slowdown in China, sluggishness in world trade, the threat of rising interest rates in the US, the ongoing fall of oil prices, and the vulnerability of emerging economies to absorb economic shocks, according to the IMF.

General elections will take place in Taiwan, a Western-backed state that is unsure about its identity vis-à-vis China. The emerging leader might give Beijing fresh fears regarding the longstanding One-China policy. The UK public will go to the polls to decide whether to stay or leave the European Union, while in the Philippines, presidential elections will decide whether a future leader will continue to provoke China and further impress the United States for its own benefit.

Islamic State (ISIS) is expected to be put on hold territorially in Syria and Iraq, thanks to Russia’s military intervention. However, it might gain influence beyond the region as other terrorist groups (like Boko Haram in Nigeria, and other groups from Somalia to terror groups in South East Asia) pledge their allegiance to Daesh.

The United States and NATO will further infuriate Moscow as it decides on sending nuclear weapons to Poland, a former Warsaw Pact member. As a result of Washington’s antagonizing policies in Europe, Russia will further invest in its armed forces, which might trigger a new, expensive, and unnecessary arms race in continental Europe.

Europe’s most powerful leader, Angela Merkel, is expected to leave office after three successive terms. What this might mean for Europe is a change in policy towards Russia (sanctions), the migrant crisis, the German commitment to the entire Eurozone project and Berlin’s attitude towards economically and socially troubled states like Spain, Greece, and Italy.

Emerging economies and realities: Despite their reliance, US keen on halting China’s economic influence

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The recent Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Beijing has once again highlighted the United States’ fervor for grandstanding acts of stealing the spotlight away from its rivals, or at least halting the advances of emerging economies and political powers beyond the Western hemisphere, whether it be at home or abroad.

Just a day before the APEC summit, US President Obama gathered participants to the US-led but China-excluded Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) held in the US embassy in Beijing. The TPP is essentially a regional trade agreement that aims to undermine China’s own Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific, which is a broader framework for bringing closer integration of Asian economies.

This display of intent comes at a time when the TPP is yet to resolve long standing issues that has halted it from becoming a fully functional economic bloc. There are still protectionist issues to be settled between Washington and Tokyo, for instance, and New Zealand’s intention to “pull out of the negotiations if politicians in the US used them as a vehicle to try to contain the rise of China.”

IMF and World Bank: Tired economic powerhouses

As the United States’ economic and military influence further erodes, the vacuum it is creating is more and more being filled by emerging powers consisting of China, Russia, Indian, and Brazil, which together in July 2014, account for roughly 20% of the world’s economy based on GDP and 30% based on Purchasing Power Parity, which is a more accurate measure of world economy. In July, BRICS proposed a $100bn New Development Bank to meet infrastructure and development projects at a time when the West continues to erode its role in global trade.

The ongoing shift in global influence from West to East has rendered the traditional economic clout of the West, through the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, unable to meet the enormous investments that are required by developing economies in the Asia Pacific region and Latin America. Indeed, both lending institutions have become hostage to their colonialist approach to development, such as in leadership, voting rights, capitalization, headquarters, and staffing, which are all dominated by the United States.

The perception that emerging economies are still heavily reliant on advanced economies for market access and demand is quickly coming to a pass. In its International Trade Statistics 2014, the World Trade Organization concluded that “more than half the exports from developing economies were sent to other developing economies in 2013.” It also revealed that “countries in Asia sent more than 60% of their exports to other nations in Asia and to Africa and the Middle East, compared with just over 15% each to North America and Europe.”

As has been observed in the past decade, this tectonic shift in global economic activity will only continue to progress to reach other economies not held hostage by the traditionally two-edged economic and political policies of the West.

Capitalism: Tired as the Environment it Plundered (PART II)

PART II: A Briefer on Poverty and Hunger

One of the World Bank’s objectives include the statement “the encouragement of the development of productive facilities and resources in less developing countries”. One of its focus involve developing countries in the fields such as human development, which include education and health. Quite sardonically, in 2010, it reported that “Almost half the world — over 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.”

Such figures clearly point to inquiries on the hows and whys these came to be despite the promise of a better life (under Capitalism) and the promises of unprecedented economic integration (under Globalization). Is it really overpopulation that caused hunger or is it poverty to blame? As was learned in Part I of this discussion, since the elite (Capitalists) used education as a tool to undermine the real workings of this world, it is thus hidden from the majority of humanity that the real cause of poverty is overpopulation. This is the accepted reasoning since they controlled what and how we learn. In this way, the rich where always absolved from the responsibility of acting on the issue of poverty, and hence, hunger.

How common lands where distributed among the elite play an undeniable role in discussing the roots of poverty and hunger. In Africa, for instance, it is estimated that 80% of the population depend on arable land. But what if, as a result of privatization, these lands where taken away? Decades of liberalization (patterned after the West but not applicable to the Third World) have greatly decreased self-sufficiency among farmers, while at the same time doing nothing on how food can be economically available for them.

But are these lands acquired to produce more food per unit area and make them cheaper to acquire? History had it that there will always be a shortage of everything to keep costs high and profits going (growth – the universal word of Capitalism). Still, the primary reason for the shortage in arable land is their usage: for industrial production, mega-dam projects, beef production that benefit only the countries of the investors, for appropriation to golf courses, production of tobacco, and even the conversion offood to fuel (corn-to-ethanol and bio-fuel revolution in the early 2000s) as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Just in the case of tobacco production, the situation seems to suggest a discouraging picture. Tobacco production degrades the land while also requiring more wood to cure it. Outside of soil degradation, this industry puts stress on water resources by requiring fast-growing but water-hungry trees, such as eucalyptus. In addition, their production encourages more smoking which degrade people’s health and increase medical expenses.

The same situation applies for coffee production. Although the production of coffee has had economic benefits such as employment, their production increased after the 1960s, but coffee price also fell more than 50% since. As such, its production is not sustaining itself well. Coffee plantation necessitates millions of hectares of land, not to mention pesticides that degrade the soil (which contribute to irreversible erosion), as well as waste pulp which pollute the water ways.

Another major contributor to land misuse is the textile/garments industry. As if the reallocation of arable land is not enough, the textile industry is known to put a real strain on water resources. The production of garments require a very large quantity of water: the textile industry is the third largest consumer in the world after the paper and oil industries. In its production, textiles require more chemicals as well (dyeing process) and also more energy to heat it. Even bigger than consumption, waste water from the process pollute river systems on a grand scale (taking into account their rank in the worst polluting industries).

In the case of bio-fuels, a little bit of political blaming has dominated the discussion, especially on the issue of whether bio-fuels such as ethanol do significantly affect the price of food. Proponents of the fuel, particularly the United States and some Western countries report that their production contribute to less than 3% on the price of food. However, in a leaked World Bank report (The Guardian, July 2008), the World Bank reported that “Bio fuels have forced global food prices up by 75%”. In fact, in official statements, the United States has placed the blame on rising demand from developing countries, particularly India and China.

Decades of liberalization policies (which are export- and self-serving oriented) have also contributed to poverty and hunger. Under the guise of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), for-export crops (mostly to Northern Hemisphere destinations) have replaced staple crops, which in turn hurt local food supplies and where available, make them expensive. Encouraged by free-trade agreements and Globalization, liberalization also contributed to the removal of subsidies allocated for smaller-scale agriculture and farming. The removal of subsidies in turn make local players vulnerable which puts them at a disadvantaged position against gargantuan multinational corporations. In this way, this closed-cycle loop is complete; to quote Richard H. Robbins, “To understand why people go hungry you must stop thinking about food as something farmers grow for others to eat, and begin thinking about it as something companies produce for other people to buy.” And yet, as the West views subsidies as the main barrier against ‘free-trade’ which must be abolished, their agriculture are the most heavily subsidized in the world, especially in Europe. This double-standard does not only contribute to the problem of poverty and hunger, but also to trade practices, otherwise known as protectionist policies.