By Herman Tiu Laurel
December 2020 cemented the Multi-Polar World
THE European Union and China signed a historic trade pact last December 27, 2020, a trade deal that is as significant as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) cake, which took 10 years to bake and whose icing was completed only last November 15, 2020.
History will record the last month of 2020 as the pivotal moment that finally shifted the globe from its 20th Century US-centered unipolar orientation to the evolving and congealing multi-polar world championed by China and Russia over the past two decades.
This is now happening with rapidity, taking advantage of the presidential transition on January 20th, 2021 from Trump to the new US Biden administration. And the intention of the EU and ASEAN+5 is also clear, i.e., to set the parameters before the US can throw its weight around again.
Europe equi-distancing from US
For some years now, the EU had been slowly drifting apart from the US; Brexit had a lot to do with it too. The US had been listless as leader of the Western Alliance and the “free world” since its 2008 US Financial Collapse that has led to the 2020 Munich Security Conference theme of “West-lessness.”
The annual Munich Security Conference is a little known though critical event in the Western Alliance’s direction-setting confabs. In 2020, its theme of “West-lessness” expressed Europe’s alienation from the post-WWII Atlantic Alliance and the partnership between the US and Europe, while signaling a move back to its own Eurocentricity.
The US Trump administration has had a great deal to do with this “West-lessness.” Since its first year, Trump had been ratcheting up trade tensions with the EU and pressuring abrasively NATO countries to pay-up for NATO financial upkeep, or else. And there were many other financial demands on the EU from the US.
The US has pressured and threatened sanctions on EU countries to stop the use of Huawei 5G, arguably the best and cheapest technology available. The US has also sanctioned the German-Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that would bring cheaper energy supply through and to Germany and Europe, thus geo-politicizing what was otherwise just an economic cost-benefit issue.
China’s diplomatic and economic charms
The US has used the “human rights” issue to pressure the EU and other allied countries to distance themselves from China. But China has been very deft with its inclusive diplomacy, remaining firm on its sovereign rights while extending its trade and opening-up its domestic market. The US$1.4-billion gigantic Chinese market of consumer and rising industries is simply too good to pass up.
The German industrial sector is extremely bullish on China, as exemplified by German industrial robot-maker Hahn Automation. Hahn will be investing millions of Euros in factories in China over the next three years to gain a presence in an economy that is rebounding more rapidly than others from the Covid-19 crisis and robotizing many of its manufacturing processes.
Germany’s biggest trading partners are the US and China. With US economic prospects dimmed by its political and health crises, China is easily the better option. Even if, as everyone assumes, the Biden administration will now mend fences with the allies alienated by Trump, the real economic factors simply reduce the attractiveness of the US in the decades to come.
Germany is acknowledged as the heavyweight country in the EU, and Chancellor Angela Merkel had been vacillating between acquiescence to the US and striking an independent posture. With the support of the entire EU, Merkel has finally chosen to go with China, while continuing to engage with the US. With this choice, Germany is actually leading the US towards a more balanced multi-polar world.
History at a pivotal moment
The spectacular surprise resurgence of China from the Covid-19 pandemic amidst the global economic catastrophe is a moment in history that will reverberate for decades to come. China’s GDP of Yuan 100-trillion at the end of 2020 was marginally bigger than its 2019 GDP of Yuan 99-trillion, certainly a tribute to its socialism with Chinese characteristics.
During my CCTV interview on President Xi’s New Year’s Eve message, I noted that the President’s message – not only to his nation of 1.4-billion people but to the whole world – was “… to stay tenacious like the bamboo deeply rooted in the rocks… and steadily march towards the goal of common prosperity… further deepen reform and expand opening up with greater courage…”
The latter part of the above quote is a message to the outside world of China’s commitment to fulfilling its pledge to spend its blessings from the $ 30-trillions of imports from other countries and to open up its markets to the financial and other services of Western bankers who wish to establish a presence in China. Given these offers, what nation would not sign up with China and leave the tensions of US geopolitics behind?
So, just in December, China managed to successfully lock-in two major economic blocs, i.e. the RCEP and EU, as it pursues its vision for all of “The Community of Shared Future for Mankind.” As I have been telling friends and relations, my sense is that the “end of the WWIII dread” is here; within the next ten years, the US will fade away from its “perpetual war” track and be content as a North American regional power.
Duterte, 'The Philippines’ Manna from Heaven'
Can anyone today still imagine what would have happened if a candidate of the Yellow breed - i.e., the political leaders and followers of the US-led neo-colonial faction in the Philippines -- had won in 2016 instead of President Duterte? The country would have been left behind by history, remaining tied to the sinking and now-sunk U.S. economy and crumbling geopolitical aircraft carrier.
If the Philippines had succumbed to the delusion of the Grace Poe presidency or the comedic Mar Roxas sham, the Philippines would have been enmeshed in a political war of attrition with China, possibly a short shooting encounter at sea that would trigger an international crisis at the expense of the Philippines and a decades-long period of economic Armageddon isolated from the rest of the region.
But wait! Duterte’s bringing the Philippines on board the Armada of history alongside the combined legacy of Zheng He and the Ancient Silk Road does not provide a one-way ticket to success for the country. Simply being in the RCEP is not a passport to automatic progress; the Philippines really needs to ponder and focus on its economics and diet on its politics.
Duterte has brought the Philippines closer to, and in alignment with, its regional neighbors, into the opportunities offered by the RCEP, and up to the level of a strategic partner of China. Soon it will be among the privileged nations to enjoy the only real vaccine options for the country that will overcome the long-term devastation of the coronavirus through room temperature, effective Sinovac, Sinopharm, and Clover vaccines.
'Earth home' better off thanks to China
I picked up the above comment from a Japan Times article entitled “'Better off thanks to China’ German firms double down on resurgent giant.” The article discusses at length how German firms voted to go with the trade deal with China. Quoting a Mr. Mair of German company SWP, the Japan Times concluded that “It’s impossible to ignore China because its market and growth opportunities are simply too big.”
The term “Earth home” comes from President Xi Jinping’s New Year’s Eve 2021 address to the nation and the world when he said, “We still have a long way to go in pandemic control and prevention. People from all over the world should join hands and support each other to dispel early the gloom of the pandemic and strive for a better ‘Earth home’.”
There is more than just one pandemic for the world to work together on in the decades to come. There is the continuing poverty on our “Earth home”, continuing conflicts and injustice, and threats of catastrophes that have annihilated the earth before, such as, asteroid hits and perhaps more lethal pandemics to come.
In this 21st century, we are better off in moving towards that vision of “A Community of Shared Future for Mankind” due to the success and continuing efforts of China to lead the world into better social-political systems and agendas together with allied countries like Russia drawing in the EU, Asia and the rest of the world.
(Join “Power Thinks” with Ka Mentong Laurel and guests every Wednesday at 6 pm Live on Global Talk News Radio [GTNR] on Facebook and Talk News TV on YouTube, and every Sunday 8 to 10 am on RP1 738 on your AM radio dial.)
About the Columnist
Herman Tiu Laurel is a veteran journalist and founder of think tank PHILIPPINE-BRICS Strategic Studies.