Four geoeconomic summits compressed into one week tell the story of where we stand in these supremely dystopian times.
The (virtual) signing of RCEP, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, in Vietnam was followed by the equally virtual BRICS meeting hosted by Moscow, the APEC meeting hosted by Malaysia and the G20 this past weekend hosted by Saudi Arabia.
Cynics have not failed to note the spectacular theater of the absurd of having what at least, in theory, are the Top 20 economies linked to a beheading-friendly desert oil hacienda with a 7th-century mentality in order to discuss what is arguably the turning point in the world system.
The Riyadh declaration did its best to lift the somber planetary mood, vowing to deploy “all available policy tools” (no precise details) to contain Covid-19 and heroically “save” the global economy by “advancing” global pandemic preparedness including vaccine development and distribution – in tandem with debt relief – for the Global South.
Not a peep about The Great Reset – the Brave New World scheme concocted by Herr Schwab of Davos and fully supported by the IMF, Big Tech, transnational Big Capital interests and the oh-so-benign Prince Charles. Meanwhile, off the record, G20 sherpas moaned about the lack of real global governance amid multiple attacks on multilateralism.
And not a peep, either, about the real-life vaccine war between the expensive Western candidates – Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca – and the much cheaper Russia-China versions – Sputnik V and Sinovac
What seems to be the case is that any agenda – sinister or otherwise – fits the one-size-fits-all vow by the G20 to provide “opportunities of the 21st century for all by empowering people, safeguarding the planet and shaping new frontiers.”
The House of Xi
At the G20, Chinese President Xi Jinping did not waste the chance – after RCEP, BRICS and APEC – to once again emphasize China’s priorities: multilateralism, support for World Trade Organization (WTO) reform, ample international cooperation on vaccine research and production.
But then, in tandem with reducing tariffs and facilitating the trade of crucial medical supplies, Xi proposed a global health QR code – a sound way to restore global travel and trade: “While containing the virus, we need to restore the secure and smooth operation of global industrial and supply chains.”
Predictably, there were howls about neo-Orwellian intrusion, comparing the QR code with the exceptionally misunderstood Chinese credit system. Schwab’s Great Reset in fact proposes something similar, with even more neo-Orwellian overtones disguised under an innocent “Covid Pass” app, or highly secure “health passport.”
What Xi has proposed amounts to just a mutual recognition of health certificates issued by different nations based on nucleic acid tests. No gene-altering vaccines coupled with nanochips. These QR codes, incorporated into health apps, are already used for domestic travel in China.
Chinese officials have made it very clear that Beijing has been working as the representative of the Global South inside the G20. That’s multilateralism in action. And the multilateralist drive extends from RCEP – signed among 15 nations – to the brilliant Sun Tzu maneuver of China now accepting even the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the successor of the Barack Obama-promoted and Donald Trump-detonated TPP.
This revival – a case of Make TPP Chinese Again – can be envisaged because Beijing not only has mastered how to contain Covid-19 but is also recovering economically at lightning speed. China will be the only major economy growing in 2020, de facto leading the world to a tentative post-Covid paradigm.
What the APEC meeting made crystal clear is that with East Asia graphically hitting the economic limelight, as seen with RCEP, the much-vaunted US “leadership” inevitably diminishes.
APEC promoted a so-called Putrajaya Vision 2040, outlining an “open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful” Asia-Pacific all the way to 2040. That neatly ties in with the three accumulated five-year Chinese plans all the way to 2035, approved last month at the CCP plenum in Beijing.
The emphasis, once again, is on multilateralism and an open global economy.
Few are more capable of capturing the moment than Professor Wang Yiwei at the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University, who wrote the best Chinese book on the Belt and Road Initiative.
Wang stresses how China is in a period of “strategic opportunity” and is now “the most powerful leader of globalization.” China’s emphasis on multilateralism will “activate the connectivity and vitality of a trade platform like RCEP.”
Stranger than fiction
Now compare all of the above with Trump at the G20 tweeting about the election dystopia and privileging golfing instead of discussing Covid-19 containment.
And then there’s The Elements of the China Challenge, the new 74-page delusional epic concocted by the office of Secretary of State Mike “We Lie, We Cheat, We Steal” Pompeo.
Diplomatic howls comparing it with the notorious George Kennan “long telegram” that codified the containment of the USSR in the Cold War are nonsense. Chinese Foreign Ministry reaction was more to the point: this was concocted by some “living fossils of the Cold War” and is doomed to end up “being consigned to the dustbin of history.”
President Xi, at RCEP, BRICS, APEC and the G20, concisely laid out the Chinese case: multilateralism, international cooperation on multiple fields, an open global economy and due representation of the Global South’s interests.
As we wait for a set of imponderables all the way to January 20, 2021, when Joe Biden will replace Trump at the White House, perhaps an angular approach to what may lie ahead for the world economy is best offered by fiction.
Enter Billions, season 5, episode 2, dialogue written by Andrew Ross Sorkin.
Axe: “You know they call us traders ‘gamblers’. The world’s economy is one big casino, fueled by a giant debt bubble and computer driven derivatives. And there’s only one thing better than being a gambler at a casino.”
Wags: “That’s being the house.”
Axe: “That’s right. There’s a systemized machine out there, sucking capital from localities and injecting it into the global markets, where it can be used to speculate and manipulate. And if something goes wrong there are bailouts and bail-ins, federal aid and easing. Where the government doesn’t hunt you down, but instead gives you a nice soft net to land in.”
Wags: “That’s your answer to the fireside chat: You want to become a bank.”
Axe: “I want to become a bank.”
Wags: “In order to rob it?”
Axe: “In order that I don’t have to.”