This year has seen a myriad of developments, and it is difficult to discern any single overarching trend other than fragmentation. Identifying positive trends proves even harder, especially in the traditional centres of power.
However, there are also positive trends that define 2017. More often than not, these are to be found in the many new centres of power across the globe.
One is the continuing rise of China and its changing role in world economic, social, and political affairs. Its economic growth has been consistent and impressive, and has been matched by both increased outreach abroad and definite shifts domestically. All of these changes were evident in this year’s 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), at which President Xi Jinping clearly signalled that in the next five years China would continue as a leading international player in social, environmental, political, and economic affairs. The word of the day was ‘rejuvenation’, and the pursuit of the ‘Chinese dream’.
Other regional powers and traditional centres of power greet this new China with some caution, fearing the emergence of a new hegemon. While many have reasons for this interpretation, it remains a fact that in today’s reality a strong China can act as a guarantor of economic growth and political stability, geographically and beyond. Though there are a number of territorial disputes in the region directly involving China, that does not mean that China’s nimble, modernised military poses an immediate, ideological, or existential threat to those neighbours in the region, or to external powers that have significant military interests in the area. Rather, it is a powerful stabilising force for China, the region, and the wider world.
As President Xi reiterated in his speech, China is not interested in seeking hegemony or expanding its territory, it is guided by a spirit of the coexistence of civilizations, values vital to the next phase of international development. It will continue to maintain its stance on what it views as its territory, but it also remains preoccupied with domestic concerns, such as per capita income below the level of other developed nations, development inequality, and fighting corruption. In addition to this, the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula remains perhaps the gravest current threat to China and the region in the approaching new year.
Confronted with external economic initiatives for the region, such as the TPP, designed to exclude China, Beijing has responded with its own regional infrastructure initiatives to deliver a powerful economic boost, in an inclusive way, to all countries involved. The Belt and Road project is a telling example of how China took confrontation and responded with inclusion.
China is not the only new pole of power to have emerged. India has retained its position as an important Euro-Asian and international power, and has even heightened its stance in the recent row over the Dooklam plateau, which runs between India and China. India’s economic transformation over recent decades has gone hand-in-hand with expanding regional influence and it is quickly becoming a major financial and intellectual centre with very young population and highly-qualified hubs like Bangalore. Its operations make a vital contribution to the global economy, and Indian brands are a powerful international presence not only in the technology and service sectors, but also in retail and entertainment.
From a ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ perspective, in India today one sees elements of contradiction between traditionalism and modernity in a number of areas. The Narendra Modi government, perhaps, offers a model of how to approach social policymaking in such a way that addresses these issues without exacerbating them, a model that could prove applicable (albeit with some local alterations) elsewhere.
So, as we look to a foreseeable future, it is worth considering these changes, and asking what other changes are in store. Lately, we are seeing resource crises and violence flaring in a number of parts of the world – in particular on the African continent, which boasts a large population and equally sizable socioeconomic and political challenges.
The BRICS countries, the US, and the EU seem set to be the driving forces of this new multilateral world in the immediate future. However, the overall trend towards a multiplicity of power centres will continue, and Brazil, South Korea, Japan, Germany, and Russia are all likely to continue gaining ground.
Technological change has lasting and profound impacts on all areas of society, particularly when it comes to war. The magnitude of the transition we are witnessing is similar to that seen in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries. Cyberwarfare will continue to gradually supersede conventional military superpowers, while alternative economic models (for example, those based on the blockchain technology) will heavily impact the public’s perceptions of what successful capitalism and a market economy look like.
To date, the United States has been at the forefront of this digital revolution, but that does not mean it will remain so – especially looking at recent developments in China, India, Russia, and South Korea.
Many experts predicted the end of the ‘unipolar world’, and the current global situation seems to prove this. However, the recent edition of the American Doctrine of National Security contradicts reality, lagging behind obvious global trends, and maintaining the country’s supremacy in the world order. Therefore, the controversy would inevitably create new challenges for global development, peace, and collaboration based on the dialogue principles.
Across the globe, civil society groups are helping policy makers stay focused on the issues that matter: helping deescalate tensions and build greater economic equality for years to come. Perhaps the biggest challenge they face is one of perspective – the issues at hand are so grave that civil society will only be effective in helping resolve them if it is able to stay focused on the bigger picture, rather than getting bogged down in trivial and divisive issues. None of us can say for certain that 2018 will be brighter than this past year. But we can all commit to redoubling our efforts to deliver positive change. Our efforts, our talents, our insight, and our ability to listen to each other and find solutions to the problems that face us – that is the light in the darkness.