Op-Ed Commentary by Chris Devonshire-Ellis – February 28th, 2022
Every single pillar of the globalization movement is being diminished. A new global divide seems almost guaranteed.
Massive media attention has been focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this past week, with Russian President Putin roundly condemned by the West, and Russia as a country the target of severe sanctions. Yet curiously, the bigger picture isn’t being discussed: What we are now witnesses to is the end of the West’s flirting with globalization.
Globalization is a trend that has been around for two centuries, yet accelerated rapidly with the collapse of the Soviet Union and opening up of China in the late 1980’s – both events welcomed by the United States, whose primary executives I recall in Beijing in 1992 saying “1 billion Chinese as a market!” which of course was ridiculously ambitious unless one could secure a monopoly on manufacturing chopsticks.
In hindsight, with the rush to get into the China market, the West ignored the smaller Russian market – leading to resentments that as we have seen are still keenly felt today. Yet now, just as it appeared that globalization was about to reach its zenith, the West appears to be taking very strategic, all encompassing steps backwards.
The very essence of the Ukrainian problem lies to some extent with the West – an apparent refusal to act upon Moscow’s requests that NATO weapons are removed from the Ukrainian border with Russia and that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO. Putin, in this regard, is protecting his country. What has occurred since was not without warning. Media lambasts Russia, but it was the West’s inability to negotiate that sparked the dreadful catastrophe we are all now observing. There was an uncomfortable vested interest too: the US desire to stop Russia’s Nordstream 2 pipeline and to replace European gas supplies with its own and that of its allies. That has now been realized.
Putin, meanwhile, soldiers on, determined to enact regime change. But what was intended as a short operation has turned into a deadly war – with weapons now being provided by the West, including the EU for the first time in its history to a non-EU nation. This has progressed from an invasion to impose security on Russia’s borders, to now openly being a war, financed and supported by weapons on two opposing sides. Who provided Ukraine with such military firepower and continues to do so?
Other measures to cut Russia off have been quickly introduced. These now include the suspension of all Russian aircraft flights across European airspace and the same for EU flights across Russian airspace. This has implications for pro-Moscow, European nations such as Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, already stressed and capable of falling into another Balkans war. Disputed Kosovo has urgently requested EU membership – precisely so it can claim NATO protection. A flare-up in the Balkans is not what is needed right now, and certainly not without Russia to help keep the peace. The EU will have to rely on NATO to sort that out – there will be no Russian support this time around. The emergence of a European Army will also certainly follow.
Economic sanctions have also been introduced, including the removal of Russia (and probably Belarus) from the global SWIFT payments network. The ruble has fallen by 25% in just the first few opening hours of trading today (Monday, February 28).
This means that Russia is now politically, geo-physically, and economically estranged from the West. It is the falling of a new Iron Curtain. It is a retreat from globalization.
To understand the implications of this we should understand what globalization actually means and what it provides.
This is the worldwide expansion of an international political system, both in size and complexity. That system includes national governments, their governmental and intergovernmental organizations as well as government-independent elements of global civil society such as international non-governmental organizations and social movement organizations. This doesn’t necessarily mean that political systems should be similar, but that instead all agree on management mechanisms and dispute resolutions. This has effectively worked since China and Russia joined the WTO. However, what was not foreseen was the rapid development and wealth of China, and its ability to challenge the Western based structure of political globalization. Neither was the extent of Russia’s unrealized national commodities fully appreciated with its massive reserves of oil, gas and other valuable global mineral components. Both began to compete. The US has been pushing back.
Again, part of these failings come from the United States and have only accelerated in recent years. Views have arisen in developing countries that the global political system is weighted in favor of the West. The role of the US dollar as a global currency has been eroded by its use as a political tool. The global SWIFT network was set up to track money laundering, today, rightly, or wrongly, it is used as a political punishment. Political globalization has become unbalanced. The West doesn’t wish to change that, but China, Russia and others see the current balance as unfair and want a greater say. The result? A growing division.
Economic globalization is the increasing economic interdependence of national economies across the world, and has rapidly increased in cross-border movement of goods, services, technology, and capital. While the globalization of business is based upon the reduction of international trade regulations as well as tariffs, taxes, and other fiscal mechanisms that suppress global trade, economic globalization is the process of increasing economic integration between countries (such as RCEP), leading to the emergence of a global marketplace – a single world market.
That was all fine until the United States realized that lower cost, even better- quality competitors were emerging. To protect market share and dominance, Washington began to unilaterally impose tariff changes and engage in trade wars. Disputes were no longer held at the WTO, the US (typically followed by the European Union) arbitrarily imposed sanctions, often on the pretext of a minor slight or accusation. Economic globalization has become unbalanced. Disputes are now framed within accusations and handled by the stronger trade partner exclusively in their favor. The theory has become unbalanced and global agreements are being withdrawn for the benefit of closed single markets only. The result is the same. A growing trade division has arrived, mostly notable today between East and West.
Movement Of People
Another aspect of globalization is the freedom of movement of people. This manifests itself in many ways, not least tourism, where for the first time, a decade ago in 2012, the global international arrivals of tourists to another country surpassed 1 billion. It’s not just tourism though that grows, the international movement of labor is acknowledged as important to economic development.
Globalization is also associated with a dramatic rise in international education. The development of global cross-cultural competence in the workforce through ad-hoc training has increased dramatically over the past twenty years. Increasing numbers of students are seeking higher education in foreign countries and many international students now consider overseas study a stepping-stone to employment within a specific country. The contributions that foreign students make to host nation economies, both culturally and financially has encouraged more initiatives to facilitate the arrival and integration of overseas students, including substantial amendments to immigration and visa policies and procedures, and to bring new ideas and innovations to global workforces.
Today, Covid has accelerated and introduced government systems where people can legally be discriminated against if they do not possess locally approved medical documentation, regardless of whether they are physically fit to travel. National carriers are now being banned from airspace. New divisions are being created to block the movement of people.
Cultural globalization refers to the transmission of ideas, meanings, and values around the world in such a way as to extend and intensify social relations. This is marked by the common consumption of cultures that have been diffused by the Internet, social media, and international travel, and has added to processes of local cultural and sports exchanges, helping to carry cultural meaning around the globe. The circulation of cultures enables individuals to partake in extended social relations that cross national and regional borders, and again leads to increased innovation, exchanges of ideas and a greater common understanding of global issues. There are many examples of this, with the largest being the Olympic Games. Yet the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics was boycotted by the United States together with Australia, Canada, Japan, and United Kingdom, who all refused to send political delegations.
The Russian football team is facing expulsion from this year’s World Cup Finals while the Belarus basketball team were refused visas to play in the UK last week. Russian ballet companies, traditional at this time of year, have had their European tours cancelled, while Valery Gergiev, probably today’s pre-eminent classical conductor has been told if he does not criticize his President, he will lose his job and not be allowed to perform.
Cultural globalization is also being diminished. Barriers are being erected against artistic, sporting, and other cultural bodies under non-related, political excuses.
Movement Of Information
Globalization is also spread by global journalism, which provides massive amounts of daily information and today relies on the internet to interact, making it into an everyday routine to understand how differing people and their actions, practices, problems, life conditions, and so on in different parts of the world are interrelated. This makes it possible to monitor global threats such as climate change and permit global recovery participation in disasters around the world.
Yet Western journalism is far from being transparent and today often carries similar beliefs even across previously politically opposed media. All news has become the same in its political objective.
Governmental interference with the freedom of the press has become commonplace, while the notion of freedom of speech has become diminished. Journalistic information has to some extent itself become digitized with purely black and white options all there is on offer. People are being instructed to make a decision left or right, with no middle ground option, and a wrong choice or different opinion can result in ostracization, harassment, even imprisonment.
This exists on both sides of the political spectrum, however it should be noted that the EU has banned information being broadcast by Russia’s ‘RT’ and ‘Sputnik’ news organizations – for not following the EU media coverage opinion on how the situation in Ukraine is progressing. The EU has accused them both of spreading lies, however having viewed both websites the coverage, while admitedly pro-Russian (what does the EU expect?) does contain valuable information and stories about the conflict not available from Western media sources. The EU then is suggesting that only its media coverage of the Ukraine situation is the correct version. But how can that be assessed without access to the opposite viewpoint? Does the EU not trust its own readers to make an objective opinion? This is censorship.
In fact, the underground, illegal group Anonymous has sided with Western Governments and been responsible for hacking into and taking offline the RT website. When Western Governments start working with and endorsing work carried out by global renegade hackers, the implications for the freedom of information applicable on a global basis appears very bleak indeed.
The End Of Globalization
The above aspects of globalization are differing component parts of the whole. If one or two faced stresses and problems then perhaps the situation would be recoverable. Instead, all the different component parts of globalization are under attack and being diminished – and all at the same time. The implications are very clear – this is not just a war about Ukraine – it is a global struggle for and against Globalization. At present, it looks dead in the water. What will replace it is the question that all businesses and individuals are going to have to answer in 2022: Which side of the fence are you going to be sitting on? East? Or West?
Everything is about to change, and this needs discussion.
Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal commentary, belong solely to the contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Asia Briefing Limited or Dezan Shira & Associates.