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Lorenzo Smith | What of the East?

Published:Friday | May 3, 2019 | 12:00 AM

We are living in some interesting times, which make for exciting, yet worrying international relations. We might be on the verge of a second Cold War, and at the root of this war is the fight over technology superiority. The United States (US) and China are now flexing their technological muscles.

In 1945, coming off the heels of World War II, the world found itself on the brink of another war. At the base of this war were ideological differences. Tensions grew between the two superpowers at the time. One can argue that the tensions were as a result of mutual suspicion, which contributed to a power struggle between the East and West.

During the Cold War, there was a highly competitive arms race, which saw military spending exceeding the trillion dollar mark. Both sides wanted to mark their territory; both sides were displaying their might in nuclear weapons as that was a sign of power and superiority.

The parallel is clear. We have before us a US-China rivalry. Both sides have fought trade wars in the past, with severe consequences on the global economy. However, one can argue that the dispute between the two extends beyond trade; it represents a power struggle between the two different worlds.

“We have entered into a new normal, in which US-China geopolitical competition has intensified and become more explicit,” says Michael Hirson, Asia director at consultancy firm Eurasia Group.

From the looks of things, the rivalry is likely to play out next in the crucial technology sector, as both sides try to establish themselves as the world’s technology leader.

If we were being observant, we would have realised that issues of technology have been prominent during trade talks between the world’s two largest economies in recent months. Economic security, military security and, to some extent, food security are linked heavily to technology, and as such, the country with the most improved technology will be considered a superpower.

“Every country now correctly recognises that their prosperity, their wealth, their economic security, their military security is going to be linked to keeping a technological edge,” says Stephen Olson, a research fellow at global trade advisory body Hinrich.

There is the argument that the US-China technology battle is already under way, and China’s tech giant Huawei is at its very centre. BBC Business news reports. “Huawei has been the focus of intense international scrutiny lately, with the US and other countries raising security concerns about its products. The US has placed several restrictions on federal agencies from using Huawei devices.”

The term ‘Cold War’ is an apt description of technological competition between the US and China.

The US is concerned about China’s growth in recent times. They are concerned about China’s influence in their backyard, particularly with initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative.

US Vice-President Mike Pence summed up the mood in a speech in October, saying China had chosen “economic aggression” rather than “greater partnership” as it opened its economy.

Interesting comments from the US, as one can argue that economic aggression is what they are known for. The subtext of the speech from Vice-President Pence is an expectation or hope that China will follow the Western liberal model.

CARIBBEAN IN THE MIDDLE

What is interesting is to see how the US responds to the increasing Chinese relations in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially seeing that their trading partners in CARICOM are signing on piece by piece to the Chinese programme.

Again, the Caribbean might find itself in the middle of a tense relationship that might derail economic growth.

In just a quick browse of the Internet, one can find headlines across the region such as ‘China steps in to help rebuild Barbuda as West accused of benign neglect’; ‘The People’s Republic of China is ready to join hands with Barbados for the second phase of the Belt and Road Forum for international cooperation in Beijing’; ‘Guyanese president says ready to jointly build Belt and Road with China’; and ‘China, Jamaica sign MOU on Belt and Road cooperation’.

There is no doubt that the Chinese expansionist programme is here. The Jamaica Observer posits: “The Congressional Research Service Insight report suggests that the economic involvement of China in the region goes hand in hand with its diplomatic objectives, which are to garner support in the global arena, reduce US dominance, and isolate Taiwan by trying to lure away Latin American and Caribbean countries that still maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China.”

They went further to state that the report reveals that under the Trump administration, the official view of Chinese influence in the region has gone from positive to suspicious, citing concern expressed by the National Security Strategy that “China seeks to pull the region into its orbit through state-led investments and loans”.

These are strong words and cause for concern for us in the region. While we are somewhat aware of the US playbook, we are not au fait with that of the Chinese. What are the terms and conditions of these agreements? Will the US squeeze us for playing with the boys from the East?

I note with interest China’s care for Venezuela and one must ask: Is this benevolence or self-interest? We must face the fact that imperialists and neo-imperialists are not only from the north.

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