Chest-Beating Is Back With Gusto In Geopolitics

The great powers seem to be spurning multilateralism and resorting once more to force as a means of pursuing national interests.

Trump and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Trump and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban


BUENOS AIRES — One of the most dangerous moments in international affairs is when world powers seek to recover a portion of the power they believe they've lost.

After 2009, state actors (Russia, China, Iran and North Korea) and non-state actors (ISIS) became convinced that the United States was in decline and had abandoned the will to maintain its global primacy. They grew bolder with the assumption that Washington could not, or did not want to exercise political and military leadership on a global scale. President Barack Obama's budget cuts seemed to confirm this, as did the diplomatic formula of "leading from behind," his preference for multilateral initiatives like the climate pact, and his predilection for international institutions, dialogue and soft power.

North Korea has completed four nuclear tests and increased its missile launches (11 in total, including four in 2017), and boasts about the impending nuclear destruction of the West. Russia has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) and reabsorbed some former Soviet territories. Iran has gone so far as to harass U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf. And China has been building naval bases in the South China Sea.

The Islamic State (ISIS), in the meantime, has killed thousands in Syria and Iraq, while also carrying out attacks in various western countries. The 2016 Global Terrorism Index found that 21 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suffered terrorist attacks in 2015.

U.S. military actions in recent weeks are not the beginning of chaos, but a response to an increasingly chaotic world. Like them or not, they remind us of certain inherent lessons on the use of force in global affairs.

These are:

1) Utopian declarations only impress global elites and the international media. They mean nothing to revisionist states, which know that empires are faced down not on pulpits but in the battlefield, and are overcome with an effective offensive, not great eloquence. Deadlines, ultimatums and red lines must be backed with credible and decisive use of force, or they encourage defiance and invite aggression.

2) Use of force is an inalienable instrument of state power and war, a political act. Or, as the 19th century historian Carl von Clausewitz stated, the continuation of politics by other means. In today's world, it appears that the actors believe increasingly in the use of force and less in the elements that were supposed to replace or restrict it. We hear the terms "missiles," "threat" and "nuclear" much more frequently than "UN," "institutions' or "peace." This does not mean that the world is inevitably marching toward a third world war. But it does mean that in the current global disorder, states are increasingly relying on their own power.

3) Those with power will increasingly use force as a deterrent, for all the horror this may cause the progressive and liberal elites. Globalizing intellectuals despise war as a barbaric act and assume it to be the result of primitive warmongering, even as they praise agreements as the height of rationality and civilization.

Politics, like appeasement, isolation and collaboration, can often impede a particular crisis in the short term. But they doesn't necessarily solve the deeper causes of the crisis. The United States boosted its military spending in 2016 by 1.7%, China by 5.4%, Russia by 5.9% and India by 8.5%. For the realist in international relations, it is better to be ridiculed while effectively preventing a crisis than to be praised as you become more vulnerable and defenseless.

*Mariano Turzi is a professor of International Relations at the Torcuato di Tella University in Buenos Aires.

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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