OTTON SOLIS FALLAS
This photo taken on Oct 15, 2023 shows a floral decoration at Xidan area in Beijing, capital of China. [Photo/Xinhua]
After a 20th century that was technologically successful but unable to give results in terms of human development in most countries, there is a threat that the course of the third decade of the 21st century will be shaped by the destructiveness of populism, nationalism and trigger-happy leaders.
These evils are threatening societies both of the rich Global North and the struggling Global South. Be it Africa or Latin America, the United States or the United Kingdom, the specter of populism, with its simplistic and ear-sweetening statements, has lured many voters onto the wrong path.
In the meantime, problems that require urgent attention, such as widespread poverty, inequality and global warming, far from being tackled, have become even more menacing to social stability, peace and human survival itself.
Within this context, the mindsets of the countries with the two largest economies — the US and China — are of paramount importance. Nothing positive for humanity will take hold if these two countries are not working together toward meeting the aforementioned challenges. Their joint production accounts for more than 40 percent of world GDP, their technological achievements are setting the pace for the rest of humanity, and their cultural trends are followed by people across the globe.
For a country like my own — Costa Rica — no external factor would play a larger role in determining our economic and sociopolitical path ahead than the quality of the relationship between China and the US. If these two countries mend their differences, they will trade more, grow faster and better meet the needs of their inhabitants.
At the same time, without zero-sum conceptions of world relations and a Cold War mentality, the chances of the world reaching meaningful agreements regarding climate change, world poverty reduction, financial cooperation and inclusive foreign investment will be much more likely.
Unfortunately, zero-sum games seem to be the defining trait of many US politicians. They see threats instead of opportunities in China's economic and technological success. They seem to think that if China develops rapidly, the US will be diminished; that if the US does not import and use high technology from China, US companies will perform better; and that if the US closes its market to China, which has more than 1.4 billion people and is very competitive in the rest of the world, the latter will experience a debilitating economic crisis.
Perhaps when richness was built by conquering overseas territories, looting their treasures and enslaving their inhabitants, the zero-sum game was relevant to define which country went ahead and which stayed behind. Perhaps when military superiority ensuing from economic superiority led to wars of domination, there was reason to prevent other countries from becoming rich. But the US should not fear China's prosperity on those grounds. Historically, it has not been China's culture or ambition to colonize Africa, the Americas, Oceania or other parts of Asia.
When those lands were being taken by the European powers, China was the richest country on the planet and had sophisticated ships that sailed the seas, but it was in search of trade opportunities. Quite the contrary, China has been the victim of foreign aggression on multiple occasions. The Japanese several times, the French and the British, among others, all tried and, for a time, managed to conquer parts of China or force it into unequal treaties exacted by force.
Nowadays, China seems to want to use its high degree of competitiveness and economic might not to conquer militarily, but to trade. China does not seem to want to become the world's policeman, the ultimate counselor and judge on democracy and human rights, or the supreme superintendent of trade routes. We don't see China sending its naval forces to oversee freedom of navigation in the sea between Cuba and the US, or sending warships, for instance, to the eastern Mediterranean amid the conflict in the Middle East.
On the other hand, in terms of social development, something that worries the West in connection with the Global South, China is the place to take lessons from. It has lifted about 800 million people out of abject poverty in the last 40-plus years. So if world stability and peace require massive poverty reduction, China must be seen as an example to follow and not as a dangerous adversary.
I am optimistic, and I come from an optimistic small country where the concept of puravida, or pure life, was coined and where its meaning prevails. So I am hopeful that those leaders of powerful countries that have embraced an outdated zero-sum mentality will move toward creating win-win, hopeful synergies for humanity.
The author is a professor at Instituto Empresarial University in Spain and was special adviser to the president of Costa Rica from 2018-2022.
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