Shift of Power from West to East Inescapable: US Academic

Shift of Power from West to East Inescapable: US Academic

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – An American academic and political analyst said the COVID-19 crisis has revealed all inequalities and disparities of the Western society, stressing that the shift of power from the West to the East is inescapable.

“…new centers of powers are coming to the fore, and East Asia has become the hub for technological and social innovation. The shift from the West to the East is inescapable. Nothing can stop the wheel of history from moving forward,” Dennis Etler, a professor of Anthropology at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, told Tasnim in an interview.

Following is the full text of the interview.

Tasnim: The post-COVID19 race could determine whether the US rebounds in a manner that allows it to retain what itself calls the mantle of global leadership. There are reports that Beijing could leverage its first-mover advantage – alongside a faster economic recovery across Asian markets – accelerating the trend toward a Chinese-centric globalization. What do you think?

Etler: When COVID-19 hit China in the winter of 2019-2020 the Trump Administration was chortling with glee. They saw the lock-down of Wuhan and the shutdown of the Chinese economy as a feather in their cap and wistfully anticipated economic benefits for the US at China's expense. In late January when China was coping with the epidemic in Wuhan, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross mused that the coronavirus would bring jobs back to the US and shift the global supply chain away from China.

Throughout January, February, and March the US and its Western allies downplayed the threat of COVID-19 for their own countries and refused to prepare for its eventual onslaught, apparently thinking that they were somehow immune from its effects.

Unfortunately for them, viruses don't respect national boundaries and COVID-19 was bound to infect them sooner or later. Later turned out to be the end of March and April when the pandemic hit them with full force, sending the US and its European vassals reeling.

China, meanwhile, through dint of a massive effort to contain and control the epidemic within its own borders succeeded in vanquishing the coronavirus and started on its road to recovery. Ironically it was the US, the UK, and Europe that are now on the ropes.

The pandemic has put the US in an untenable position. By not preparing adequately it was hit with the intensity of a medical and economic tsunami. Tens of thousands have died and the economy has been knocked down to its knees with unemployment skyrocketing and millions of small businesses facing bankruptcy. The US government has had to go into hock to the tune of trillions of dollars to keep the nation afloat and bail out its major corporations, especially the travel and oil industries. Stopgap measures have kept the average citizen's head slightly above water, but millions are on the verge of losing everything they ever possessed. The only hope for more and more people is to resume their normal economic activities, but that will ensure another bout of infection and further economic damage. The prospects for a quick US recovery are next to nothing with an economic downturn lasting for months or perhaps years.

In addition, Trump's xenophobic foreign policy has isolated the US from the rest of the world. It has withdrawn from nearly all the international institutions it helped set up after WW2 and reneged on treaties and agreements it had signed onto, creating a vacuum of leadership on the international stage. All that the US has left is bloated, inefficient, and diseased military, a frayed dollar that will become increasingly worthless as trillions of IOUs are printed by the US Treasury and a propaganda machine that prints out millions of reams of disinformation to demonize its rivals.

China, on the other hand, is poised to assume a greater role in international affairs, not only by default but by offering a lifeline to nations in trouble, supplying medical and economic relief to dozens of countries around the world. It is also assuming a leadership role in many institutions, such as the WHO, from which the US has withdrawn. Its BRI will continue to be a conduit for multilateral trade relations between countries that participate.

As its economy recovers China will continue to do what it's been doing. The US, however, will be in a far worse position to challenge China's rise as it falls into a prolonged economic decline.

Tasnim: The IMF has projected a US economic decline of about 6% in 2020 and a contraction of the eurozone of 7.5%. That compares to projected Chinese economic growth for 2020 of 1.2% after a first quarter real decline of 6.7% – far less than the 10%-plus dip many experts had expected. The only group of countries in the world projected to be in positive territory are East Asian, at roughly 1%. This has raised concerns within the US and Europe. Recently, French President Emanuel Macron argued that the coming months could determine whether the European Union collapses as a political and economic project. Do you believe that their steeper economic decline and slower recovery could lay the seeds for a long-lasting shift of global tectonic plates to East Asian nations’ advantage?

Etler: The EU has been plagued with slowing economic growth and a stagnant economy for a number of years, COVID-19 has only exacerbated these trends. BREXIT has only accelerated the decline of the EU as a European project. The alliance of the EU with the neo-liberal regime in Washington under Obama led to the scuttling of much of its social democratic trappings fraying Europe's vaunted social safety net and leading to popular discontent. Trump's unilateralism also left Europe in the lurch. It cannot rely any longer on the US to coming to its rescue. The leadership in the EU, however, is still ideologically bound to the spent forces of neo-liberalism and cannot find it in themselves to change their orientation. The only hope for Europe is to seek broader ties and cooperation towards its Eastern flank. That means integrating economically more and more with Russia, China, and Iran. This is an inextricable and inescapable trend of history that cannot be denied. Europe will have to accommodate to it in order to survive.

Tasnim: There is a potential scenario raised by Deloitte and Salesforce referred to as “Sunrise in the East.” They write, “The global center of power shifts decisively east as China and other East Asian nations take the reigns as primary powers on the world stage and lead global coordination of the health system and other multilateral institutions.” What factors do you think could contribute to this shift of power?

Etler: As mentioned above, the COVID-19 pandemic has sent the Western world reeling. It has exposed all the open wounds and festering sores of the crisis of capitalism. All the pent up inequalities and disparities within Western society have been bared for all to see. These contradictions can no longer be papered over. Faced with a failing economic system, social disintegration, and political dysfunction new paradigms are bound to emerge. New centers of powers are coming to the fore, and East Asia has become the hub for technological and social innovation. The shift from the West to the East is inescapable. Nothing can stop the wheel of history from moving forward.

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