The Challenges Facing the World

No other country I knew had so many layers of wretchedness, and few countries were as populous. I felt I was in a continent where, separate from the rest of the world, a mysterious calamity had occurred.

by Kazi Anwarul Masud

When one reads V. S. Naipaul or more recent ones one is surprised by the irrelevance we feel about the poverty and inequity we see in the Indian Sub-continent. We feel as if we are born to the discomfort and the inequity by dint of birth( privileges  which one gets through  an accident)  that can be ignored and the poor and hungry littered along the car we travel by is a matter of fact.

Naipaul in his Million Mutunities Now writes: Independence was worked for by people more or less at the top; the freedom it brought has worked its way down.  In India: A wounded Civilization Naipaul writes: “India is old, and India continues. But all the disciplines and skills that India now seeks to exercise are borrowed. Even the ideas Indians have of the achievements of their civilization are essentially the ideas given them by European scholars in the nineteenth century. India by itself could not have rediscovered or assessed its past. Its past was too much with it, was still being lived out in the ritual, the laws, and the magic – the complex instinctive life that muffles response and buries even the idea of inquiry.” Later on his journey to find his roots Naipaul found:

 India was the greater hurt. It was a subject country. It was also the place from whose very great poverty our grandfathers had had to run away in the late nineteenth century. The two India’s were separate. The political India, of the freedom movement, had its great names. The other, more personal India was quite hidden; it vanished when memories faded. It wasn’t an India we could read about. It wasn’t Kipling’s India, or E.M. Forster’s, or Somerset Maugham’s; and it was far from the somewhat stylish India of Nehru and Tagore. (There was an Indian writer, Premchand [1880-1936], whose stories in Hindi and Urdu would have made our Indian village past real to us. But we didn’t know about him; we were not reading people in that way.) It was to this personal India, and not the India of independence and its great names that I went when the time came. I was full of nerves. But nothing had prepared me for the dereliction I saw.

No other country I knew had so many layers of wretchedness, and few countries were as populous. I felt I was in a continent where, separate from the rest of the world, a mysterious calamity had occurred. Yet what was so overwhelming to me, so much in the foreground, was not to be found in the modern-day writing I knew Indian or English. In one Kipling story an Indian famine was a background to an English romance; but generally in both English and Indian writing the extraordinary distress of India, when acknowledged, was like something given, eternal, something to be read only as background. And there were, as always, those who thought they could find a special spiritual quality in the special Indian distress”. Different kind of pictures is printed on the success or otherwise of Modi government in the last year. Understandably rosy picture is painted by the government and supporters of Bharitya Janata Party( BJP) while the opposition and some critics paint a different picture. The Gross Domestic Product at constant (2011-12) prices for the year 2019 was  at Rupees  140.78 lakh crore, as against Rupees 131.80 lakh crore for 2017-18, indicating growth of 6.8 percent during 2018-19. At current prices, GDP for 2018-19 was  Rupees 190.10 lakh crore as against Rupees 170.95 lakh crore for 2017-18, showing an increase of 11.2 percent during the year.  Meaning of Per Capita is the Average income Earned Per Person in the Specified Area ( Eg Country, States, etc). The formula to Calculate Per Capita is the Total income of the Specified Area Divided by the number of Population in that specified area.

Read the Below Article to Get More Information About India Per Capital Income.  Income Per Capita India The per capita real income, i.e. per capita net national income at constant (2011- 12) prices, for 2018-19 is at RS 92,565 as against RS 87,623 for 2017-18. This indicates a growth of per capita real income of 5.6 percent during 2018- 19. The per capita income at current prices during 2018-19 is at RS 1, 26,406 as compared to RS 1, 14,958 in 2017-18 showing a rise of 10.0 percent.     (Yahoo). Modi government does not appear to have succeeded to take Indian economy to a greater plane as promised. Success if it can be termed as such has been in the political arena. BJP has absolute majority in the lower house of parliament (LOK SABHA). So the government could easily passed The Citizens Amendment Act, demolition of special status given to Kashmir since the then Maharaja decided to take Indian help to face the marauders from Pakistan occupied Kashmir. It may be recalled that the Maharajah was called Sadr-e-Riasat similar to the title of the President of Pakistan. In addition to the abolition of the special status of Kashmir Modi government changed the status of Ladakh that opened the door of Chinese incursion across the Line of Actual Control that had been agreed upon by both India and China.

 As regards Kashmir the state is totally cut off from the rest of India. “Under Modi, India appears to have abandoned it’s potential to serve as a global democratic leader, elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all,” observed Freedom House. Critics have also pointed out that since the imposition of emergency rule by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi never were so many people have been arrested and confined without trial as has been done by the present government.  Confinement of the opposition has never been the answer as history has repeatedly proved. Nor has lack of true understanding of the opponent’s power and determination. Had it not been so then possibly the South Asians would have been speaking German and not English as the main alternate language.

 On the economic front China has done well to say the least. China today is the second largest economy in the world. The Economist (How to deal with China March  20 2021) tells us that            Mainland China attracted $163bn of fresh multinational investment last year, more than any other country. It is opening the mainland capital markets to foreigners, who have invested $900bn, in a landmark shift for global finance.         Moreover, the pull China exerts is no longer just a matter of size—although, with 18% of world gdp, it has that too. The country is also where firms discover consumer trends and innovations. It is increasingly where commodity prices and the cost of capital are set, and is becoming a source of regulations. Business is betting that, in Hong Kong and the mainland, China’s thuggish government is capable of self-restraint in the commercial sphere, providing contractual certainty, despite the lack of fully independent courts and free speech. 

China is struggling with the US for technological development. The Post-Pandemic world is largely believed to be a technological world where not only domestic economies would be guided by technology but spread of foreign influence as well would be bought and sold like commodities. The under developed economies used to foreign assistance (free distribution of covit vaccines may be cited as an example) and despite former US Vice President Mike Pence’s warning of Chinese “debt trap”, Sri Lankan and Laotian examples, and Malaysian Mahathir Mohammed’s refusal to take Chinese assistance South Asian developing nations may have little alternative. One may disagree with John Bolton and Robert Kagan’s uncompromising belief in American supremacy in global affairs the fight with China has to be based on values. India in this region being the super power has to set the example that democracy is the only weapon to fight Xi Jinping’s authoritarian style of governance.

We should remind ourselves that Joseph Stieglitz (The Great Divide 2012) had argued that inequality results from conscious political decisions which results in a world of super-rich, a vanishing middle class and growing poverty. Stieglitz also questioned the efficacy of a government that embraces political capitalism—a system where the rich and the powerful influences government choices that in Hobbesian terminology ends up as being “nasty brutish” and ultimately selfish and protects the interests of their own class.  The growth rate, calculated by Wealth-X, a global financial intelligence and data company, stands at a solid 17.3 percent. If Bangladesh, taken as an example,  had 100 super rich in 2012, for example, the number should have been  219-220 by 2017. In other words, the number of super-rich should have doubled in our country in just five years. At the same time defaulted loans despite easier payment terms accorded to the defaulters has not eased the problem of loan default. Billions of dollars are suspected to have been siphoned off to safe heavens abroad. According to Global Financial Integrity Report 2017, Bangladesh topped the list of least-developed countries in terms of “illicit financial flows”. In 2014 alone, Bangladeshis allegedly laundered USD 9.11 billion to foreign countries. At the end of 2016, the amount of money Bangladeshis deposited with Swiss Banks stood at USD 683 million—near equivalent to the amount deposited by Indians. (Daily Star 20-09-2018).  Truly Joseph Stieglitz’s observation on “A banking system is supposed to serve society, not the other way around” appears to have fallen on deaf ears. 

Going back a few years the Gross  Domestic Product (GDP) in Bangladesh was worth 274.03 billion US dollars in 2018. The GDP value of Bangladesh represents 0.44 percent of the world economy. GDP in Bangladesh averaged 53.02 USD Billion from 1960 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 274.03 USD Billion in 2018 and a record low of 4.27 USD Billion in 1960. The Gross Domestic Product per capita in Bangladesh was last recorded at 3879.20 US dollars in 2018, when adjusted by purchasing power parity (PPP). The GDP per Capita, in Bangladesh, when adjusted by Purchasing Power Parity is equivalent to 22 percent of the world's average. Bangladesh apparently is doing well. Yet apart from growing inequality in the distribution of income one would be well advised to bear in mind the dystopian pictures  drawn by MIT husband and wife team ( The Limits of Grwth-1972) of the world facing an “over shoot and collapse” by 2100 unless the world took seriously the environmental and resource issues. A recent meeting of experts have advised that Bangladesh needs to properly utilize its youth population now as the country's demographic dividend is fast waning, said a human resources expert yesterday.    By 2040, the demographic dividend will cease to exist as the number of aged people will increase.    So the country's young people need to be trained properly with the latest technologies so that they can be utilized for the country, he said.    The government allocated Tk 200crore for making young people skilled but a big gap exists between the education system and job market expectations for which most educated youth cannot be turned into human capital, he said.  

 For instance, Covid-19 was identified at Wuhan but China's business was not that affected and recovered faster compared to that in other countries for the presence of special kinds of human resources who could manage the fallouts, he said.    China was able to create a corporate culture with special human resources, he said while giving a virtual keynote presentation on "Human Capital - A Source of Competitive Advantage" organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh (AmCham).    Bangladesh's universities churn out 22,000 computer science and engineering graduates every year, said Syed Almas Kabir, president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services.    But not all are skilled, he said, adding that for that they need three to six months' training.    This needs to be incorporated in the academic curriculum to save time, he said.    Bangladesh's human resources cannot still be termed human capital because the education system is still traditional, he added.    Almost 68 per cent of Bangladesh's population was between the ages of 15 and 64 years, which are considered the working age.        Bangladesh sees some 98 per cent of its children get enrolled at the elementary level but there was still room for improving the education quality.    The primary curriculum focuses some 14 per cent on technical education for the creation of skilled manpower (Daily Star 24 2021). 99,984,000 Internet users as of Mar, 2020;

60.7% of the population, according to Internet World Stats. India has the second highest number of internet users in the world.. The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimated that about 60% of Indian internet users viewed vernacular content and only about a quarter of internet users were over the age of 35 years in 2019. The WEF also estimated that 1.1 billion Indians would have access to the internet by 2030, with 80% of the subscriber base primarily accessing the internet on mobile devices.

The profile of India's internet user base was predicted to diversify by 2030 with 80% of users accessing vernacular content and with users over 25 years making up 45% of the total subscriber base. China replaced the U.S. in its global leadership in terms of installed telecommunication bandwidth in 2011. By 2014, China hosted more than twice as much national bandwidth potential than the U.S., the historical leader in terms of installed telecommunication bandwidth (China: 29% versus US:13% of the global total). As of March 2017, there were about 700 million Chinese internet users, and many of them have a high-speed internet connection. Most of the users live in urban areas but at least 178 million users reside in rural towns.

Yet it is useful to know the following facts: In China many websites and apps are blocked: Google, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube are restricted in China. Internet in China is extremely slow: Because of the filters and the blocking system, when one goes to non-Chinese websites, browsing becomes tedious due to the slow speed. If you only want to visit Chinese websites most internet connections work. Accessing the internet in China is relatively cheap: Although a few years ago the internet in China was relatively expensive, nowadays prices have fallen, and for a basic connection of 50 Mb you won’t pay more than 100 Yuan per month. Most public Chinese connections are not safe: One should be sure to have a good antivirus before connecting laptop to a public Chinese network if one does not want to end up with his computer full of rubbish or hacked. Despite these shortcomings China remains a strong competitor of the US both in politico-economic and technological fields. One however is at a loss when one has to finds oneself at a debate whether despite Xi Jinping’s Communist style of government China appears to be moving from communism to capitalism. If the Marxists arguments for inequality as described by some critics  “are an outcome of the ruling-class owning the means of production (the factories) who exploit their position when employing the working-class.    

By owning the means of production the ruling-class capitalize on the profits generated by their working-class employees     The ruling-classes exploit the working-classes by getting them to work as hard as possible for lowest wage possible.     The ruling-class then invests their profits in more plant and machinery to generate even more profits.  The outcome of such a process is social class inequality”.    One then faces a quandary in describing China as a communist or a capitalist country. Beijing proudly displays Western brands of consumer goods. China has many billionaires and a few of them are counted among the richest in the world. A Chinese reporter wrote in October last year that China added 257 billionaires in US dollar terms  adding to the existing 621, according to the annually released Hurun China Rich List on Tuesday (Oct. 20), which has been tracking the wealth of the ultra-rich for 22 years. Overall, China has 878 billionaires, the highest number the country has ever seen. As recently as 1999, there was not a single billionaire in China.     In total, China has 2,398 individuals with a net worth of more than 2 billion yuan ($290 million), the cut-off for being on the list. The rich listers have a combined wealth of $4 trillion, which is similar to the GDP of Germany, up from $2.6 trillion in 2019.     China first surpassed the US in the number of billionaires in 2015 and now has more of them than any country in the world, according to Hurun. The US now has around 700 billionaires.     “The world has never seen this much wealth created in just one year. China’s entrepreneurs have done much better than expected. Despite Covid-19 they have risen to record levels,” said Hurun chairman Rupert Hoogewerf a long-term Shanghai resident and the most well-known foreigner in China.. A number of new listings and stock markets booms have helped with the creation of new billionaires, he said.     Much of the wealth creation still lies within the tech sector.

Jack Ma, the former founder and CEO of Alibaba, retained his top spot in the list for the third consecutive year with a net worth of nearly $60 billion, up 45% from last year on the back of his fintech arm Ant Financial and the good performance of Alibaba. Pony Ma, the CEO of Alibaba’s strong rival Tencent, ranked second on the list with a net worth of $57.4 billion.     The results have painted a striking picture of China’s quick economic recovery from Covid-19. While critics wondered whether the outbreak would become China’s challenge amid mounting misery and discontent among citizens toward the government at the peak of the pandemic, Beijing has since got back on relatively solid ground due to strong arm in controlling the pandemic.    

China reported a 5% increase in GDP due to recoveries in industrial production and retail sales.  One important driver of the recovery came from the improvement of consumer confidence, with citizens now ready to go shopping and traveling again. Harvard’s Joseph Nye Jr writes (   What Could Cause a US-China War?      Mar 2, 2021JOSEPH S. NYE, Jr).          Even if China surpasses the US to become the world’s largest economy, national income is not the only measure of geopolitical power. China ranks well behind the US in soft power, and US military expenditure is nearly four times that of China. While Chinese military capabilities have been increasing in recent years, analysts who look carefully at the military balance conclude that China will not, say, be able to exclude the US from the Western Pacific.       On the other hand, the US was once the world’s largest trading economy and its largest bilateral lender. Today, nearly 100 countries count China as their largest trading partner, compared to 57 for the US. China plans to lend more than $1 trillion for infrastructure projects with its Belt and Road Initiative over the next decade, while the US has cut back aid.

China will gain economic power from the sheer size of its market as well as its overseas investments and development assistance. China’s overall power relative to the US is likely to increase.       Nonetheless, balances of power are hard to judge. The US will retain some long-term power advantages that contrast with areas of Chinese vulnerability.       One is geography. The US is surrounded by oceans and neighbors that are likely to remain friendly. China has borders with 14 countries, and territorial disputes with India, Japan, and Vietnam set limits on its hard and soft power.       Energy is another area where America has an advantage. President Joe Biden has already told his QUAD allies before the Alaska meeting that values shall remain the central theme of US-China differences. Chinese Foreign Minister’s 17 minutes bluster at Alaska replied by US Secretary of Defense was followed by Chinese actions.  Oxford University historian Rana Mitter in an insightful analysis wrote that under Xi, China has displayed a growing appetite for global leadership. Xi has stated that “China will firmly uphold the international system” as “a founding member of the United Nations and the first country to put its signature on the UN Charter.” As Mitter notes, Xi conveniently elides that it was Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist leader, and not Chiang’s Communist rival, Mao, who sat next to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the 1943 Cairo conference, which laid the groundwork for the postwar order. It was the Chinese Nationalists, not their Communist enemies, who helped establish the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.  In China today, “the ideological cupboard is relatively bare,” Mitter observed. Under Xi, he writes, China is “still having a hard time defining its economic and security vision as anything other than an increasingly authoritarian not-America.”      

 Mitter’s assessment that China is a “postsocialist state in reality if not in name” is a refreshingly sober alternative to the Trump administration’s hyperbolic assertions that the CCP was seeking to bring about a “socialist international order” and a “globe-spanning universal society.” Those accusations relied on the fact that official Chinese rhetoric still uses phrases and concepts rooted in Marxism-Leninism.  RICHARD N. HAASS of the Council on Foreign Relations and.       CHARLES A. KUPCHAN of Georgetown University is suggesting the formation of a Concert of Global Powers consisting of China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, and the United States. They argue that regular and open consultation between Moscow and Washington, for example, might have produced less friction over NATO enlargement. China and the United States are better off directly communicating with each other over Taiwan than sidestepping the issue and risking a military mishap in the Taiwan Strait or provocations that could escalate tensions.       A global concert could also make unilateral moves less disruptive. Conflicts of interest would hardly disappear, but a new vehicle devoted exclusively to great-power diplomacy would help make those conflicts more manageable. Although members would, in principle, endorse a norm-governed international order, they would also embrace realistic expectations about the limits of cooperation and compartmentalize their differences. The duo harshly characterizes Joseph Nye Jr jubilation over the extinction of Soviet Union as the unipolar moment is over, and in hindsight, talk of the “end of history” was triumphalist, even if sophisticated, nonsense. They sadly reach the conclusion that the inadequacies of the current international architecture underscore the need for a global concert. The rivalry between the United States and China is heating up fast, the world is suffering through a devastating pandemic, climate change is advancing, and the evolution of cyberspace poses new threats. These and other challenges mean that clinging to the status quo and banking on existing international norms and institutions would be dangerously naive.

The Concert of Europe was formed in 1815 owing to the years of devastation wrought by the Napoleonic Wars. But the lack of great-power war today should not be cause for complacency. And even though the world has passed through previous eras of multipolarity, the advance of globalization increases the demand for and importance of new approaches to global governance. Globalization unfolded during Pax Britannica, with London overseeing it until World War I. After a dark interwar hiatus, the United States took up the mantle of global leadership from World War II into the twenty-first century.       But Pax Americana is now running on fumes. The United States and its traditional democratic partners have neither the capability nor the will to anchor an interdependent international system and universalize the liberal order that they erected after World War II.

The absence of U.S. leadership during the covid-19 crisis was striking; each country was on its own. President Biden is guiding the United States back to being a team player, but the nation’s pressing domestic priorities and the onset of multipolarity will deny Washington the outsize influence it once enjoyed. Allowing the world to slide toward regional blocs or a two-bloc structure similar to that of the Cold War is a nonstarter. The United States, China, and the rest of the globe cannot fully uncouple when national economies, financial markets, and supply chains are irreversibly tethered together. A great-power steering group is the best option for managing an integrated world no longer overseen by a hegemon. A global concert fits the bill.   It is amazing that at a time when the world is embroiled in  internecine  and extraneous struggles  such a dream can be dreamt. They themselves agree that Pax Sinica is also a nonstarter.

 For the foreseeable future, China will have neither the capability nor the ambition to anchor a global order . The world should be clear about its post-covit task. The struggle between democracy and illiberalism has to be fought on all fronts. Kim Jong ill cannot be allowed to play his game by frightening others. Those who can put pressure on him to stop his game and not be by stander. Other illiberal regimes in Europe and Africa have to change their course. All these tasks before the world should be done through pressure where necessary and discussions. Otherwise it will not be covit but the Third World War will see the end of mankind.

(The writer is a former Ambassador and secretary in Banglasdesh)

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