Weekend Roundup: Sliding Toward A WWI Scenario In Asia


Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.

In this space over recent months, I have written that a new sense of “urgent realism” would force the relevant parties in the North Korea conflict back to the negotiating table. As many others have argued as well, the alternative ― war in Asia ― is simply too catastrophic to contemplate. But as time goes on and tensions continue to mount, it appears that reason is escaping the fraught situation. In recent days, North Korea provocatively launched a ballistic missile across Japan that it claimed was meant to demonstrate its ability to reach Guam

Rejecting the repeated pleas of China, South Korea and Japan, U.S. President Donald Trump declared in response: “Talking is not the answer!

What opens the path to impending disaster is North Korea’s primal drive for national recognition at all costs, tangled together with genuine fears of insecurity, all wrapped up in the ploys and counter ploys of rising (China) and established (the United States) powers promoting or defending their perch in the pecking order of a world in transition. In this, as Andreas Herberg-Rothe writes from Germany, the circumstances increasingly resemble Europe on the eve of World War I when nations abandoned enlightened self-interest in the name of pride and status. “The main aim of many countries in the non-Western world,” he argues, “is to be recognized as equals by the leading Western powers, in order to regain their former status as global powers and civilizations that was lost in the process of European and American colonization or hegemony. The desire for recognition is the driving force behind the economic and political rise of Asia. The same was true in the conflict between established, rising and declining powers before World War I.”

Ominously, Herberg-Rothe reminds us that “perhaps the deepest and most hidden reason for that escalation during World War I was that no party could admit defeat or failure.” When no one is willing to blink, nations walk into war with eyes wide open.

In strategic terms, China has the most to lose from open military conflict since it would thoroughly disrupt the stable global environment which has been the context for its steady rise and expanding influence as the vanguard of the emerging economies.

China has become the load-bearing pillar of the so-called BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — the leaders of which will meet this coming week in Xiamen, China. Jim O’Neill, who coined the acronym, forecasts that if China’s growth remains on track, the BRICS will overtake the G7 advanced nations as the center of gravity of the world economy by 2035.

The continent that has felt China’s presence perhaps more than anywhere else outside of Asia is Africa. Surveying the scene from Johannesburg, Cobus van Staden writes that the “old, Western-centered version of globalization” remains linked in the minds of many with Western colonialism, while the “new story of globalization” offered by China’s massive investment in infrastructure marks the departure to a different era. “Despite the many misgivings Africans feel about China,” he says, “they are also making a hard-nosed calculation that the continent can profit from a close relationship with China in a way it can’t with the West.”

Reporting from four African countries, Claire van den Heever profiles Chinese transplants living on the continent ― an entrepreneur, an academic, a journalist and a kung fu instructor. It is estimated that “a couple million” Chinese people now reside in Africa, although exact numbers are hard to find. Four stories are told in this video.

China is less welcome in other places, such as Nicaragua. Writing from Managua, Josefina Salomón chronicles the struggle of one woman, Francisca Ramirez, to keep her land from being seized in a bold plan to build a Chinese-financed canal across her country. “A project that violates people’s rights and that does not take into account what people think,” says Ramirez, “cannot be a development project.”

Finally, in an interview for our Future of Life Institute column this week, Max Tegmark outlines the ideas of his new book, “Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.” The MIT physicist argues that creating machines with human-level intelligence is not a matter of “if,” but of “when.” Opening this Pandora’s box, he says, is replete with peril as well as promise. “If we have very powerful AI systems,” says Tegmark, “it’s crucial that their goals are aligned with our goals.”

Other highlights in The WorldPost this week:

For more on the lives of Chinese transplants in Africa, check out our WorldPost video, adapted from this week’s piece, “Africa Is Inspiring These Chinese Transplants To Reflect On Their Culture,” below:

Nathan Gardels, Editor-in-ChiefKathleen Miles, Executive Editor Dawn Nakagawa, Vice President of OperationsFarah Mohamed, Managing Editor Peter Mellgard, Features Editor Alex Gardels, Video Editor Clarissa Pharr, Associate Editor Rosa O’Hara, Social Editor Suzanne Gaber, Editorial Assistant

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