25 July, 2014

BIG DRAGON, LITTLE DRAGON




When I heard that Japanese Prime Minister had gone to America with his prototype for the Maglev, the train that levitates on a magnetic field, and offered it royalty-free for the Americans to try out, I felt a tiny bit of incredulity. For such a smart people, it appears the Japanese are not to up to date with the American aversion, and outright hostility, to public transport.

 For a country like America that has depended upon the internal combustion engine and its gas guzzling propensity to rule the world, the Maglev brings the quiet hiss of revolution. And the ruling elites, unsurprisingly, will resist this at all costs. America’s influence around the world would wane if people started to use magnets to get around—forcing this gas-dependent giant to quickly reconsider priorities. The wars of the Middle East would cool down as oil became a fuel of the past century.  Much of America’s spending, now dedicated to a war machine of insatiable proportions, would shrink, and could finally be redirected to renovate its aging transport and other publicworks, education and food security.

The Maglev, of course, is hope for the rest of us who have never ruled the world. We comprise the majority of the world’s population, and we will eventually shape a future which is more sustainable and creates a cooler planet through safer technologies. People from poorer places have a greater stake and willingness to bring down their carbon footprints. Unlike America, the rest of the world has no aversion to public transport, if its done right and is offered at the right price.

Who can do this? China, of course. I have no doubt China’s interest has already been perked by this new technology—as has many others who don’t want to keep being dependent on petrol for mass transport. That includes almost every country in Asia, Africa and other parts of the world which doesn’t have a direct pipeline to oil. Even countries that do have reservoirs have ethical considerations about using it, considering massive climate change.

China has been thought to lack the R and D necessary to be a true leader of industrial and technological progress. But if we think of Asia as a sum of its parts, Asia already has two powerhouses—the R and D can come from Japan, the Litlle Dragon, and the industrial capacity to create vast publicworks can come from China, the Big Dragon. If they work together in tandem, there are no limits to the quick changes that can occur to change all the 20th century challenges we face, as a planet and as a race of human beings.

China and Japan are traditionally portrayed as being at odds with one another, due to old historical grievances. But the time has now come for this to change. A new century has arrived, and practical needs to provide ethically sustainable leadership dictates that these two countries put aside differences to think about ways to move forwards.

If Japan can get over its historical conflicts with China, and vice versa, and learn to work together in tandem, the two  can create technologies that shape a world which will not just be cooler, more sustainable and more friendly to the mass of global humanity, but may also reshape global foreign policy priorities, and ways of competing and winning.

The old notion of “Spheres of influence”, in which one Superpower dictates and shapes the foreign policy of countries and regions it may be geographically quite far from, must change in the changing realities of this new century. Our priorities now should be to think in environmental and sustainable ways, and in collaboration with old and new allies and enemies, to solve the 21 Century problems of global warming, climate change, water shortages, education, healthcare and poverty. There is no time to be wasted on wasteful wars, the outmoded forms of which continue as the elites of the previous century refuse to give up their priviledges.

A strong Asia created with the partnership of Japan and China could bring about poverty reduction in not just poorer parts of Asia, but also Africa and Eastern Europe. As the Northern Europeans try to ensure their wine-and-cheese lifestyle at all costs, it must be increasingly clear to people from poorer parts of Europe that there has to be a new mode of moving forward into this new century. Youth are out of work and the population is aging. Squabbles about the form of currency to use won’t solve these two issues.

Africa has also benefited tremendously from China’s approach—a low key engagement with business alliances, allowing for mutual gain. China has made it clear it is interested to create business partnerships and opportunities for regular people, and is not there just to exploit resources, as Europeans and Americans have done, in the old colonial (and post-colonial) style. Although there’s plenty of criticism from different parts of Africa about China’s growing presence in the continent, it is also clear that sharpest edge of poverty may have been reduced by China’s willingness to engage and do business. China’s approach reaches the poorest of the poor, while the Americans and Europeans often engaged only with elites, creating puppet regimes friendly to their own economic interests, thereby exacerbating poverty.

A strong China-Japan alliance, with Japan providing the R and D, and China providing the industrial backbone, could take our planet into the next century, with the next phase of mass transportation and personal transport, completely changing the old world order. It is urgent, more than ever, to encourage these kinds of alliances.

 The outmoded Western notions of “Great Powers,” “Spheres of Influence”, and other old school thinking has to now come to an end. The West’s primary mode of operation, ie; old school pillage and resource colonization, has led to rapacious exploitation of natural resources of poor countries, coupled with the seemingly benevolent but ultimately spurious fig leaf of foreign aid. This has only led to perpetual poverty for the planet. This way of thinking must now come to an end.

Sushma Joshi has a BA in international relations from Brown University. 
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