What are the biggest events looming on the global agenda? Building on our Agenda Weekly email update, each month I look ahead at the stories and trends that will have the most impact.
Retrenching globalization: Policies and attitudes are shifting to accommodate a long period of conflict between the US and China, and … the US against the rest of the world. Turnarounds in US tactics and collapses in negotiated deals indicate that, despite rhetoric, shifts in policy are designed as much to decelerate China’s economic rise, as they are to rebalance trade rules. An extended trade war will fragment supply chains and reorder relationships, and while it may eventually build a new equilibrium between the two superpowers, there is a long way to go. In concert with allies, the pressure on China could have a positive impact - but the US is fighting on all fronts, with neighbours in NAFTA, allies in the EU, and adversaries Iran and Russia. President Trump declared in Davos in January that “America first does not mean America alone”, yet it is looking more and more isolated, emphasized by the President’s specific rejection of the ideology of “globalism” in favour of the ideology of patriotism at the UN General Assembly.
- Forward view: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Antonio Gramsci, Italian Communist thinker, wrote this circa 1930.
The hollowing middle: In more news of morbid symptoms, Europe’s political middle is hollowing out as far-right parties conquer electoral territory once occupied by the centre left. Fragile alliances propped up by extremist parties dominate the polity across the continent, from Sweden’s indecisive election, Germany’s fragile coalition, Italy’s combination of populist right and left, and the Conservatives' tremulous hold on power in the UK, instability is the dominant status. Those countries with stable government tend to the authoritarian, with Hungary and Poland in the vanguard of what might become a dominant trend, aided by technology, curbs on privacy, and the surveillance state.
- Democratic recession: Inequality, anger and anxiety have shifted electorates' priorities, away from forms of democracy which haven’t worked for them. Poorly managed economic liberalism has helped destabilize politics.
- Forward View: These political ructions must end with a new economic accord between haves and the rest. The Forum is working to shape the future of economic growth.
The Peninsula: What a difference a year makes. From threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea in front of the United Nations General Assembly, to praising progress and announcing a second meeting with Kim Jong-Un in the very near future, there is a sense that this time may be different, although it comes hot on the heels of a swift reversal on the part of the US in August. Relations are thawing between the two Koreas, yet one point of contention is whether and how to declare an end to the Korean War and the implications of such an initiative for the Peninsula’s prospects for denuclearization.
- Forward View: The Third Inter-Korean Summit in Pyeongyang that concluded recently, also helped unveil many aspects of North Korean economic and social progress, raising expectations for potential benefits of collaboration between the country and the rest of the world.
The quantum difference: Much has been made of US-China competition in AI. That geo-technonomic battle is now emerging in quantum technologies, dubbed “the next technological revolution” by a White House report. Different US Government departments have committed over $250 million to quantum research, but that pales into insignificance next to the $1 billion, and rising, funding China is committing to this technology, on the back of a nationally coordinated plan. Other Indo-Pacific countries are folding in behind China. This bifurcation of technology competition was flagged by Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt, who raised the spectre of two independent and competing internet infrastructures, one with Chinese characteristics.
- Forward view: Schmidt was quoted thus: “If you think of China as like 'Oh yeah, they're good with the Internet,' you're missing the point. Globalization means that they get to play too.” It shouldn’t have to be said. A new book by Kai-Fu Lee, AI Superpowers, makes a convincing argument for Chinese leadership in artificial intelligence.
Things to look forward to in October:
Brazilian choice: The Brazilian General Election, with its first round on October 7, is a moment of truth for a country on the brink, with unemployment at 12% and GDP down by 10% since 2014. Corruption is endemic. The results will be significant for the country and the continent.
Too hot: On October 8 the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will announce that the world is not going to be able to limit the impact of climate change to an increase of 1.5 degrees. No kidding, some might say, after the consistent record-breaking heat waves the northern hemisphere experiences over the summer, and the destructive power of the hurricane season just passed.
New competitiveness: The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, launching October 17, has changed its methodology. It’s “Year Zero” for competitiveness, focussing on what it means to be competitive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, fostering innovation and openness.
High stocks: Canada legalizes cannabis on October 17, and the market for weed stocks has been smoking. The value of the four main cannabis companies on the Canadian stock exchange has risen from $4 billion to $40 billion over the last year.
Ireland’s constitution: Ireland’s Presidential election, on October 26, will feature two referenda: on whether to remove the offence of blasphemy and a section referring to a woman’s life within the home from the country’s constitution. Michael Higgins, the incumbent, is seeking a second term.