With America on a steady slope to ineffectuality, and Europe and China racing to dominate the 21st century, the world’s three superpowers must compete for influence among the Second World, a clutch of developing nations in Eastern Europe; Central, East and West Asia; and South America. This is the argument put forth by Parag Khanna in his new book The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order, a hefty and passionate examination of these alignments and their power equations. A senior research fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC, Khanna spoke to Lounge about the rise of China, and India’s moral leadership with regard to Tibet. Edited excerpts:
Can you explain the difference between Second World and Third World countries?
Second World countries are ones that have a legacy of industrialization and
are currently using it to develop very quickly. They have amazing natural reserves and are addressing domestic schisms that threaten to pull them apart.
First world: Khanna says China is a superpower to reckon with.
Third World countries, partly in Sub-Saharan Africa are not leveraging their potential. There are Third World countries that have potential, like South Africa, but if you think about South Africa it still has very high inequality and the situation has gotten worse in the last 10-15 years. It’s a question of how long it will take to get to a point where it is a stable player in the global democracy.
You say that even if India rises, it’ll do so on China’s terms. Explain.
There is so much hype about India. Of course, we have achieved a tremendous amount and I’m very proud of those things. But as a fair and impartial analyst, I cannot deny India is only 1.5% of the global economy and China is 14%. Can you possibly imagine how long it will take for India to achieve that kind of stature? It may never even happen.
As for saying India will rise on China’s terms, let me give you two examples. One is trade relations. India’s trade is more focused on the Far East than with the West and West Asia, and that major change signals its dependence on East Asia and China for its growth.
The second example is Tibet. India is towing the Chinese line very much. The US is doing the same thing. I’m not saying anyone is an angel here, but India’s diplomatic line has been as a liberal democratic superpower alternative to a closed, authoritarian China. Tibet is not exactly a shining star of India’s moral leadership.
You say that China will help bring Tibet out of its Third World status, but given everything that has happened in Tibet lately, do you think the cost is worth it?
What has happened now has been planned for five-six years; ever since the day it was decided that China would host the Olympics. Everyone knew this would
be the moment of its uprising. There are two different issues here. In terms of modernization and development, those attributes do exist in Tibet. There are hospitals, schools, running water (and) electricity. Many Tibetans prefer not to have it if that means more Chinese there than Tibetans. It’s the devil’s bargain. It’s also inevitable. Tibet has vast natural resources and China wants to control those for obvious reasons. Even if the people of Tibet are angels, which in a way they are, China would want to control it.
The Second World: Allen Lane, 466 pages, Rs795.
You posit that America has lost its momentum and risks becoming a Second World country. Yet, even in this day and age, the American subprime crisis has seemingly affected the whole world.
Even if America is falling in status and ranking when it comes to quality of life, education and life expectancy, it still makes up 20-25% of the global economy. Europe and Japan are also a strong per cent of the global economy. So, when anything happens in one of them, it’s going to affect the whole world. Just because America is blighting doesn’t mean it won’t have an impact. It’s still a superpower. You have to separate the internal from the external. The subprime crisis is definitely hurting the rest of the world, but I don’t think people realize how much worse it would be if Europe and Asia had not, in fact, developed a lot as economic regions in the last 10 years since the Asian financial crisis.
Where do Brazil and Russia stand in the global order?
Brazil is an important player, increasingly as a partner of China, and one of the countries in my book that is playing all sides very smartly. It has a very diversified market. It has huge industrial output (and) major manufacturing units. It has discovered huge oil and gas reserves as well. In a lot of ways, Brazil is very well poised to surge ahead.
Russia is one of the largest countries in the world, but its economy is the size of South Korea. People say Russia is still a superpower. I think they’re missing fundamental facts. Russia’s population has fallen to 100 million, its Far East has been leased to China to exploit resources. If the price of oil falls, they’re going to feel the pain.