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Jaipur: Rarely, in debates about rising economic and political powers that seek to pinpoint future world leaders, do Bolivia, Ecuador or the Scandinavian countries get much of a look in.

The title of this particular discussion at the Jaipur Literature Festival, between two China experts, two Indian academics, a member of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords and a senior lecturer at Birkbeck College, London, was “Who will rule the world?" and, given the panellists, it might be expected that China and India would be the principal contenders for the title. Quite quickly, however, the speakers re-framed the debate and moved to a more nuanced question: not who will rule the world but who should.

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, the lecturer at Birkbeck College, has written a book titled, What if Latin America ruled the world?

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The question, Guardiola-Rivera concluded, should not necessarily be considered in terms of military might and economic prowess. “Some governments in Latin America are following that—Brazils decision not to develop nuclear weapons for example."

Professor at JNU Dipankar Gupta touted another model of governing excellence, namely Scandinavia. “I think India shouldn’t be asking whether we can rule the world until we ask how we can rule ourselves," he said. “From the (19)50s to the (19)90s we had two big super powers trying to rule the world, the Cold War was a bruising time for us. Look at Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden. They don’t think about ruling the world, they worry about ruling themselves."

Lord Meghnad Desai, a peer in the UK House of Lords, took the view that it is not necessarily a nation state that should rule, but a system of governance or an ideology that could be represented in various regions at the same time. “You may not like it," he told the audience, “but capitalism rules the world, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola". Lest that sound too bleak, he added: “I think the world is getting better. More people have been lifted out of poverty in the last few years than at any point in history." That, he said, was a tribute to “modernity, capitalism and European traditions. A society’s capacity for change is a very strong power that European society has. Today to be a North European and to say we don’t believe in the welfare state is impossible."

China, the traditional favourite at forums like these, did have its defenders. Rana Mitter, a professor of the history and politics of modern China at Oxford University, contended that China has every quality needed for the title bar a liberalized democracy. “The case for China is easier to make than for any of the other regions," Mitter said. “China sets the challenge to the rest." With international interests, a fast growing economy, a geographical advantage at the centre of “the fastest growing area of economic and geopolitical power in the world", China, Mitter said, is doing itself a disservice by sticking by the ideals of its leading communist party. He asked the audience, “If you knew everything you do now about China and added those last points, liberalization and democracy, would you question it prominence? It’s the switch that will make the change."

However, Chinese author Xiaolu Guo added a note of caution. While China might be economically mighty, she said, it’s cultural influence remains uncertain. “China is number two after the US economically but the power or culture is still with America," she said. “American culture percolates everywhere in the world but while China is affected by Americanization it’s a one way cultural exchange."

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