Australian National University academics Natasha Kassam and Darren Lim have peered into a metaphorical crystal ball to map out Australia’s likely future under a new world order.
It’s a world where the United States comes a distant second in the superpower stakes.
China’s economy is triple its size. Its military is vastly superior in size and modernity.
2049 is a world where Beijing calls the shots.
2049 is a world where Australia stands isolated and alone.
“Australia remains a liberal democracy and a staunch defender of free markets and human rights,” the international affairs analysts write. “But these are no longer the default standards of global governance … No longer a top-20 economic or military power, Australia’s opportunities to make its mark internationally are few and far between.”
In 2049, Beijing is strong.
“For decades, Hong Kong has been accepted as just another province of China. Few dare to criticise the ongoing human rights abuses there, or in Xinjiang and elsewhere … Taiwan, if not annexed, is isolated, with no diplomatic partners.”
It’s a nation obsessed with “Xi Thought”.
“The legacy of Xi Jinping, who led China for more than 30 years, monopolises ideological discourse in China. His successors rule under his shadow.”
It’s a world moulded in his image.
“Much of China’s influence abroad is unavoidable. A rising power with the economic and military strength that China wields is unlikely to be deterred.”
It’s always a good idea to do some scenario analysis. But this one seems a little lopsided.
China tripling its economy by 2049 is possible if it isn’t likely. It would take a compounded 3.7% GDP rate. A little high for the middle-income trap that China is heading into but plausible if we front-load growth then assume it fades.
That is not the major issue with the analysis. The extrapolation of this size of Chinese economy into total global dominance is where the analysis falls down. For instance, at its current average growth rate of 2.3%, the US will have exactly the same size economy as China in 2049. The Eurozone would only be slightly smaller and with UK and other satellites added it would be bigger. Liberal democracies would still dominate global output, especially when we add India.
Moreover, liberal populations would still be rising as US and India offset a declining Europe while China will be embarked on a long and difficult path of its population falling by one-third.
So why would China have a “military vastly superior in size and modernity”? And why would Beijing “call the shots”? It won’t.
Nor is Australia sliding down the league table of influence surprising. Other emerging markets have much larger populations and better options for catch-up growth. For instance, Indonesia will have double the size of the economy of Australia in 2049. Australia’s slide is inevitable and is not China-related.
I can’t fully unpack the ANU analysis because I am only going on what the journo reports. But it doesn’t sound realistic.
Much more likely is that such an outcome results in massive Balkanisation of liberal and illiberal worlds. The US leads one block that includes Australia, Japan, some of ASEAN and India. Europe flips flops around the place. China leads Russia, Iran and some of ASEAN.
It’s a multipolar world in which Australia has plenty of great and powerful friends as its strategic position sits right on top of some of China’s most important and vulnerable commodity supply chains.
Not to mention that by then climate change will have turned China into a flaming global pariah.
In closing, let’s note a change of tone on the weekend from a chastened Antiamericastanian Ministry of Information at the ABC:
[Xi] is a brutal authoritarian, locking up rivals and crushing dissent, yet he has delivered on empowering the nation and is now extending its global reach.
Keeping faith with the poor is critical; it is the source of the Party’s legitimacy. The party will make the people wealthy but will not set them free.
Xi is breaking the rules, turning the international order on its head: China has embraced market reforms but rejected political liberalism and democracy. And he is winning.
Democracy is on the back foot. It has been declining globally for more than a decade. Democracies have been hijacked by demagogues and populists; the people have lost faith in the institutions of government. Growing inequality, corruption and the monopolisation of power by a “rich-get-richer” self-serving elite have revealed democracy to be a sham.
In a head-to-head match up with the United States — a country devastated by COVID-19, racially divided, opioid-addicted, ravaged by gun crime, with a seething, disenfranchised underclass, and reeling from the Trump years — Xi Jinping’s China appears more stable and more secure.
Not really. The US had the misfortune to be hit by a pandemic after it threw a political grenade at its own elite via Donald Trump. He was not up to the serious business of government and got tossed out when the going got tough. But the new regime is focused much more on the poor and disenfranchised so that’s a good outcome over the stretch.
Democracy is messy. Often moving forward via a dialectical process of thesis, antithesis, synthesis. It will always be less orderly than autocracy. That’s freedom for you. The Antiamericastanian MOI should expect nothing less.
Can we say the same will happen in China no matter the issue afflicting the commons? Nope.