The emerging world in 2022: threats and possibilities

MANORANJAN MOHANTY | January 03, 2022 12:43 PM

As we get into the New Year, we can clearly notice two serious threats to the people of the world, but also discern three hopeful signs on the horizon that can pull humanity forward.

The warning comes from the growing forces of competing militarisation and sectarian violence, and the persisting danger to nature and living species on the planet from climate change. The rays of hope come from the new role of civil society as seen during the pandemic, the enhanced level of ecological consciousness and the reinvigorated civil liberties movement despite repression. The magnitude of the threats may look too high to contain, but history may be on the side of civilisation’s survival thanks to the latter trends.

A new Cold War?

The global security scenario entered a new stage of confrontation between the US and China which is likely to escalate and spread to new arenas engulfing more and more countries and policy spheres. What started as a ‘trade war’ during the Donald Trump regime has expanded into a multi-front strategic rivalry during the first year of President Biden.

Already the Russian action over Ukraine has led to a polarizing tension between NATO and Russia. Today, the new solidarity between China and Russia responding jointly to US-EU challenge is likely to evolve into a global rivalry in military, economic and cultural spheres. The gestures of declared collaboration by the US and China on climate change or the feeble signs of dialogue on strategic weapons between US and Russia may be small signs of a counter trend. But the tensions among these powers are likely to persist.

One of the main reasons for that is the rising tide of nationalism in all these countries.

Take China under Xi Jinping. It is acquiring a new character, shedding off Deng Xiaoping’s advice to lie low and build economic strength. A high pitch mobilization is currently going on in China with the slogan of ‘national rejuvenation’ under a strong leader, without term limits, leading China into a ‘new era’ as a global power. This trend is likely to be given a further stamp of approval at the 20th Congress of the CPC in 2022.

This is also seen in its assertive foreign policy, the fresh military exercises in the vicinity of Taiwan, the enactment and enforcement of a new Security Law in Hong Kong seen as a violation of the 1997 commitment of China to the continuing practice of liberal democracy in the island, and above all its repressive policies in the Muslim-majority province of Xinjiang.

The Chinese military entering and occupying what India considers as its territory on its side of the Line of Actual Control and the bloody battle on the India-China frontier in June 2020 in Galwan in Eastern Ladakh fit into this scenario. Add to that, China’s increased presence in the South China Sea, new initiatives around the world as a part of the Belt and Road Initiative and investing in much economic, cultural and strategic infrastructure all over the world.

The coming year is likely to see China playing a bigger role in world affairs provoking even more reaction from the Western powers. But the historical trend in the post-colonial world opposing hegemony of powers in global affairs is also alive as seen in many worldwide movements for peace, equality, freedom and justice embodied in the Bandung Spirit.

Amidst rising inequality

This global tension emerged when the Covid-19 pandemic was rising and the world needed a new level of global cooperation. The pandemic also exposed the economic strategy that globalization promoted all over the world creating an iniquitous system of health, education and livelihood conditions that had made a large number of people vulnerable.

During the pandemic, only immediate health responses and minimum sustenance support were forthcoming in various countries. Instead of acknowledging the root causes of the pandemic and the enormous suffering that migrant workers, unemployed youth, women and disadvantaged sections faced, the ruling elites soon returned to their usual business. Besides, in many countries the pandemic had provided even more opportunities to authoritarian regimes to pursue their sectarian agenda even more vigorously.

In the global realm the unequal structure showed vividly in the distribution of vaccines with the developed countries cornering more than their requirement with developing countries, especially in Africa, falling far behind. This is despite the fact that until the whole world acquires immunity no country can be safe.

Fighting global warming

The commitments made in COP-26 were already far below what was needed to achieve the target of keeping global warming below 2 degrees by 2050. It has deeply frustrated climate activists who termed the event in Glasgow as “Greenwash”. The rulers were back to their established pattern of governance that had in the recent years caused much alienation among many communities and regions leading to protests ranging from peaceful mass movements to violent acts.

So the threats of more violence and terror unleashed both by political regimes and non-state forces are likely to continue in the near future.

The positives

At the same time some cheers do flow, first from the way social action groups responded to Covid-19 and emerged as significant players who cannot be ignored by the rulers. Voluntary organisations have faced many challenges in recent years from the rulers who felt threatened by their capacity for mass mobilization using social media. The State now uses new communication technology to lay a system of surveillance while resorting to many ways of co-opting, controlling and suppressing independent groups. But their positive role during the pandemic gave them new prestige vindicating their role.

Second, equally noticeable, is the new intensity of the climate sensitivity movement. The role played by small island nations, indigenous communities and some developing countries on the sidelines of the Glasgow summit continued to provide new inspiration to this campaign. Their plea was that growth had to be planned differently from the start involving a different, nature-friendly lifestyle and corresponding production system, rather than industrialisation first leading to pollution and then controlling it by technological means. That had been the case during the past two hundred years promoted by colonialism worldwide. The demand for clear policies and targets is likely to gather more strength in the run-up to Cop-27 in Egypt in 2022.

The debate on the prevailing path of development is likely to grow making possibly some impact on policy.

Civil Liberties

Third, we must not miss the gains for civil liberties and liberation forces in 2021 which are likely to grow further despite serious threats that persist.

The Black Lives Matter Movement was spurred into new strength in fighting for racial equality in the US following the killing of George Floyd in May 2020 and had ripples all over the world. In India, the year-long Farmers Movement that had started in November 2020 demanding the repeal of three farm laws that were seen as threatening livelihood security of farmers, achieved success with the government of India scrapping the laws in November 2021.

Many such movements in different parts of the world had created currents of democratic politics involving the right to social equality and livelihood rights of people which are likely to persist in their impact in the coming years. There were many other global campaigns over the persecution of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the rights of refugees and the freedom of religious minorities in India, China, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan and others, threats to freedom of press and so on.

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia recognized the magnitude of threat to the freedom of expression that prevails in the contemporary world. This struggle is likely to be more confrontational in the coming months as the sectarian forces continue to grow in state and society in many countries. They are likely continue to pose a serious challenge in the coming years unless the rulers clearly pursue policies based on values of equality and dignity of all individuals and groups.

Thus, the emerging world will witness threats of competing hegemonic forces resorting to acts of violence and counter-violence in the coming days. Ongoing movements for equality, justice and sustainability will continue to give us signs of hope.


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