“Ethical Markets recommends this article by our colleague John Perkins, author of the recently published Touching The Jaguar, also The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and 8 other non-fiction books on global intrigue and indigenous wisdom. This wide-ranging article is a useful overview on many of the global trends we also follow, along with members of our global Advisory Board.
~Hazel Henderson, Editor“
King of the Mountain: China vs the US
By John Perkins
The United States has been praised as the world leader and unifier for seventy years. During World War II, the US performed a miracle by rapidly building a military that helped end the war and then showed compassion and foresight by spearheading reconstruction of its war-torn former enemies, as well as its allies. That leadership role continued for the next seven decades.
As a former economic hit man (EHM), I am only too aware of the dark side of US foreign policy. However, I am also aware that every president since the 1940s has made concerted efforts to bring countries together and to form partnerships. US leadership was a driving force behind the creation of many unifying institutions, including the United Nations and NATO. While we were often resented for our attempts to exploit resources and control governments, we were also seen as a builder of bridges between nations. In that capacity, we outmaneuvered and ended the Soviet Union. We were King of the Mountain.
Since the election of President Trump, China has climbed to the top of the mountain. While the US has made a mockery of collaboration, insulting and alienating former allies, causing dangerous divisions among US voters, and instilling a sense of distrust and confusion in leaders around the world, China has done the opposite. Beijing has dedicated itself to expanding its power by forging alliances with countries on every continent. Principle among China’s strategies is the Belt and Road Initiative (better known as the New Silk Road).
During the past three decades, I’ve spent a lot of time in Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. I first learned about the ideas that would evolve into the New Silk Road while teaching at an MBA program in Shanghai, China in 2009. However, it wasn’t until 2017 that I began to really appreciate the world-changing implications of the meaning of the “Belt” and the “Road.”
In June 2017, I was a speaker at the St Petersburg (Russia) International Economic Forum (SPIEF 17), that was attended by world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, UN Secretary General Antoìnio Guterres, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and CEOs from some of the US’s and the world’s most influential corporations. I was deeply impressed by the spirit of cooperation expressed by people from many different countries and backgrounds. At the same time, I was constantly reminded by other speakers of the damage caused by President Trump’s words and actions.
Just one of numerous examples: In his June 7 speech at SPIEF 17, President Putin emphasized the need to build bridges between countries in order to deal with the crises around climate change. Although Putin is a dictator who has committed atrocious acts, his statement that “there is a high risk that instead of joint efforts to address environmental and climate issues, we will run into attempts to use this issue for unfair competition” (1) created an impression that contrasted sharply with President Trump’s “I’m not a believer in man-made global warming.” (2). Trump’s diatribes against multi-national attempts to end climate change and his announcement that the US would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement sent a message to the world that the US government was not going to participate with nearly every other country in ending the terrible pollution that is smothering our planet. (3)
It was during SPIEF 17 that I learned that the “Belt” refers to the huge network of land transportation systems being built to connect China with commercial centers throughout Asia, India, Russia, Europe and Africa while the “Road” describes the ocean waterways, ports and infrastructure that are extending those connections to Latin America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, and other island states. In other words, the New Silk Road will span the entire globe.
I flew from St Petersburg to speak at the Astana (Kazakhstan) Economic Forum – along with many other SPIEF 17 participants, once again including President Putin, Secretary General Guterres, and many other country and corporate leaders. I dined at the Akorda Presidential Palace with President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and I met, sat on panels, and was included in roundtable talks with many of the other people who were discussing or leading the development of the New Silk Road, including Prime Minister Bakhytzhan Sagintayev of Kazakhstan, Prime Minister Francois Fillon of France (2007-2012), Prime Minister Marek Belka of Poland (2004-2005), Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev of Kyrgyzstan (2014-2015), Nobel Prize laureates Sviatoslav Timashev and Raekwon Chung, and President Putin’s Economic Adviser Sergey Glazyev. Many of the country leaders had long histories of imposing their authoritarian control through extreme violence and brutality – and now I was hearing their plans for global commercial collaboration and domination.
During the many discussions – some formal, some held at informal receptions and over tea or cocktails – it became obvious that the New Silk Road had already become a reality and was rapidly growing into a trans-continental economic force. The image of that game my friends and I used to play in fifth grade, King of the Mountain, often came to mind. China was rushing the sand pile and was about to push the US off the top; Beijing was determined to replace Washington as King.
In the three years since my visits to Russia and Kazakhstan, I’ve spent time in Austria, the Bahamas, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, and Poland. Everywhere I go, I see the influence of the New Silk Road. I hear leaders of countries saying things like, “We learned the hard way that the United States will overthrow or assassinate leaders, build military bases on sovereign foreign soil, and try to dictate the way other countries are run. When we accept loans from the US, the World Bank or one of the other Washington-managed institutions, we are entrapped. China has not done that.” When I add, “So far,” the response is almost always a condescending “good try” smile and “we’ve leaned since your last election, that the US can’t be trusted to honor promises, treaties, and agreements, and that your president constantly lies.”
History tells us that China has expanded its influence through trade, more than by military intervention, since long before Europeans colonized the Americas – with the unfortunate exception of regions China claims as part of its territory, including Tibet and Taiwan. China appears to be taking that policy to global levels with the New Silk Road. As President Putin’s Economic Adviser Sergey Glazyev told me, “It appears that China has learned from the mistakes and successes of Russians and Americans. Armies generate resentment. Economic hit men are better than generals as agents of expansion.”
Statements by President Trump have reinforced distrust in the United States. For example, when during a bipartisan meeting in January 2018 he asked “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” in reference to African and Latin American/Caribbean nations (4), he generated outrage around the world. Outbursts like that play into China’s hands.
Can the US retain its position as King of the Mountain? Can it regain the world’s trust – or at least do better than China? The answer depends on our willingness and ability as a nation to reestablish our leadership role as a unifier.
What can YOU do?
- Vote for representatives – from local school boards to the US president – who commit to collaborating with other countries to reverse climate change, income and racial inequality, human rights abuses, and social injustice;
- Speak out in every way possible (to neighbors, local media, and through social networking) to promote a Life Economy that cleans up pollution, regenerates destroyed environments, and creates technologies that renew, rather than ravage, resources;
- Join or start social networking consumer movements to pressure the corporations that serve you to take actions that create a Life Economy;
- Help spread the message that people around the world – regardless of politics, religion, or ideology – need to come together in ways that will pass on to future generations a world they will want to inherit.