NZ dilemma as US empire disintegrates and China dominates.

The United States of America is undergoing a a gradual decline as the leading developed nation. It once dominated the world with its culture, global franchises and political and military interventions, however, fewer now wish to emulate the ultimate consumer society and celebration of capitalism. Greed has proved to be an unsustainable vision and the wheels are falling off.

The so called "Champion of the Free World" is finding itself increasingly isolated as the free world moves on without it. The multilateral systems that the US often dominated to support its own interests (Nato, the United Nations and free trade agreements) are being abandoned for the pursuit of simple nationalism. The US no longer provides leadership for two major issues that currently confront the world, climate change and the increasing numbers of displaced people (there are currently around 20 million refugees - the most since World War Two). President Donald Trump's rejection of climate science and his passion for building border walls to keep out genuine refugees are his contribution to both issues.

Like many empires before, the United States has invested hugely in its military and costly wars and too little on its own people and internal infrastructure. It spends more on its military than the combined spending of the next nine military powers. By the end of this year the War On Terror will have cost $6 trillion dollars. The $716 billion military budget for 2019 will make up around 15% of the Federal budget and the military activity in the Middle East and Afghanistan often comes from other budgets. The total national security budget (including military spending) is approaching $1.2 trillion, over 25% of the total Federal Budget of $4.4 trillion.

President Donald Trump's 2019 budget contains a deficit of almost $1 trillion and debt servicing makes up around 7% of expenditure. Trump's corporate tax cuts have seen federal revenue drop even more than expected.

While national security sucks an increasing amount of federal funds the United States infrastructure is in a shocking state:
  • Airports are highly congested and air traffic control is in badly need of an upgrade.
  • One third of US bridges are over 50 years old and 56,000 are structurally deficient.
  • There are 15,500 high hazard dams.
  • 2 trillion gallons of treated water is lost each year because of ageing infrastructure (many pipes are over 100 years old).
  • Most power lines in the US were built 60-70 years ago when the expected life was around 50 years.
  • More than half of the US population lives within 5km of a hazardous waste site.
  • Ageing water transport networks (locks and dams) are causing delays for 50% of vessels using them.
  • Flood protection levees need an $80 billion dollar investment.
  • The Department of the Interior (includes the National Parks Service) has $16 billion worth of deferred maintenance
  • $25 billion will be necessary to repair and grow the rail service.
  • 32% of urban roads and 14% of rural roads are in poor condition, there's an $836 billion backlog of unmet capital needed to repair highways and bridges.
  • Public schools lack basic funding and almost a quarter have buildings that are in fair or poor condition. 
  • Solid waste and recycling systems are needing investment.
  • Public transport is seriously underfunded and $90 billion is needed to fix the backlog of transit system projects.
  • Waste water systems will need a $271 billion investment over the next 25 years. 

While Trump recognises the need for investment into infrastructure, his earlier package to address it was not received favourably. Given his wall priority, commitment to building a stronger military and the current deficit he is unlikely to achieve much on the infrastructure front.  

While the US experiences an under-investment, China has developed increasingly modern and high functioning infrastructure and it spends more on this than North America and Western Europe combinedTwo thirds of the world's high speed rail services exist in China while the US has no high speed rail services at all (services that travel over 250 km per hour). California's attempt to build one has just been abandoned, much to Trump's pleasure as he holds fast to the inefficiency and individualism of cars (he probably believes that public transport is a "socialist" construct). 

In terms of its global influence the US has become a bit of a joke as Trump continues to remove the US from long established international treaties and agreements. He has openly favoured building relationships with autocratic leadership and has taken a nationalistic approach to diplomacy. Trump has overseen a rapid reduction of foreign affairs specialists (12% in the first 8 months). His version of diplomacy is bullying others into submission with superior military capability or to"bomb the shit out of 'em" to express his diplomatic approach in his own words.

The diplomatic vacuum being created by absence of the US is being largely filled by China, which is predicted to become the world's largest economy by 2050. While one could point to the different democratic freedoms between the two countries and the human rights abuses and corruption of local government in China, there is an interesting difference in how national wealth is shared with ordinary citizens. While China does have an increasing wealthy elite, it is unlikely to replicate the inequalities present within the US. While around 21% of US children live below the poverty line and 43% live in low income families,  China has a plan to eliminate all poverty by 2020. Over the past three years the US life expectancy has been in steady decline while China is experiencing the opposite. At the current rates Chinese will live longer (on average) than US citizens within the next five years.

For over a decade China has used a soft power approach to increase its global influence, especially in the third world. As the US sees its power erode and attempts to use it's military might to maintain dominance, China has been forced to flex and grow its military muscle. A potential flash point is the South China Sea.

The changing global power dynamics make it difficult for New Zealand. We have had a long and close relationship with the US through ANZUS and the Five Eyes. ANZUS is a largely historic agreement now and the Five Eyes alliance appears to mainly exist to limit China's trade dominance, as in the joint attack on tech giant Huawei. New Zealand is being torn between its reliance on China for trade (we export more to China than the US and Australia combined) and respecting historic alliances with old friends that are struggling with internal issues. 

Despite cultural differences, its human rights abuses and expansionist policies, China is increasingly becoming our most stable and reliable trading partner and it is understandable that it would be irked when we joined forces to attack one of its most successful companies. Our Five Eyes friends have hardly treated us with respect over the last few decades and their global influence diminishes:
Despite our trade agreement with China and our previously good relationship, we are still expected to do as they dictate, whether it be supporting their suppression of minorities in our own country or accepting their businesses with open arms. The attack on Russel Norman a few years ago when he protested against Chinese oppression in Tibet showed a complete disregard for the sovereign rights of our citizens. A closer relationship with China also has its dangers.

I do sympathise with our government as they walk a shaky diplomatic tightrope while global power dynamics change. We need to forge our own path based on sound moral principles and an element of pragmatism. I would rather we removed ourselves from the Five Eyes surveillance alliance because it was always a dodgy arrangement that ignored human rights and we owe nothing to the other partners as we have given more proportionally than we have received in the relationships so far. We must also be far smarter in our relationship with China and not give up too much to secure ongoing trade.

There is also strength in forging our own path and taking moral stances. Jacinda Ardern received a good deal of global support for promoting wellbeing as an economic driver. While we repair the damage to our own country caused by neoliberal governments we can earn respect by doing so and being an honest player on the global stage.  


AAB College said…
Thank you for sharing

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