Yesterday, I attended an interesting conversation about the topic “The World in 2021” which was organized by Founding Fuel. The panel consisted of eminent thinkers and intellectuals such as Frank Richter from Zurich, who is the chairman of Horasis, Sundeep Waslekar, President of Strategic Foresight Group, Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, Research Director and Senior Fellow at IDFC Institute,and Prof.G Venkat Raman, IIM Indore. The talk was hosted by the business journalist and editor, Indrajit Gupta. Here is the YouTube video link:
The conversation highlighted the discussion on the issues which dominated in this year, 2020, and based on the current world scenario, the panel shared their insights about how the world will be shaped in 2021. Frank started the conversation with the impact of Covid-19, and how this pandemic has changed the world, especially considering the ever growing importance of digitization and automation. He also shared his concern about the rise in racial inequality seen in this year. But also the fact that President-elect Biden will soon be in the White House, this will certainly lead to the comeback of multilateralism.
Sundeep Waslekar, however, surprised the viewers by expressing that during 2020, there were three major impacts which dominated this year, and which will impact the coming years as well. In his list, the least severe is Covid-19! Yes, I heard right. The least disastrous is Covid-19 even though it has impacted millions of people and crumbled the economy into recession. According to Sundeep, the second most dangerous event which happened during 2020 was that 2020 was the hottest year in the history of the world. The readers can refer for more info: https://www.carbonbrief.org/state-of-the-climate-2020-on-course-to-be-warmest-year-on-record
So, this has led to an unprecedented rise in global warming. But the good thing is as Trump has lost the election, and President-elect Biden has affirmed to bring back the USA into the Paris Climate Agreement. And Sundeep also stressed the fact that Mr.Biden wants to align the economy to a more energy efficient, renewable source based, and sustainable model. Even Europe and China have decided to make their economies carbon free by 2050 and 2060 respectively. So, in a nutshell, thanks to the defeat of Trump, our Mother Earth is going to be saved from a catastrophic disaster.
According to Sundeep Waslekar, the third and most disastrous event which happened in 2020 is not Covid or global warming, but the race for development and testing of hypersonic missiles. So far, Russia, USA, China and India have successfully tested the hypersonic missiles in this year.
Hence, the race for hypersonic missiles which can carry nuclear payloads coupled with the ongoing cold war between USA-China, and USA-Russia ( which is the new cold war continued after the disintegration of Soviet Union) and rising tensions between India-China has created a perfect breeding ground for germinating this into a burning hot war. The panel raised their concerns about the growing escalation of weapons manufacturing, including nuclear warheads, which the new President would have to give due attention to calm down the rising tensions between countries.
The panel answered questions from the audience, and one of the most asked questions was regarding the role of China in 2021. As per Niranjan and Prof. Venkat, China has risen in Asia as an economic and technological power, and who wants to challenge the position of the USA as the world’s only remaining superpower. China has dug its feet too deep into the global supply chains, that it will be impossible for the world to isolate China. The panel illustrated a few examples such as the dominance of China in rare earth elements which are used in smartphones, wind turbines etc. https://qz.com/1924282/how-china-became-dominant-in-rare-earths/ In short, the world may like or hate China, but cannot avoid China.
The panel discussed the upcoming challenges President-elect Biden will have to face as soon as he enters the White House. It will be interesting to see how he leads America in this multi-polar world, where America has retreated from the world leadership during the Trump Presidency. As Sundeep rightly said, that “Donald Trump looked at the world as a place of risk, and not a place of opportunities” That America’s interests were at risk was the psychology behind Trump’s actions to ban immigrants, sell arms, retreat from world organizations etc. “Even though Biden has favored multilateralism, still it is not clear how his worldview is going to be. Is he going to look at the world, especially at China and Russia from cold war’s perspective, or would have a completely new view?” Hence, Sundeep assured the Indian audience who are particularly concerned that Biden will bring up the kashmir issue again, that Biden will certainly look at India from America’s strategic interest, and simply kashmir, H1-B immigration or any human rights issue would not drive his administration’s agenda.
Another topic which was talked about was regarding the RCEP – Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which has been formed among the Asian nations including Australia and N.Z, but dominated by China. For India, this is another organization in the lines of One Belt One Road, CPEC, or AIIB. Prof.Venkat and Niranjan shared their views that even though India looks at China led organizations from the prism of threat to its economic and national concern, but considering the need to revive the economy, India should either think of joining or have a Plan B with US or Europe market collaboration.
Finally, the panel discussed the world economy which lies in doldrums. Even though the world economy will bounce back in 2021, but still it will reach only to the pre-covid level. But the important concern is how the economy will be shaped after this pandemic. Though it is clear that the emphasis on automation and digitization will be preferred, the basic problem lies with the way the economy was functioning. The working class struggled with the low wages, and which led to protests from many parts of the world to increase wages. While on the other side, the CEO’s and BOD’s earned huge profits due to increase in productivity, driven by automation and the internet. But they spent the major chunk of profits in share buyback or giving hefty bonuses to themselves. Hence, profits vs wages will be the main concern in front of many world leaders.
The conversation ended with Frank’s comment that there is hope to rebuild the world based on multilateralism, that nationalistic movements have started to retreat especially with the exit of Trump from the White House, and people can live together again in harmony. While Sundeep concluded his thoughts with a question for the viewers to wonder that the world could not predict about Covid in 2019. So, what will be the next thing/event that might happen in 2021, which will change the world? Let’s hope that whatever happens is positive!
Please do watch this conversation on YouTube as the ideas and worldview from eminent intellectuals and scholars are the perfect food for our thoughts!