How a Deadly Virus and a Tweet Resurrected the Bipolar World
In a world divided between Red & Blue, despite a professed neutrality, India is now effectively aligned.
BRICs, an acronym defining Brazil, Russia, India, and China, was the hottest geopolitical phenomenon in the noughties. It was coined by Jim O’Neill, the Goldman Sachs economist, in the chaotic aftermath of 9/11. It was widely believed then that Al Qaeda’s attack on New York’s twin towers in 2001, followed seven years and four days later by the Lehman collapse in 2008, had dethroned the United States of America as the king of the world.
The unipolar world had given way to a multipolar one in which BRICS – the plural “s” had given way to the capitalised “S” in 2010 as South Africa joined the foursome – would relegate the US to a mere first among equals.
Multipolarity's Tryst with Destiny
In fact, the “rise of the rest” got cemented when the next three biggest emerging markets, viz Mexico, Indonesia, and Turkey, added to the heft of BRICS, putting these seven “new economic powers” ahead of the traditional G7 advanced economies in terms of GDP measured in PPP (purchasing power parity).
This “multi-polarisation of the world” gathered momentum through to 2016, as the Chinese and Indian economies recovered and accelerated, while America and Europe lumbered in the slow lane.
There was much bonhomie between China and India, with invocations of the spirit of Ahmedabad and Wuhan (before Wuhan became infamous for unleashing Covid-19) strengthening the urge for multipolarity.
There were some creeping fears about China breaking away from the pack to become a hegemon, but nobody was that alarmed.
Then, President Donald Trump scripted a shocking victory and made a disruptive entry into the White House. He turned America inward, either pulling out from or weakening its leadership of global alliances. From climate change to Iran to NATO, the US signalled an unexpected retreat.
The Rise and Rise of China
At the same time, President Xi Jinping accumulated vast powers and ambition in China. He struck an aggressive alliance with a militarily resurgent Russia. He used China’s awesome economic muscle to penetrate dozens of third world economies. Unfortunately, around the same time, India’s economy began a rapid descent, with GDP growth falling from a robust 8%+ to 4%. Galloping alone, China was soon emerging as a new pole in world politics.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck, causing mayhem across the world. Almost every country was devastated by double-digit GDP contraction, except China, which controlled the virus and managed to grow at 6%. So, it was only a matter of time before multipolarity died a natural death.
Death of a Multipolar World
Its dirge was sung in the first week of July 2021:
On the first of July, President Xi abandoned diplomatic niceties to prance like an all-conquering, unbeatable Bollywood hero who single-handedly destroys a gang of 20 thugs shouting “dishum, ek ek ko chun chun kay maroonga, dishum” (I will pick and clobber each one). More accurately, Xi said that anybody who tries to bully China “will face broken heads and bloodshed in front of the iron Great Wall of 1.4 billion Chinese people”. In a cruel irony, just a few months earlier, this imagery was brutally on display as dozens of Chinese and Indian soldiers had bludgeoned each other at Doklam. But on the first of July, Xi was clearly doing a disproportionately aggressive tit-for-tat to Nato’s missive reprimanding “China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour (that) present systematic challenges to a rules-based international order”. Xi had chosen the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party to angrily hurl and stake his pole on earth. India responded with a stony silence, without even a perfunctory greeting on the 100-year celebratory milestone.
Three days later, on the fourth of July, Prime Minister Modi sent a warm, cuddly tweet to President Biden on America’s 245th Independence Day: “As vibrant democracies, India and USA share values of freedom and liberty. Our strategic partnership has a truly global significance.”
India Effectively Ends Its Non Alignment Policy
With one stroke, the multipolar world was struck down. BRICS became as much of a vacuous showpiece as NAM (the Non-Aligned Movement, which India had tried to spearhead during the cold war era as the “third pole”).
It is now China, Russia, and their satellites in the red corner; and a “quad of democracies”, lead by the United States of America, in the blue corner. Despite outer trappings of a professed neutrality, India is now effectively aligned.
What was fragmented by a few hijacked airplanes in 2001 has been resurrected by a deadly virus in 2021.
Welcome to the new bipolar world.
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