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(First published on June 29, 2019)

Few months ago, on a speaking occasion, I gave three reasons why we needed a world order where hate, prejudice and fear had little relevance. These three reasons were: the rise of the artificial intelligence, the manipulation of human genome and the resulting designer babies if not superhumans, and the rise of China. The first point is simple. While we are nowhere near the rise of the artificial general intelligence (AGI — the kind you see dominating human race in science fiction stories) machines are learning and Bill Gates wants to create a company to teach them to absorb our literature. You do not want hate-filled discourse and literature around when AGI arrives. It is counterintuitive and suicidal for the human civilisation to teach lessons of prejudice to such an overwhelming force.

The issue of designer babies and more evolved human race as a result of gene editing is no different. Human genetic engineering has already entered a sphere where Nazi eugenics pales in comparison. There is no harm in evolving further but if our existing flawed breed is around it will create a visible inequality in the society. You don’t want to mess with the minds of those who will have a distinct advantage over you. No matter how harder you cling to religion, teach the next generation to respect its flawed elders, hate, prejudice and fear permeate all boundaries with the speed of light.

Granted that the first two still sound a little farfetched but the third is clear and present. China is rising and it still is undecided on its approach to the future and to the rest of the world. If you want to comprehend the true power and the scope of this rise you need to read someone who has great empathy and comprehension of the phenomenon. I have not read a more insightful and cogent book other than When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques. This is a unique take on China’s distinct and strong identity, version of modernity and population dynamic. Mr Jacques, a British journalist, believes that while by the year 2027, China will be the world’s largest economy by 2050 it will be the world’s economic leader. He believes we are to witness the clash of modernities between China and the West. But more on Mr Jacques later.

Ask yourself what is the imperative of having a world dominated by a socialist economy albeit which arrives through the capitalist route? If it is any solace, China’s longstanding relationship with Pakistan shows that it has not once tried to export its economic or political philosophy to its closest ally and neighbour. So, is it possible that the world would not know the difference that its economic leadership has change and there is little or no difference in democratic culture elsewhere? Only time can answer this question and no one seems ready to take the risk. Consequence? Visible distress in the West. More consequences? Confused attempts to find an answer. Initially, when China was ready to experiment with the idea of three represent, open its economy to capitalism, the West tried to teach it. Halfway through, however, it did have cold feet and decided to contain the Asian nation’s rise. This was a plan more agreeable to its existing and future allies. The old allies, mostly China’s Pacific neighbours and a new ally, India, would see an ascendant China as an existential threat. Since India had a more or less equal population, it was most likely to be the challenger. As a result of this flawed calculus, the US has given India extraordinary power over its own cultural and political resources.

If there was a cutoff date for potential containment it has passed about one and a half decades ago. Now, there is little the west can do to bring China down, like USSR, from within. The part of it is explained by Mr Jacques that the people of China see themselves as one race, the Han. The other part is readily explained by Kai-Fu Lee’s AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order. While the book is primarily about the future of artificial intelligence, it shines a light on the fact that a mix of cut-throat competition, cutting-edge technology, and copycat industries has spurred a growth in the economy and propelled its workforce through the door of prosperity. So old machinations will not work.

Luckily, China is still in the learning mode. And while the western media, perhaps egged on by the embedded Indian journalists, keeps portraying President Xi Jinping as the evil incarnate, under his leadership China has shown readiness to open up. He is already opening the economy to imports. China seems ready for a dialogue that never comes. Instead, the way it sees it the moment it allows the western media some freedom to move around the first instinctive move is to undermine the country and the government. This adversarial approach will only ensure an embittered relationship. The West hence misses a fine opportunity to sell its core values to the Chinese state due to lack of trust. This despite the fact that the US still is the leader of the global pack and peoples around the world would instinctively want to mimic its lifestyle.

In Trump, China saw a great opportunity to rebuild mutual trust. However, partially because of the noise generated by the media and the intelligentsia (three guesses why) and partially in the quest for some political mileage he has weaponised trade and further armed the fault lines. What began as a temporary tiff with raised tariffs and a ban on Huawei threatens to be hijacked by hawks and turned into yet another cold war. When one by one all US tech companies banned Huawei and there was a mammoth protest rally in Hong Kong, the fear was that the US was exposing all its cards one by one only too soon in the game. On the sidelines of the G20 summit, Trump had a trilateral between the US, Japan, and India on the subject of 5G technology. The trouble is that the Japanese innovation has been stagnating for over a decade owning to the bad economy. And now India’s economy is also faltering. To ensure its political rise, India wouldn’t mind cannibalising its mentor, the US, but it will prove a poor substitute.

The giant dragon has to rise eventually. There is no workforce more disciplined and homogenous than its billion-plus population. But if you had earned its trust you could easily teach it to open up politically, culturally and economically without undermining the state itself. That is how you tame a dragon. But no one has the moral courage or vision to point that out.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2019.

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