Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

Why it’s hard to predict the future

Last year I wrote a column here about China; or rather, using China as a case study to examine how we can, or can’t, foresee the future.


Steve Latham


I don’t claim any particular expertise about Chinese politics.

All the issues raised were in the public domain, in regular news media outlets.

What I wanted to do, at that time, was demonstrate how little we can predict, and therefore plan, for forthcoming trends.

Since then, as we know, there have been some incredible developments globally. Regarding China, some are the direct result of their government’s decisions, but others we couldn’t then forecast.

For instance, a trade war has arisen between China and the USA, and its allies. Companies like Huawei and Tiktok are under banned by western governments, prompting a possible new Cold War.

Of course, much of the tension is due to the US government’s unstable policies under Donald Trump, and his desire to compensate for unpopularity at home, with an aggressive posture abroad.

But China’s own search for prominence also counts. The flash points are clear.

Recent clashes, for example, with India in the disputed border territories could spark further military conflict.

Furthermore, China’s ambitions in the South China Sea, even building artificial islands to stake its territorial claims, has worried neighbouring nations: Taiwan, Vietnam Philippines.

And China is spreading its international hegemony through trade deals in its New Silk Road initiative, tying poor countries into its sphere of influence through economic dependency.

Politically, within China, the totalitarian nature of the regime has been strengthened, especially since Xi Jinping has had himself declared President for life, last year.

This is exacerbated with the new repressive laws affecting Hong Kong, and the subsequent arrests of pro-democracy activists and journalists.

These are reminiscent of the attempts by the USSR to stamp out internal dissent, and prevent the development of independent thought.

Religion too continues to be controversial. Christians have been forced to replace pictures of Jesus with images of Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping.

But most dangerous is the continued repression in Xinjiang, where the Muslim Uighur population is being prevented from following their religion, ostensibly to combat Islamic terrorism.

But the anti-religious policies and the network of so-called re-education camps, may provoke further radicalisation among the populace, perhaps turning Xinjiang into China’s Afghanistan?

Of course, most salient is the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump has certainly tried to weaponise the matter, by blaming China, to improve his re-election chances. But there are genuine issues at stake.

China’s concern for secrecy and stability did apparently lead to censorship, and delays in informing the rest of the world.

But whatever the blame, Coronavirus has changed global attitudes towards China. Together with all the other factors, this again demonstrates the gross unpredictability of world affairs.

The Twentieth Century witnessed the vanity of human attempts, especially in the West, to insulate affluent populations from the vagaries of life, creating dependable prosperity and security.

These were the illusions of the epoch. Our hubris is resulting in inevitable nemesis.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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