By Paul Ferguson
August 20th 2019
In A.D. 64 the decadent and foolish politician, Nero, reputedly “fiddled whilst Rome burned” The crisis around Brexit reminds me of how our political class have also missed the real issue of focusing on our relationship with the EU.
Some older readers lived to see the collapse of the mighty British Empire. It was followed by the rise and decline of the Soviet Empire, which resulted in America becoming the sole superpower of the world. The EU in recent decades sought to rival the USA but its systemic problems of inefficiency, corruption, protectionist tariffs, chronic low growth, and a demographic ageing crisis has left it floundering behind America. For instance, from 1996 until 2018 the GDP Annual Growth Rate in European Union averaged below 2%.
Times are now changing. Western hegemony is waning fast. America’s position at the top of the pile is under threat. Leading the charge is the nation of China. In 1980, the GDP of China was less than $300 billion; by 2015 it had increased to $4 trillion. It has surpassed already the USA as the largest producer of ships, steel, clothing, handphones, and computers.
China has also become the world’s largest consumer of most products. For instance, Chinese consumers bought 20 million cars in 2015 – three million more than in the USA and Chinese shoppers bought half of the world’s luxury goods sold in 2015. China is the largest market for handphones, e-commerce, and has the largest number of internet users. It has now built more high-speed train tracks than the rest of the world combined. China graduates each year five times the number of students as the USA; Chinese scientists produce more scientific papers in physical sciences, engineering and maths than any other country and double the number of patents than the USA produces. In 2014, the IMF estimated the size of the USA economy was $17.4 trillion and China’s was $17.6 trillion. China now accounts for roughly 18% of the world GDP, compared to just 2% in 1980.
Students of history will know that the West has not always dominated the East. We tend to forget that until the mid-1880s, China, India and Japan together generated a greater total GDP than the USA, UK, France, Germany and Italy combined. It was only the Protestant Reformation, which resulted in the Industrial and Scientific Revolutions, that enabled the West to pull ahead of the East. Today Asia is shaping the world in all major measurements of progress. They see themselves at the centre of the world and its future.
In Northern Ireland, the political classes are arguing over a hard/soft border, Customs Union, Irish Backstop etc. but few have grasped the real strategic challenges to the future. The EU is, unquestionably, in terminal decline. If it were a patient, it might be recommended Dignitas! The current British and Irish economic models are not much better. The binary choice of deeper integration into the UK or a United Ireland will only worsen our current predicament. There is no long-term future for Northern Ireland aligned to them.
Northern Ireland had a glorious opportunity with the devolved Stormont Executive to try a more radical solution. It has, to date, failed to grasp that chance. We must act to take care of ourselves before it is too late. Henry Kissinger once observed, “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” He was right.
The future of Northern Ireland must not be sacrificed at the altar of political correctness, sectarian rivalries or ancient prejudices. The enemy is at the gates of Western dominance. There is a radical world realignment that few have noticed and even fewer care about. Economic Imperialism will come from the East if we fail to prepare for a rebalanced world. An Irish Language Act is a costly irrelevancy and repeating banal phrases like “Equality” by social justice warriors is utter futility. The Chinese version of the Golden Rule is ‘He who has the gold, rules! They already have most of the gold. It is only a matter of time before they have the power to go with it.
Dr Paul Ferguson was trained as a finance lawyer and has lived in China, Singapore, USA and in the UK. Although born and reared in Northern Ireland, he has lived almost half of his life in Asia.