In geopolitical terms: the world ahead of us

In the interpretation of the world around us, geopolitics is a key, such as in music. It indicates power relations between nations or groups of nations, their rank and hierarchy, generally with a geographic delineation either explicit or implicit. In the following observations, I point out themes and formulate hypotheses about some situations ahead of us in 2022 in geopolitical terms; that is a pitch key but accompanied by another key more inclined towards harmony.


The word “key” has several meanings. It comes from Latin where “key” means the apparatus that opens chests and doors from a previously closed dominium. The most precise meaning is found in musicology, where the main objective of key is to mark the tessiture in which a piece should be interpreted. In other words, given a key (in musical notation it appears at the beginning of the pentagram), the instrument that plays the scores should adapt to the range of notes imposed by such key. Notes can be either high or low. For example, the treble clef marks a range of high notes. It is a pitch key and that is why sometimes it is called soprano clef.

In the interpretation of the world around us, geopolitics is also a key. It indicates the power relations between nations or group of nations, their rank and hierarchy, generally with a geographic delineation either explicit or implicit. In the following observations, I will try to point out themes and formulate hypotheses regarding the world ahead of us in 2022 in geopolitical terms, that is, in a pitch key. With a caveat: this is not the only key. As in a score, it is accompanied by another key (example: bass clef), which in the case that concerns us is the socioeconomic key, or if you prefer, the political-economy clef.

Advances and setbacks

During 2022, the strategic progress of China will continue on its current course: regional dominance in the Northern and Southern Chinese Sea, pressure over Taiwan with annexation threats, stronger commercial links with the rest of the world, following the logic of a tax empire and stiff competition in high technology vis-à-vis the West. Far from being the victim of a containment in the Cold War model, in the hands of United States, this time the containment will work in an opposite manner, or if the reader prefers, it will be a de-containment inasmuch as USA retreats from old strategic positions in the Middle East and other regions of the planet. Faced with such retreat, intermediate powers will advance to occupy those spaces. Rivalry among the latter will produce regional wars, either direct (such as Ukraine, Russia vs. NATO) or through a third party (such as Yemen, Iran vs. Saudi Arabia). Without appetite for new military interventions, USA will continue their setback.

Main actors

An exclusively geopolitical vision is not enough to understand the real world in 2022. Among most distinguished geo-politicians (for example John Mearsheimer), there is consensus regarding a war in the making between China and USA[1]. According to them, tension will continue rising and it will only take a spark or miscalculation for a conflagration to break out. If this happens, the two main belligerents will come off badly, with tremendous collateral damage (thesis sustained by Admiral Stavridis[2], an old commander of NATO). It is also well known Graham Allison’s thesis[3] that popularized the expression “Thucydides’ trap.” These experts refer to the lethal structural tension produced when a new power defies another already established one, which creates the conditions for a war to break out.

There is a counter-thesis elaborated by some economists. Among them Dani Rodrik[4] stands out, who states that there is no reason why a structural tension should be fatal and end inevitably in a war. Between a cordial relation on one side and an armed conflict on the other, there are many alternatives of adaptation and even mutual benefit.

These two opposing views are based on different assumptions regarding their respective disciplines. The geo-politicians tend to see the international world as a zero-sum game. On the contrary, economists see the world in terms of positive sum, that is, mutual benefits based on the interests of both parties. Disagreement goes back a long way in the history of ideas, as stated by the great thinker and economist Albert Hirschman[5]. It is the well-known opposition between the Estate and market (Thomas Hobbes versus Adam Smith).

Those who see the world exclusively in geopolitical terms only see two main actors that we can call superpowers China and United States. Then, medium powers follow either allied or not with the main powers but fundamentally opportunistic. However, from a wider perspective, it is possible to observe three key actors. For that, we need to move to an important center of world power, where these actors meet. It is not Davos, which shifted from a strategic forum to a showing-off circus. It is not the COP26, which has just met in Glasgow and is a forum for promises not decisive actions regarding climate challenge. Moreover, it is not the Boao forum of the Popular Republic of China, in which rigid cardboard characters pronounce phrases also made of cardboard in too choreographed meetings. The forum I am referring to is that of the top capitalism in action, the Bloomberg New Economic Forum.  It has just met in Singapore. Some of the attendees were people who helped building connection links between China and USA in the last decades, together with investors and top executives responsible for managing 20 trillion dollars in market value. In such meeting, it was clear the tension between the two superpowers as well as the collective rejection for any world proposal regarding aligning in two large fields, as it happened in the once Cold War. In this forum’s meeting, it was evident the impressive position of the entire Asia and its magnitude; it represents nothing less than 36% of the world product, 31% of its market capitalization, and 11% of the sales of the 500 most important corporations. Furthermore, the region is growing at a consistently higher rate than any other region of the planet. It is precisely in Asia where USA and China are embarked in a large both commercial and military game. It is worth mentioning that 15 of the largest Asian economies have China as its main trading partner. However, at the same time, these countries depend on USA in terms of defense and use the dollar as indispensable currency in the trade and capital flows. All these countries must play as tightrope walkers between the two superpowers—a difficult equilibrium because the latter retract inward more and more and have become less predictable than before, as reaction to the evident dysfunctions of the last globalization model we have endured.

In the Singapore forum, the United States are seen as a scarcely credible actor due to their political involution (i.e. national populism, polarization, and corruption). Their designs for an international economic framework are received with a skeptical smile, due to Biden’s protectionism and the possible return of Trump to the scene. However, China as well is more mysterious today than it was before. Although many believe that Chinese technocrats can prevent a financial crisis of the whole system, nobody knows where the imperial centralization of Xi Jinping and his attempt at total control can reach. In China, the State wants to hold the reins of the market while it promotes in the latter what it is a long-term contradiction.

There are secessionist tendencies in both powers—a process of import substitutions at great scale, called “living with what is yours” in each of the two opposing giants. At the same time, the interdependence they have achieved is so intense and their network covers so many countries that the desire for self-absorption is utopian while facing the unavoidable reality of alteration (living with the other[6]). In each of the large countries, and to put it in Marxist terms, the tension between production forces (technology and commerce, the centrifugal tendency) and production relations (sociology and politics, centripetal tendency) is so strong that their outcomes are unpredictable and disturbing. In domestic terms, once the champagne bottle is uncorked, it is impossible to close it with the same cork.

In summary, large companies (Google, TSMC, Amazon, Tata Group, Temasek, GiC, TikTok, JP Morgan Chase, etc.) prefer to be geopolitical hybrids—playing both sides or, if possible, the entire field. Behind the large powers, they are a formidable third player (tertius gaudens[7]), capable of manipulating both the market and the State. One example will suffice, JP Morgan Chase chief, Jamie Dimon, made a public statement and a private joke. In the first one, he said, “I am not shaken by geopolitical winds.” In private, he joked (?), “mi ship will survive the Chinese communist party.”

In 2022, everything will remain in the game without a final or definitive result. As a top official in Beijing said many years ago, “In my country, dynasties are born and die, but China is eternal.” As Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, more recently said, “If we choose the long-term perspective, we should bet for North America recovering from what it sometimes inflicts on itself.” Their words were the echo of those of Churchill spoken many years before, “USA invariably does the right thing, after having exhausted the rest of the alternatives.”

It is possible that these two invariable—the Chinese and the American—finally discover a way for reasonable cohabitation. However, they will not do so in 2022.

[1] . John Mearsheimer, “The Inevitable Rivalry. America, China, and the Tragedy of Great-Power Politics,” Foreign Affairs, November-December 2021

[2] . Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, NY: Penguin Press, 2021

[3] . Graham Allison, Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap?, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

[4] Dani Rodrik, “The Resistible Rise of the US-China Conflict,”

[5] Albert O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977.

[6] These two concepts belong to the philosopher of centrifugal tendency Ortega y Gasset, but here their meaning is different.

[7] . In sociology, the Latin expression Tertius gaudens (third one that is having fun) applies in a conflict to such part that benefit from the rivalry between the other two. Its authorship is given to German sociologist Georg Simmel.

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