Park Jae Hoon
The author is a professor at Incheon University and chairman of the Asian Economic Community Foundation.
North Korea legalized the use of preemptive nuclear weapons to strike its enemies in September after Russia threatened to use them in the Ukraine war. An existential global threat looms over human civilization. Basically, how we define the war in Ukraine is as important as who will be the winner.
Russia claims the war is to liberate pro-Russian residents of Ukraine who use the Russian language. But the West sees it as the last colonial invasion of the Russian Empire. Gerald Rowland, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, explains geopolitical complexity in the context of “empires, nation-states, and democracies.”
According to Rowland, Russia and China are surviving 21st century empires with expansionism as their dominant strategy. He believes such empires will decline in the medium to long term. Instead, an alliance of democratic nations will challenge such an expansionist empire.
In this context, China’s expansionism differs from other countries because it is guided not by religious and ideological ends, but by a movement to enforce ethnicity centered on the Han Chinese. If China justifies unification with Taiwan by force because of its ethnic homogeneity, it could be as dangerous as the Nazi empires of the past.
The development of the Ukraine war could have significant implications for strategic competition between the United States and China. But who wins technology’s fourth industrial revolution could determine the winner of this battle of his two giants.
Like the First Industrial Revolution from the 18th to the mid-19th century, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will leave behind chosen winners and mass losers, deepening inequality and polarization. Globalization since the 20th century has reduced the income of low-skilled workers. In contrast, online platform companies and AI in the 21st century are undermining the incomes of the middle- and higher-educated, widening and entrenching inequalities. The rise of populism in the United States stems from worsening polarization.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has extended his reign to a third term, under the pretext of easing inequality and polarization to undermine the capitalist elite formed through Deng Xiaoping’s opening up and reforms. and has championed common wealth. Throughout his long rule, Beijing has shown a preference for strengthening the power of the Communist Party and its single leadership over winning a systemic race with the United States.
Correcting disparities in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and maintaining growth will determine the outcome of the struggle for hegemony between the two major powers. China may reduce inequality to some extent through its state-run economy, but it will not grow as fast as it once did. China has collaborated with Russia since the Ukraine war, but relying on cheap gas and oil from Russia could put it behind the U.S. in energy innovation key to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. .
Since the war in Ukraine, global value chains have been reorganized on the basis of democratic and authoritarian value systems. The United States and Europe form a democratic bloc, China and Russia form an authoritarian bloc, and India, South America and Africa form a third bloc. At first glance, the classification seems to be defined by universal values. However, this sector is actually established on the basis of technology and substantial economic interests in his chain of supply. A third block chooses one side over the other based on which side benefits.
What is Korea’s position? The country has no choice with the United States for political and security reasons. Seoul may not be able to maintain the tightrope walk between Beijing and Washington as North Korea has resolutely set its sights on the Chinese-Russian front since the Ukraine war. At the technological and economic level, South Korea must play an important role in the democratic realm of the fourth industrialization era.
South Korea must lead not only in chips and batteries, but also in the energy revolution. We need to focus our capacity on the hydrogen economy ecosystem. According to Julio Friedman, a senior fellow in the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, a hydrogen economy will help lower energy costs and mitigate the widening inequality between countries caused by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
But just being ahead of the curve in technology doesn’t mean you’ll win the competition. Technological advances underpinning national governance are important here. Establishing political and social governance structures to promote technology in an environmentally friendly manner while reducing inequality is an urgent task for South Korea.
Translated by Korea JoongAng Ilbo staff.