The global reach and importance of the Big Three

The US is the world’s biggest economy and third most populous nation. China is the world’s second biggest economy and most populous nation. India is the world’s second most populous nation. Their economic, social, military and political activities have global significance, especially as each fights for its own perceived geopolitical importance.

The US, China and India have much in common in how they view and aspire to their respective national interests. How they behave internally and with each other have the potential to disrupt other nations and risk a world littered with geopolitical collateral damage.

Adding layers of complexity to the inter-actions and relationships between the US, China and India are their political constraints and political drivers (and personalities) of their respective leaders. The US and India have populist incumbent elected leaders who are very aware of, perform to and frame policy around their respective election cycles. China’s leader not only wears none of those labels but can (and does) frame long term policy without the restriction of election cycles.

In many areas of geopolitical influence, the US is in decline (not surprising given its isolationist trade policies in response to globalisation). It is resisting (or in denial of) that decline and its waning global geopolitical dominance, and fighting off its perceived challengers.

China is slowly catching up to or, in some cases overtaking, the US in its global economic, military and geopolitical influences, much to the frustration of the US.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added a layer of complexity to the direct relationships between and influences of the US, China and India. The coronavirus pandemic hurt China initially but China rebounded quickly. The US and India lag China in their efforts to contain COVID-19 and return their respective economies and global geopolitical standings to their pre-COVID positions – much of that lag and their sluggish and haphazard response to the pandemic can be laid at the feet of their populist leaders.

India has always taken a more introspective approach with international relations, compared to the US and China, but has always been assertive when it comes to its borders, especially those with Pakistan and China. Equally, China is also asserting itself with its borders, territories (currently focused on Hong Kong) and shipping lanes (currently focused on the South China Sea) while the US is shoring up its border with Mexico.

The US and China, in their battle to be the world’s number one in terms of economic, military and geopolitical influence, are seeking partners and allies. Other nations that take sides in such a battle will only increase the list of collateral casualties and further hamper the global recovery from the damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As difficult as it will be, not taking sides between the US and China will prove to be a nation’s strategy for survival.

US and India – twins by another mother

A nation and its people are judged by how the weakest are treated. To quote Pearl S Buck – “the test of a civilisation is the way that it cares for its helpless members.”

COVID-19 has shown itself to be capable of spreading virulently, irrespective of differences in societies and people. It ruthlessly attacks most often where a predisposition or weakness exists, i.e. through genetic, health or social circumstances, which brings into stark relief the similarities and differences between many nations’ healthcare and political systems.

A critical factor in each nation’s response is how its health system treats the poorest, weakest and most socially outcast because a nation’s health system gives an insight into that nation’s sense of equality, justice and fairness, as well as an insight into its social principles, political establishment and economic strength.

The US is the world’s biggest economy and democracy in GDP terms (the definition of which is a topic for another day) and the world’s biggest creditor nation. Yet it has a health system that, in many ways, resembles that of a third world or developing nation. It is a world leader in many areas of healthcare technology, but its healthcare is available only to those with expensive insurance, i.e. the wealthy and middle class. Those at the bottom of the socio-economic scale miss out, as the COVID-19 pandemic is showing. India is the world’s biggest democracy on a population basis and has health and political systems that behave much like that of the US.

The US has a big gap between the very rich and the rest, and between the middle class and those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. India is the same.

Religion (Christianity) has a strong hold in the US and yet there is harsh racism directed at lower socioeconomic classes, many of whom are descendants of former slaves. India is the same, with Hinduism and the caste system. Furthermore, both the US and India display an irreligious prejudice to those of the Muslim faith.

US politics, at both Legislative and Executive branches and at federal and state levels, are deeply polarised by seemingly irreparable partisan divisions. At its political head is a populist who exploits public fear and ignorance to build popular support and who revels in the media spotlight. India is the same.

COVID-19 has shown that the US and India have too much bureaucracy and no communication or co-operation between federal and state government levels.

The President of the US wants to move the country towards self-sufficiency in terms of its global political and trade relationships. India is the same.

The US relies on the world’s investors to fund its federal budget deficits and years of profligate government spending. India is similar although the numbers are smaller.

The various arms of the US federal and state governments and its public service have not been united in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, the US now has the greatest number of COVID-19 related deaths, is experiencing an economic fallout that is unfolding at an unprecedented pace and extent and, in many circles, is debating the wisdom of going it alone in a bid to ‘make America great’.

A majority of Americans would be appalled to consider themselves as having more in common with India than with other industrialised nations. India has four times the population of the US in a third of the land mass. Let’s hope that India does not go down the same deadly COVID-19 path as the US.