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Chris Patten, chancellor of Oxford and Newcastle universities, addressed an audience of more than 300 people at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in a lecture that coincided with the launch of his new book "What Next: Surviving the 21st Century."
The book tackles questions about our collective future in the face of challenges such as the food crisis, overuse of water, international crime, arms proliferation, climate change, drug trafficking, epidemics and large-scale migration.
Patten, who was the last governor of Hong Kong, explained the downside of globalization and pinpointed what he calls a major change in the era of modern history starting after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Since then, the world's population has increased four-fold and the number of industries 40 times, Patten said. The number of people living in cities had gone up 13-fold, the use of water by nine percent and the use of energy 13 times.
Despite the leap in population and consumption, the principal players in the global order still remain the same, he said.
"The U.S. with its military might and its superiority in space, water, land and air still remains a superpower, though its soft power is not what it used to be,” he said. “It has taken a beating with the humiliating discussion on whether torture was acceptable (Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo) the humbling of Wall Street, and the mountain of debt."
Decades of stable earnings in combination with the reluctance and inability of U.S. domestic consumers to accept the concept of reasonable sufficiency have contributed to the present credit crisis, Patten said.
“The financial meltdown is certainly going to lead to further calamitous economic consequences,” Patten said. U.S. household debt stands at $14 trillion and the country’s national debt has doubled since the beginning of the century to reach $10 trillion.
Europe figures second in global world order, according to Patten. Europe is “a significant civilian power,” he said. “It is not going to become a military might like the U.S. because it is a union of sovereign nation-states.”
Still, Europe has its own demographic problems. The population is falling steeply and ageing rapidly, Patten said. By mid-century, the continent’s population is expected to fall by 20 percent. This is leading to Europe’s declining share in the world’s output. The continent needs substantial changes for some things to remain the same, he said.
Patten also highlighted how crucial India and China are to the new regional and global power hierarchy.
"China and India are highly powerful economies with regional and global importance,” he said. “China and India are embracing as explicitly as possible the international stage.”
China and India are highly powerful economies with regional and global importance
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The growing power of China and India may make evoke defensive behavior in some countries, Patten warned. "My only worry is that after some time, the developed economies will stop believing in globalization and start feeling that China and India are better off and eventually lurch into protectionism - the bane of free trade."
The world has invested in building international structures – Nato, the Council of Europe, the EU, the WTO, OSCE or, more recently, the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto process - in an effort to persuade nations to share sovereignty and accept common rules. An increase in protectionism and re-nationalization of European politics as well as the growth of nationalism in China, India, Russia and the U.S. will be challenges to the future of international cooperation and true multilateralism, Patten said.