Emerging Bloc Dynamics
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Emerging Bloc Dynamics


APLN member Kim Won-soo writes about how the evolving geopolitical dynamics among the world’s emerging blocs resemble but differ from those of the Cold War era. Read the original article here.

Geopolitical dynamics among the world’s three emerging blocs are turning out to be similar to, yet distinct from, those of the Cold War era.

The new dynamics are akin to old Cold War relations in three ways. First, there are two blocs competing with each other. Second, a third bloc is sitting on the fence between the two. Third, the two competing blocs are trying to co-opt the third bloc into their orbit.

At the same time, they are distinct in the following three ways. First, what divides the two competing blocs is no longer an ideological competition between capitalism and communism, but one concerning governance systems between liberal democracy and authoritarianism. Second, the United States remains as the leader of the liberal democratic bloc, while that of the opposite bloc is no longer Russia. It has been unequivocally replaced by China. Third, the third bloc is rising rapidly relative to the other two blocs.

On the surface, the three-bloc dynamics seem to resemble those of the Cold War era in more or less the same fashion. But a deeper examination clearly reveals significant reconfigurations taking place not only across the three blocs, but also within each bloc. One of the most fundamental causes of these changes would be the decline in the gravitational pull of the core members of the two competing blocs and the relative empowerment of previously peripheral players who are now leading the fence-sitting third bloc.

The G7 is the core of the liberal bloc. But its relative share of the world economy has been on a continuous decrease. To stem this gradual decline, the seven countries are looking to expand their spheres of influence by bringing into the fold major Asia-Pacific countries, including U.S. allies such as Australia and South Korea as well as India and Indonesia, who are leading members of the third bloc.

On the other hand, the China-led bloc is also trying to expand its network through various initiatives including BRICS with Brazil, India, and South Africa and the Belt and Road Initiative with Southeast, South and Central Asia.

The third bloc, once called the Global South, is going through a reconfiguration of its own. The old big groups such as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in the political arena and the Group of 77 in the economic arena are becoming more ceremonial and less substantive, as the members’ interests diverge with differing levels of economic development. In particular, emerging middle-income countries and less developed ones are rapidly growing apart both politically and economically. As a result, the Global South is being reconfigured along the wealth and geographic lines.

The reconfiguration of the global bloc dynamics is a complex process and it may take some time to get a clear view of its final shape. In any case, these large-scale changes bring a unique opportunity for South Korea to shape its future.

To that end, South Korea needs to embark on its own soul-searching journey. Politically and economically, it is a very rare example of a country that has successfully transitioned from the Global South to the Global West. Being a contributing member of the liberal bloc in an increasingly competitive and complex global arena requires a keen understanding of where we are and where we want to be in the coming decades. However, South Korean leaders and citizens do not seem to grasp this reality fully.

First and foremost, the leaders of South Korea should encourage nationwide debates on where the country should stand in the emerging bloc structure and try to forge a national consensus on its new role. They should devise long-term plans that can take full advantage of South Korea’s place as a go-between with connections to all three blocs. Only when South Korea makes a conscious decision to understand and embrace its role, can it truly contribute to the liberal bloc and at the same time help foster an environment where all three blocs are more open to and inclusive of each other. Global West-South relations could be a good starting point.

South Korea’s endeavor to shape its future must start sooner rather than later. Its visions and actions will be subject to international scrutiny when it starts a two-year term on the U.N. Security Council next year for a third time as an elected member. Prolonged hedging and hesitation will be as damaging as hasty actions. It is time for South Korean leaders to make conscious and decisive efforts to delineate the country’s place in the world and articulate its role.

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