A big change is coming about in geopolitics and this will impact the equations of inter-state relations. Least developed countries are also bearing the brunt of this. While this spells risks, it also offers scope of benefitting from the situation.
Highlighting this changing state of geopolitics, former caretaker government advisor Wahiduddin Mahmud said, it can be said in such a situation that the more public support that a government has, the easier it will be to coordinate its political interests with foreign economic interests.
It will also be possible to tackle the propensity of multinational companies to take undue advantage. He indicated that geo-economy was complementary to geopolitics. He feels that this was the challenge faced by least developed countries like Bangladesh.
Wahiduddin Mahmud was speaking on Saturday, the last day of the three-day development conference organised by Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS). He spoke on the 'Emerging global system and politics: Realities for least developed countries.'
After economist Wahiduddin Mahmud concluded his key presentation, the economists discussed questions of globalisation, Bangladesh's participation in world trade and the legitimacy of the government. This session was moderated by the chairman of the Policy Research Institute, Zaidi Sattar.
Zaidi Sattar said, after the Bretton Woods conference, the world economy began running on the basis of a new liberal economic order. That is from where globalisation emerged. It would not be correct to say that this system has broken down, but it has slowed down over the last 10 years.
On the flip side of globalisation, nationalism is growing strong and this is giving birth to a sort of economic nationalism. In fact, even the proponents of globalisation are following protectionist policies now. There is need for developing countries to work out on what can be done in such circumstances.
Referring to the concluding part of Wahiduddin Mahmud's speech, the BIDS director general Binayak Sen asked if the government's legitimacy could only be found in the representational democratic system or also from a deeper relationship with the people. Is it not possible to get legitimacy from good governance, limited corruption and better government services?
Executive director of the South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (SANEM), Selim Raihan, said that over the past 50 years, Bangladesh had not got seriously entangled in geopolitics, other than a few incidents here and there. But now Bangladesh was becoming the battleground for contending superpowers. His question was whether this would have an effect on Bangladesh's development.
Replying to Binayak Sen's question, Wahiduddin Mahmud said that legitimacy cannot be defined, it is a matter of perception. Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore's former prime minister) had legitimacy. There was a certain system in the communist countries. But reality is that the developing countries of today do not want to follow the communist countries. Malaysia's (former prime minister) Mahathir Mohammad had public support and that would probably remain even without any election.
Wahiduddin Mahmud said there was much to learn from these models. Referring to Vietnam and China, he said Vietnam's public institutions were losing concerns at one point of time. Later these were denationalised, but the government retained some shares. These have become profitable now and so the government automatically is profiting too. That is happening in China too. But when Ali Baba's Jack Ma went a bit too far, he was restricted. In other words, they do not condone hyper capitalism.
It may not be possible in Vietnam to raise questions on the political system or have debates on the issue, but this can be done about the economic policies and these are even accepted by the government, said Wahiduddin Mahmud. When it comes to economic policies, there is full freedom to express one's views, within the party, outside and everywhere. When market economy was adopted, the communist parties of these countries took up evaluation systems based on economic performance. While the politics of China and Vietnam may be irksome, their bureaucracy curious, and the western countries are quite the opposite.
According to this economist, countries like Bangladesh can borrow from both models.
Regarding the conflict between the superpowers, Wahiduddin Mahmud said that the present tussle between China and the US is quite different from the Cold War. It is not possible now to be completely isolated. The US and China may have had tariff wars all these days, but they still remain each other's largest trade partners. There was an ideological basis to the Cold War, it was simple. The matter of China and the US is not the same, even though China is trying to expand its model. We need to keep an eye on this. About China, he said it is not possible to ignore the world's second largest economy.
Wahiduddin Mahmud does not mention the word 'Bangladesh' in his writings nowadays. He explains that that many contend, "Do you not see anything good in Bangladesh?" That is why he uses the words "least developed" or "developing country", not Bangladesh.