The tide of globalisation has brought with it an era of opportunities for all. Its immense potential has transformed the world into an assimilated whole, but for many, the contemporary phase of globalisation is merely a geographical restructuring to maximise gains for the developed states.
Johan Galtung once to a form of structural imperialism through which the developed states maximised their gains at the expense of the peripheral nations. This form of imperialism has not subsided rather transitioned into a new one, where there is a race to get more investment spaces in the peripheral South. This struggle for newer spaces comes in the backdrop of shrinking spaces within the developed world where capital investment can reap immense profits. David Harvey, a Marxist geographer rightly this situation in the phrase “spatial fix”. This concept refers to assimilation through dispossession- the developed states transfer surplus capital/money to the developing or underdeveloped states to access cheap labor and vast swathes of land to invest in and receive revenues from.
In this regard, there happens to be an undergoing global rebalancing with a sudden shift to Asia-Pacific and African states. Moreover, the geographical scale at which this investment is taking place is also massive with multitrillion dollar mega-projects in progress. The current rate of capitalist maneuvering with both global rebalancing and an expanding geographical scale can be beneficial for the states of the South if only these are in tandem with the need of global and regional stability. Global capital flow towards the global South might promise a world in which space is lived rather than mastered. However, the contemporary geoeconomics belies this hope.
Levelling of the world has come as capitalism’s long-held search to transfer its crisis tendencies. This in fact has been materialised by projects like Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In recent times, the US and China seem to be at loggerheads due to the politics of spatial fixes, but China seems to have an upper hand. The crisis of overaccumulation in the US and especially China is exported through multilateral mega-infrastructural projects and bilateral investment agreements, respectively. This culture of spatial fixing is not new, rather dates back to the nineteenth century when capital and labour were sent across the Atlantic from Britain to the The opening up of new markets in non-capitalist territories is also a form of spatial fix that the great powers are using. For a century or more, the China market has been a favoured destination for North American capital whenever it has run into difficulties – for instance the current commercial interest of the United States in China’s integration into WTO.
The current rate of capitalist maneuvering with both global rebalancing and an expanding geographical scale can be beneficial for the states of the South if only these are in tandem with the need of global and regional stability. Global capital flow towards the global South might promise a world in which space is lived rather than mastered. However, the contemporary geoeconomics belies this hope.
In more recent times, the much-lauded Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an apparent case of a spatial fix. BRI as a transregional project is bringing Eurasia and Africa into its fold through its “fixing” effort. In 2014, Beijing’s currency reserves hit the roof with $4 trillion as compared to $200 billion in 2001. This necessitated the reinvestment of reserves which Xi Jingping catechised through the New Silk Road program and a Maritime Silk Road program. In just a year, Beijing also established the Asian Infrastructure and Investment bank with its starting capital about half that of the World Bank itself. Arguably, in order to ensure liberty of movement, capitalism must fix space through immovable structures of communication, transportation and supply-lines. Hence, we see these initiatives. The case of concentrated wealth has stagnated growth potentials compelling the great powers to find solutions in the peripheral outskirts or overseas.
Equally, the US is also a leading example demonstrating this trend. The US is now ready to withdraw from its obligations and responsibilities in different regions that no longer matter to it economically or geo-strategically, after stoking a number of “civil wars” during the Cold War and now a pullout from Afghanistan. It is also evident that Western demands for democratisation in the post-colonial world are mostly rhetorical, and that the imperatives of trade and investment linkages with China, East Asia and India can readily counteract them.
China as well as the US do not go only for external spatial fixes like these, but also internal ones. However, the enormous toll of environmental pressure on inlands forces the state to venture in another land. Though the burden is relocated to a state’s hinterlands and other parts of the world, its overall impact is not reduced. As a result, both the political challenge resulting from local interests and the environmental limit in less-developed regions have compromised China’s internal spatial fix. For the same or even more reasons, an external remedy would soon be facing political repercussions and environmental concerns from other states if they do not equally benefit the states of the Global South.
The geopolitical fight of powerful nations and their ruling social strata to master space has always spiraled into structures of hegemony and control. In majority of circumstances, there is no chance of true reciprocity and popular emancipation. It is a high time that both the great powers and the developing states find a negotiated way out of temporary capitalist traps which are unstable and nonegalitarian.