Geopolitics and conscious uncoupling – up to a point

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 18, 2020

‘Conscious uncoupling’ became famous – both as a term and a concept – in 2014, when actress Gywneth Paltrow and singer Chris Martin were in the throes of a divorce. But the neologism was coined much before, and not by Ms Paltrow. In fact, it was California marriage and family therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas who detailed the five-step process she thought could help with the conscious end of a close relationship.

Ms Thomas sketched out the following steps: Find emotional freedom; reclaim your power and your life; break the pattern, heal your heart; become a love alchemist and create your happy even afterlife.

Conscious uncoupling is a bit of a thing in geopolitics at the moment.

As analysts are noting, multiple countries are doing a high-wire balancing act as they try and hang between the orbits of two superpowers – the US and China.

Singapore, for instance, is talking very very carefully indeed. So is Britain. The European Union (EU) too.

Consider what Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said back in June: “The strategic choices that the United States and China make will shape the contours of the emerging global order. It is natural for big powers to compete. But it is their capacity for cooperation that is the true test of statecraft, and it will determine whether humanity makes progress on global problems such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the spread of infectious diseases.”

Mr Lee added that if the US tried to contain China, or if Beijing sought to build an exclusive sphere of influence in Asia, the two countries “will begin a course of confrontation that will last decades and put the long-heralded Asian century in jeopardy”. He warned that “any confrontation between these two great powers is unlikely to end as the Cold War did, in one country’s peaceful collapse”. The only right course then is a collaborative relationship formed within an agreed multilateral framework of rules, which would foster a system that imposes responsibilities and restraints on all countries.

This week, we’ve been hearing the same sort of cautious conscious uncoupling from the UK. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is due to meet US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo this week, spoke privately to British diplomats and said there was a need to “pitch ourselves very carefully” with both the US and China.

He added that countries like the UK are “not really interested in being snared in a new Cold War.”
The Europeans are also engaged in deft footwork. A recent call between China’s President Xi Jinping and EU leaders was carefully pitched to keep hopes alive for an investment deal this year, even as Beijing was pushed to open up its markets.

Speaking of markets, companies too are facing the delicate task of negotiating between the two countries and systems.

Being spreadeagled while consciously uncoupling is hardly fun, but it’s the way things are.