State of Geopolitics: What to Watch Mid-2024

By Jim Meszaros

In a year of significant national elections taking place around the globe, two ongoing conflicts and tensions rising among other major actors, here is the mid-year state of play in geopolitics — and the impact for companies.

U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS

  • The U.S. and China are seeking competitive advantages in different but complementary economic sectors. China wants to dominate in clean energy manufacturing and exports (EVs, batteries, strategic minerals, solar and wind), while the U.S. wants to lead in AI, semiconductors and quantum computing — and the innovation these will create. Both Washington and Beijing are using industrial and trade policies to support domestic investments in favored sectors.
  • The U.S. is strengthening alliances across Asia (India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia) to minimize China’s military and economic influence. China’s engagements with Russia, Iran, Asia, Africa and Latin America seek to counter Western values and influence. Other countries do not want to choose between or be caught in the crossfire of escalating U.S.-China tensions.

Impact for companies: Global companies are quietly reducing their reliance on China for manufacturing and supply chains, which can benefit other regional markets, though there will not be a decoupling from the world’s second largest economy. Companies may be caught in the crossfire as Washington and Beijing impose tariffs, exports controls, subsidies and other economic tools to drive economic, energy, investment and climate interests.

EUROPE

  • The war in Ukraine continues with neither side able to achieve their military objectives. The best-case scenario is a future agreement in which Ukraine is partitioned, with eastern parts of the country under Russian control and the rest able to align itself with Western Europe and begin to rebuild. The worst-case scenario is an escalation of the conflict that spills over into neighboring NATO-member countries.
  • European leaders are more fearful of an isolationist U.S. partner and want to reduce their reliance on a U.S.-led military umbrella. Europe has introduced a Defense Industrial Strategy to boost military investments and readiness but has not yet aligned on funding it.
  • Europe is looking to reduce its trade and investment dependency on China amidst human rights concerns and China’s alliance with Russia. The EU has adopted a new supply chain directive to promote human rights and sustainability diligence.

Impact for companies: The U.S. and Europe remain the world’s largest economic partnership, but it is not one without trade, tax and technology disputes for Washington and Brussels to manage. Global companies will watch if the next EU Parliament and Commission adopts a more euro-skeptic approach on business regulation, climate, energy, migration and foreign policy. The July 4 election in the UK could lead to new British policies in some of these areas.

MIDDLE EAST

  • The conflict in Gaza is likely to continue for several months, with on-and-off negotiations for a cease fire and hostage releases. Protests against Israel could escalate as the humanitarian crisis worsens in southern Gaza, with pressure on Israel to retreat from its military objective of defeating Hamas.
  • Iran will continue to support its proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, with any escalation of the conflict worsening the regional economic impact. The desired “two state solution” now seems more improbable in the medium-term, but an end to the Israeli-Hamas conflict could restart talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia to normalize relations.

Impact for companies: Regional trade and travel are being impacted. A broader conflict would trigger volatility in global energy markets and more serious business disruptions, including uncertainty in global oil pricing.

GLOBAL SOUTH

  • India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and other countries across the developing world are pursuing domestic and foreign interests that do not align with those of the U.S. or Europe. Countries across the Global South want reforms in multilateral institutions and greater resources to support development, climate mitigation, debt relief and favorable trade and investment flows. Brazil’s chair of the G20 in 2024 is advocating around these issues.
  • China and Russia are each making economic and diplomatic investments in developing markets to gain influence and counter that of the United States and Europe.

Impact for companies: Companies will be watching for policy outcomes from elections in Taiwan, Indonesia, India and South Africa, among other emerging markets. Economic shocks, the COVID pandemic and conflicts in Europe and the Middle East are leading to deglobalization, nationalism and protectionism — creating a more fragmented, multi-polar world for companies to navigate, with less compliance with established global rules and competing governance models, political interests and values.

Jim Meszaros for TL content

Author

Washington DC | International consultant to governments, multinational corporations and foundations on global economic, trade, development and climate issues.

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