The need to transform the current degenerative Death Economy into a regenerative Life Economy (also known as the Green Economy) is a theme that runs throughout most of my current writings. It leads into another important theme: the competition between the US’s and China’s economic hit men to dominate the resources required for this transition.
China leapt ahead in this race earlier this year when, after intense negotiations with six international companies (including two US corporations), Bolivia signed a contract to partner with the Chinese consortium CATL, the largest lithium-ion battery producer in the world. Significantly, this contract went beyond mining; it included a commitment for China to build lithium extraction processing plants and accompanying infrastructure in Bolivia.
Much of the world’s lithium, essential for the rechargeable batteries that fuel the energy transition and the potential Life Economy, is found in what is known as the Lithium Triangle: Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. These countries are determined to gain value-added through processing and marketing operations. At the same time, they realize they need partners to fund and build the appropriate infrastructure and technology.
The nations of the Lithium Triangle share a mutual resentment of the US, stemming from more than a century of U.S. intervention in their policies. This includes the overthrow of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende and the US support of the dictator Augusto Pinochet who replaced him, the blacklisting of and role in the coup in Bolivia during the presidency of Evo Morales, support of a brutal Argentine dictatorship, the CIA’s Operation Condor, and other events I describe in detail in the recently published third book of the Confessions of an Economic Hit Man trilogy.
China, with no history of meddling in the region’s politics, is considered a more accommodating partner. China already dominates global lithium markets, producing about 75 percent of the world’s lithium-ion batteries, compared to the US’s 8 percent. China accounted for half of the 2021 growth in the global electric vehicle market, while the US’s share was a mere 10 percent.
What is happening in the Lithium Triangle is symbolic of the changing dynamics in geopolitics. The US needs to recognize that it is no longer the world’s only superpower – as it was for more than two decades after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. It can no longer impose its political will on countries possessing resources and markets it covets. If it wants to electrify US transportation systems, it needs to gain the trust of countries that have suffered the punitive policies of past administrations and respect these nations as partners in the transition from the Death Economy into a Life Economy.
Most importantly, Washington needs to stop treating the US-China relationship as a new Cold War and recognize that, while the two countries may disagree on many issues, we must agree that no one wins on a dead planet. Ajay Banga, President Biden’s recent (and only) nominee to lead the World Bank, offers hope. When asked whether he sees the World Bank and its US-supported affiliates as competing with BRICS, AIIB, and the other China-supported international banks, he responded, “I don’t think we should view ourselves as competitors with any of the multilateral banks or countries.” He went on to explain, “We don’t have the time to play in silos. . . . The scale of these challenges requires trillions, not billions [of dollars].”
I urge the US and China to embrace the necessity of collaboration. By setting aside their differences and working hand-in-hand to transition the world towards a Green Economy, both countries stand to prosper. As long as we all strive towards the same destination—a sustainable, just, and peaceful world—it doesn’t matter if we each choose to walk separate paths.