How will China influence the new world order?
Friday,May 29, 2020
"Which way the world will change? That is a question that we do not know the answer to," Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet medical journal, told CGTN last month, speaking about the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Broadly we have two paths: one path is the path of greater collaboration; cooperation to help protect one another... the other path is the path of division; the path of not working together, of damaging organizations that promote cooperation, and instead thinking that one can solve one's problems on one's own."
His words apply far beyond the field of health. In many ways the fight against the pandemic reflects the larger geopolitical picture.
And China is clear about the path it intends to take.
As he promised more measures to welcome global businesses to China, Chinese premier Li Keqiang told journalists at the closing press conference at the Third Session of the 13th National People's Congress: "Openness is as indispensible to a country's development as air is to human beings. One will suffocate in an enclosed space."
But there is an alternative view, that taken by Donald Trump's United States, which has implemented an "America First" policy in the form of withdrawing from multinational agreements including the Paris Accord on Climate Change and the Iranian nuclear accord, and refusing to collaborate with both the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization.
As Michael Anton, a former Trump aide on the National Security Council, told an audience at Princeton University, Trump's policy "can be stated like this: Let's all put our own countries first, and be candid about it, and recognize that it's nothing to be ashamed of. Putting our interests first will make us all safer and more prosperous." In September 2019 at the UN, Trump told world leaders "the future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots."
Questioning the supranationals
Trump is far from alone in questioning the supranationals, but the debate is over the choice between rejection or reform. Jim O'Neill, former chief economist at Goldman Sachs and adviser to the British government, has long been aware of shifting world orders – in 2001, he coined the acronym BRICs for the rising economic powers of Brazil, Russia, India and China – and he thinks COVID-19 has exposed deficiencies in those supranational bodies.
"What the pandemic has highlighted is what many of us sort of knew anyhow: that the system of post-World War II global governance is struggling to be as effective as it has been for many of the past decades," O'Neill told CGTN Europe.
"I think it has more to do with the difficulties we have with the effectiveness of the WHO, the WTO, the UN, the IMF, the World Bank and all of these organizations that built up in the immediate recovery of World War II and the relative size of the world economy then. Today, where the world economy is not dominated by just Western democracies, it's a lot more complicated to have the right, effective form of global governance."
Trump told the United Nations 'the future does not belong to globalists.' /Evan Vucci/AP Photo
As the U.S. withdraws from global leadership, nations around the world are wondering how to replace its influence – and China is playing a key role in that discussion.
"We Europeans must recognize the determination with which China claims a leading place in the existing structures of international architecture," German chancellor Angela Merkel said in an online debate this week.
As writer and lecturer Martin Jacques tells CGTN Europe: "I think the levels of interest in what happens in China have been steadily rising over a long period because everyone can see that China is going to be very important for the world and individual countries."
China's 'shift of mindset'
First in and first out of the coronavirus peak, China is setting an example for the world in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. At the Two Sessions political assembly it was revealed that, for the first time since 1990, China would not set a specific annual GDP fixed-growth target for the next 12 months as it seeks to prioritize the quality of its economic development.
Wang Huiyao, the president of the Center for China and Globalization(CCG), tells CGTN Europe it "signals a shift of mindset and a new stage for China's economic and social development."
Wang, who describes the 2020 Two Sessions as "unlike any other in recent memory," insists the government remains committed to stable economic growth. "But rather than the singular focus on a national growth target, this means orienting efforts towards other metrics more closely linked to people's lives, such as poverty alleviation, employment, consumption and living standards. This is in line with the new-era emphasis on quality over quantity-oriented growth and a more holistic approach to raising living standards."
"The IMF already predicts that this year China's annual growth rate will be positive," Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation director-general Zhang Jianping tells CGTN Europe. "China's situation is quite different from other countries. Just because in recent years, China's economic model is more reliant on new economic driving forces such as AI, 5G and the high-tech sectors."
Other nations are in a far more challenging position.
"One hundred countries have asked for emergency assistance from the International Monetary Fund [IMF]," international sovereign debt adviser Lee Buchheit tells CGTN Europe. "That's more than half of the membership of the IMF."
The European Central Bank's "coronavirus bond" is among many instruments – including quantitative easing, better known to the layman as printing money – sending public debt to levels not seen in 50 years, if not longer.
The economic outlook is crystallizing the decisions governments need to take about their visions concerning the international order.
Confrontation or cooperation
"Because of the current international political climate," says economist O'Neill, "Europe is in a more difficult position – as we all read every day, President Trump is trying to pressurize many Western allies into being sympathetic to the American stance. It's very difficult for European countries because historically they've relied on the United States for support and it's a big market – and politically, of course, and diplomatically also, on American defense support.
"But at the same time, many European economies, notably Germany, have benefited so much from the rise of China's economy. It's a very complex and delicate balancing act that many European countries will have to pursue."
Martin Albrow, the British sociologist who helped popularize the term "globalization," is more confident the supranationals will survive. "The use of multilateral institutions is very important for the future of the world and I'm very confident that China will be using them," he tells CGTN Europe.
The WHO and its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, above, have been a target of the U.S. /Christopher Black/World Health Organization/AFP
"But the other thing I would say is that institutions are one thing; getting things done is another thing. And you must also have cooperation on global projects. You have to show the world how to cooperate.
"The virus has accelerated change in the world. And it has emphasized the fact that there is a global power structure. And at the top of that power structure, we have the United States and China. And it makes it very clear that those two countries need to cooperate."
For Zhang Jianping, of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, "it's too early to say that a pandemic will change the way of globalization." He adds: "International cooperation is critical because the Earth is just a small village, facing these globalization times. Every country is relying on each other: any single country cannot deal with the pandemic.
"That's the first step: we need to work together more closely and control the virus. And the second step: we need to promote closer international economic cooperation in order to deal with the economic recession issues."