There have been upheavals in globalization in the last few years, culminating in the British referendum to withdraw from the European Union and the recent election of Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States. Their rippling effects are still being felt across the globe, puzzling many as to the future of globalization. Is it a rollback or rather a new era looming on the horizon?
On the other hand, China has plunged herself into global governance with a greater determination. The G20 Summit in Hangzhou in September has produced a shining report card with many new ideas for furthering globalization while overcoming its “negative impact” on social justice and fairness. President Xi Jinping recently delivered a much-welcomed speech at the Lima APEC Leaders Meeting outlining China’s continuous efforts to promote global free trade and investment with particular reference to quicken the pace of negotiation on an APEC Free Trade Agreement.
The US is no doubt a major moving force in the future of globalization. As one American once commented, “globalization is Americanization”. Two things appear to be influencing the American engagement in globalization and global governance. The feeling that globalization is no longer on the track of “Americanization” is quite obviously running deep in the US, prompting it to change the rules in global economic governance with TPP and its likes. The other is an overall American strategic retrenchment that focuses more on domestic political and economic concerns with an ever more inward-looking approach to international affairs. That started in earnest early in 2009 when President Obama stepped into the White House and will supposedly continue under a Trump administration.
History will surely not repeat itself, but similarities do often occur. The world is witnessing very likely another round of American strategic retrenchment and further withdrawal from global engagement which will create new paradigms for globalization and global governance if President-elect Mr. Trump translates his repeatedly uttered “make America great again” by pursuing de-globalization. Of course that is still in the domain of unknown, and future American policy toward globalization needs to be closely observed.
What can almost be safely predicted is that the US under Trump’s leadership will backpedal in some critical areas of global governance such as existing free trade arrangements and the American commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This has already created much uncertainty around the world about the future of globalization and global governance.
On a positive note, we can rest assured that globalization per se will not disappear overnight or be rolled back across the board. Why? It has promoted global economic growth to an unprecedented degree and knit nations into an interlocked and interconnected web of networks with ever greater interdependence and common interests.
The question that ought to be answered is not about the death of globalization, rather it is about “re-globalization” or “globalization reborn”. In other words, the international community is entering a new era of globalization wherein global free trade and investment and cooperation to tackle global challenges will continue while more efforts will address the “global governance deficiency” in promoting social justice and fairness, such as the widening gap between rich and poor both domestically and among nations.
With possible continued American retrenchment and partial withdrawal from global engagement and the resultant shifting paradigm of globalization and global governance, China’s role becomes more prominent and decisive. Expectations are on the rise as to what China should and could do to “make globalization great again”. This will not only be an onerous task for China, but also have a great impact on the future of globalization. Therefore a few suggestions may be in order for China to play a greater role in globalization and global governance.
First, China should continue engaging the US as the new administration comes into office and the process of policy review starts in earnest early next year. Enhancing cooperation both bilaterally and multilaterally will continue to be important on issues of common concern such as trade, investment, energy security, climate change and counter-terrorism. We all know that consensus and cooperation by the US and China as two major economies and key players in globalization has been essential in determining the pace as well as direction of globalization. We can safely say that fundamentals of the overall bilateral relationship between China and the US would be firm no matter who resides in the White House. As to possible new trade frictions and other differences, I believe that they can be minimized as much as possible through the timely and frequent consultations that have become a regular feature in China-US relations.
Second, China can lead global efforts through the United Nations, G20, BRICS, APEC and other international and regional platforms to combat climate change, promote free trade and investment as well as implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, also known as the Global Goals) for the benefit of developing nations. Leadership in this connection includes more proactive discussions about and negotiations on safeguarding global governance system while advocating needed changes to make the system better-suited for the emerging new era of globalization. For example, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will see its support being undermined should the new US administration go back on its commitment.
Third, China must continue to provide new ideas about global governance including new models of international cooperation. The “Belt & Road Initiative” fits neatly into such a framework where common development and prosperity are the key. China’s experiences and successes in modernization and fast economic growth by themselves are a source of new ideas for other countries, particularly developing ones.
In sum, globalization is always an evolving process with inevitable ups and downs and not moving in a linear fashion. What we are witnessing today is not “the toss-out of globalization”, but a new era or phase of globalization wherein greater and more complicated challenges become the order of the day. Therefore we need concerted efforts more than ever to ascertain the big trends as well as individual difficulties and work out consensus and solutions for collective actions to “make globalization great again”.
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Patrick Mendis Rajawali Senior Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School of Government
Ted Galen Carpenter Senior Fellow, Cato Institute