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Foreign Policy

Promote Globalization, Lead Globalization

Mar 20 , 2017
  • He Yafei

    Former Vice Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Many historic changes have taken place in globalization and global governance in recent years. With geo-political contradictions between major countries worsening, competition for dominance in the process of globalization getting fierce, and the world economy continuing to slide, the world is witnessing a new period of turbulence.“De-globalization” or “anti-globalization” — as seen in the Brexit, the “Trump phenomenon” in US presidential election, the failure of the Italian referendum on constitutional amendment, the rise of rightist parties in such European countries as France, and the spread of populist ideologies in some countries — is actually a sign that globalization has entered a new phase. It is overly simplistic to define the changes regarding globalization as “anti-globalization”.

What has caused such changes? First, the economic prosperity globalization has brought is not universally beneficial, there are “winners” and “losers”. That is true both within and among countries. Second, capitalism’s inherent, fundamental contradiction, or what Karl Marx called the opposition between capital and labor, has increasingly intensified. With wealth gaps widening, the contradiction between capitalist elites and the working class is proving insurmountable.

Trump has taken over precisely because he accurately grasped this historical change and trend. This is the outcome of the interaction of intensification of domestic contradictions in the United States and changes in globalization. We will witness the “Trump phenomenon” being “copied” in some European countries. Some rightist parties will become ruling parties. As a major variable in global changes, this will inevitably influence the orientation of globalization and evolution of major-country relations.

The US certainly remains a dominant force in globalization. But the changes taking place in US attitudes toward globalization and global governance boil down to its ambition to change the pattern of globalization, make new international rules, and to again control the distribution of the benefits of globalization. The core idea behind this round of globalization is “globalization is Americanization”, which is how many in the US perceived it from the outset. Yet nowadays both the US government and American public believe globalization has deviated from the track of “Americanization”, with the US getting fewer benefits, and emerging countries like China getting more.

So Trump has put forward “America first”, and “make America great again”, releasing strong signals that the new US administration will seek to change rules of global economic governance, including withdrawing from the TPP, renegotiating multilateral trade arrangements like NAFTA and resetting bilateral trade negotiations, encouraging manufacturing to return to the US by such means as tax cuts, and investing heavily to rebuild US infrastructure and military strength. Whether all this will come to pass depends ultimately on the outcomes of domestic and international political wrangling. But the overall direction has been set; it is only a question of speed.

Once “America first” and “make America great again” become policies of the new US administration, they will bring new paradigms and frameworks for globalization, global governance and relations between major countries. This means both opportunities and challenges for China. Judging from present conditions, Chinese concepts and solutions will make China play a greater role in globalization and global governance, thus deeply affect the direction of globalization. While resolutely pursuing globalization, we need to make proper adjustments and apply prudence.

Globalization itself won’t disappear overnight. Over the past decades, globalization has greatly promoted world economic growth, and interests of different nations have intermingled to an unprecedented degree, forming inseparable interdependence and common interests. The discourse, therefore, should focus on “re-globalization”, “optimizing globalization”, or “redefining” globalization, and better plan international cooperation in a new period of globalization, instead of assuming that globalization is over.

How China-US relations evolve in the Trump era is not only related to the two countries’ fundamental interests, but also affects the future of the world. From a historical perspective, the fundamentals of China-US relations won’t change, and are not determined by who assumes US presidency. Trump made many radical remarks on China on the campaign trail; it remains to be seen exactly how he will act as president. But as US president, he can’t completely ignore US national interests, and overthrow the cornerstone of bilateral ties. So what will Trump most likely do?

First, if Trump tries to get American manufacturing jobs to return, trade frictions, and anti-dumping disputes will increase. Traditional bilateral trade may decrease. China will have to renegotiate bilateral trade agreements, including the soon-to-be-finished bilateral investment agreement. At the same time, Trump’s aspiration to repair American infrastructure will provide Chinese firms with new opportunities for overseas investments.

Second, if Trump withdraws the US commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the agreement may fall apart. How China and the US will strengthen collaboration in other aspects of global governance hence will become an unknown variable, and other countries may doubt major countries’ credibility in providing global public goods. Global governance will enter a period of instability. The world will expect more from Chinese leadership in global governance, and the Chinese role will thus attract broader attention.

Third, under Trump’s leadership, the US may see the weight of ideologies dwindle in diplomacy as it concentrates more on developing domestic economy, preserving US interests. Therefore, China-US divergences over ideological topics, including human rights, may make less troublesome for bilateral ties.

Fourth, geopolitically, given Trump’s ideas to “make America great again” and to enhance US military prowess, US global strategic contraction will parallel an enhanced pivot to the Asia-Pacific. In the Asia-Pacific, particularly the Western Pacific and South China Sea, the US will continue to boost military deterrence so as to intimidate China. The US will continue strengthening ties with its Asian allies. If so, tensions in the East and South China seas may not ease.
Then what can China do? What should China do?

First, the China-US relationship is one of the world’s most important bilateral ties. The two need to better understand each other’s strategic goals and core interests, and work together to determine a framework for the development of their relations.

Second, China should encourage the US to continue to play its important role in global governance, and actively participate in multilateral activities at the United Nations, G20 and APEC, work together to cope with climate change, promote global free trade and investment, realize the goals of the UN 2030 sustainable development agenda, so as to benefit all countries, especially developing ones.

Third, in promoting global governance, China should more actively lead discussions and negotiations, make new governance rules or revise some existing ones to better preserve the global governance regime, and at the same time advocate incremental reforms that adapt to the needs of a new era. The G20 summit in Hangzhou convinced us that China needs to conduct extensive consultation, communication and cooperation with other countries to jointly innovate concepts of global governance, and create new models for international cooperation.

The “One Road, One Belt” the Chinese government has proposed is about common development and win-win cooperation. Recently some American scholars have appealed to the Trump administration to not categorically refuse the “road and belt” initiative. While this does mirror the condescending mindset of the world’s sole superpower, it at least indicates the US has to seriously consider Chinese concepts and proposals now.

Globalization is an evolving process. China should avoid being deceived by the sensational rhetoric on the campaign trail, and observe US policy orientations and practical actions with a cool head. Meanwhile, the two sides should strive to increase interaction and dialogue, formulate a new type of major-country relationship and “new globalization”. China now needs to work harder than ever in order to optimize globalization and lead globalization.

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