Don’t believe the skeptics. China is ready to lead the next phase of globalization. But, what the Chinese President Xi Jinping now has in mind is very different from the Western version we have been used to. As the West retreats, concerned with protecting borders and creating domestic jobs, Xi Jinping is reaching out. In January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he spoke as globalization’s “commander-in-chief,” in support of free trade and investment and against protectionism.
TOP CONCERNS: CLIMATE CHANGE AND NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT
The world seems to be upside down. The West is closing on itself, becoming increasingly weary of free trade, transnational alliances, regional organizations, and globalization. In stark opposition to the rhetoric of the new American president, who seems to bet the US future on traditional manufacturing, Xi Jinping reiterated his belief in science and new technology, climate change, and win-win solutions to global problems. While the American President suggests increasing US nuclear capability, in the UN Headquarters in Geneva, President Xi said that nuclear weapons “should be completely prohibited and thoroughly destroyed over time.”
President Xi believes that globalization is not the source of our world’s troubles. Massive flows of migrants are due to conflict. Excessive search for profit and failure in financial regulations were at the roots of the 2008 financial crisis. He admitted that globalization has created new problems, but his recipe is to cushion the negative effects, rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater.
CHINA TAKES THE WHEEL
China, along with many developing countries in Asia, has been a passenger on the bus of globalization. It reaped its benefits and now is ready to take the driving seat, alone among the Asian leaders. This is not a new development. Since taking power in 2012, President Xi has shown a desire to take a more high-profile role on the world stage, addressing the United Nations in 2015, hosting the Group of 20 nations last year, pledging 6,000 troops for peacekeeping around the world, and pressing for a great role for China in the IFIs. But in Davos, Xi Jinping made it clear to Western elites, many of them still doubting that China is willing to play a global role.
Make no mistake. The globalization that Xi Jinping has in mind is different from what Western leaders supported until few years ago. China maintains high tariffs to protect its domestic markets. Its currency exchange rate is not free-floating and international capital flows are restricted. Despite his support for multilateralism, President Xi thinks that the global governance system is inadequate in terms of representation and inclusiveness, for which he means that China needs more voice in the global institutions. On this, it is hard to disagree.
ENVISIONING A FUTURE WHERE CONTRASTING IDEOLOGIES COEXIST
President Xi generally uses the term globalization always with the qualifier “economic.” China’s view of globalization is not along the line of Western universalism, but rather of pluralism. He emphasized that countries must develop “according to their own conditions.” Each country should allow following its own national development path, not to mention its preferred form of governance. This is, for example, in no contradiction with the new UN Sustainable Development Goals, a non-binding menu of multiple targets that countries will have to achieve through nationally-developed frameworks.
When he spoke at the UN Headquarters in Geneva, President Xi was even more explicit, emphasizing the principles of sovereignty equality, international rule of law, impartiality, non-politicization and demilitarization of humanitarian intervention. In other words, China is working towards a global order where national sovereignty is at the center and different ideologies coexist. China, indeed, has no desire to reshape the world in its image, a primarily Western instinct. History has just restarted and not along the lines of liberal order.
Francesco Mancini is Assistant Dean and Visiting Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. His work focuses on global governance, United Nations, conflict analysis and resolution. He regularly lectures at academic institutions and presents at conferences and to governments on international peace and security issues.
Professor Mancini is also a Non-resident Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute, a member of the Board of Directors of the Academic Council on the United Nations System , a member of the Research Committee of the Institute for Economics & Peace and a member of the Editorial Board of the journal Peacebuilding.