As the US and Europe look in­ward, China pushes for a co­op­er­a­tion plat­form ‘to tackle global chal­lenges’

New Straits Times - - World -

CHINA hosts on Sun­day a sum­mit show­cas­ing its am­bi­tious drive to re­vive an­cient Silk Road trade routes and lead a new era of glob­al­i­sa­tion, just as Wash­ing­ton turns in­ward in favour of “Amer­ica First” poli­cies.

Lead­ers from 28 na­tions, in­clud­ing Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, will at­tend the two-day meet­ing at Yanqi Lake in a Bei­jing sub­urb near the Great Wall.

But, Western pow­ers seem less en­thu­si­as­tic about the project, with Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Paolo Gen­tiloni the only leader com­ing from the Group of Seven in­dus­tri­alised na­tions.

The fo­rum will pro­mote Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) ini­tia­tive, a mas­sive Chi­nese-bankrolled in­fra­struc­ture project to link the coun­try with Africa, Asia and Europe through a net­work of ports, rail­ways, roads and in­dus­trial parks.

China’s push comes as Wash­ing­ton’s lead­er­ship in global trade is chang­ing un­der United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s na­tion­al­ist “Amer­ica First” stance.

In Europe, anti-glob­al­i­sa­tion sen­ti­ment has grown among vot­ers, and the con­ti­nent has been rat­tled by Bri­tain’s loom­ing exit from the Euro­pean Union.

“There is a press­ing need in to­day’s world to have a shared, open and in­clu­sive co­op­er­a­tion plat­form... to jointly tackle global chal­lenges,” Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi said ahead of the sum­mit.

“What we need is not a hero that acts alone, but part­ners of co­op­er­a­tion that stick to­gether.”

OBOR spans some 65 coun­tries, rep­re­sent­ing 60 per cent of the global pop­u­la­tion and around a third of global gross do­mes­tic prod­uct. The China De­vel­op­ment Bank alone has ear­marked US$890 bil­lion (RM3.8 tril­lion) for some 900 projects.

An­a­lysts are scep­ti­cal that the Asian gi­ant can take the lead in global com­merce, while also cau­tion­ing that an in­te­grated world trade sys­tem where China’s rul­ing Com­mu­nist party sets the rules could come with se­ri­ous risks and hid­den costs.

The Euro­pean Union’s am­bas­sador to Bei­jing, Hans Di­et­mar Sch­weisgut, re­called that EU com­pa­nies have re­peat­edly com­plained about un­equal mar­ket ac­cess in China.

“We hope China will im­ple­ment do­mes­ti­cally what it is preach­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally,” Sch­weisgut said on Tues­day.

“The Chi­nese mar­ket, when it comes to in­vest­ment, is not as opened as the Euro­pean mar­ket to Chi­nese com­pa­nies.”

But, Europe’s large ab­sence is a “missed op­por­tu­nity” in­dica­tive of a “very in­ward-look­ing, very Euro­cen­tric” out­look on the rise as lead­ers have less to gain po­lit­i­cally at home from en­gage­ment with China, said JeanPierre Lehmann of Switzer­land’s IMD busi­ness school.

“China’s a re­al­ity, and it’s not go­ing to go away. We can make things bet­ter by en­gag­ing with China in­stead of need­lessly con­tain­ing it.”

For China, OBOR is a prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion to re­lieve do­mes­tic over­ca­pac­ity that plagues its in­dus­trial sec­tors, such as steel.

It is also a way to ex­pand its strate­gic global in­flu­ence — a key con­cern for Xi, who fre­quently trum­pets the goal of a “great re­ju­ve­na­tion of the Chi­nese na­tion”.

China’s pro­pa­ganda ma­chine is work­ing hard to pro­mote OBOR, with the of­fi­cial Xin­hua news agency boast­ing that it has pub­lished 30,000 sto­ries re­lated to the pro­gramme in three years.

“Af­ter the elapse of 1,300 years... pow­er­ful and pros­per­ous China is emerg­ing from the depth of his­tory and re­turn­ing to the cen­tre of the world arena,” Xin­hua said.

Trump’s de­ci­sion to with­draw from the now-de­funct Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship agree­ment gave coun­tries “added in­cen­tive” to join OBOR, June Teufel Dreyer of the Uni­ver­sity of Mi­ami said.

But, she added: “What may look like ben­e­fits may turn out to en­trap (par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries) in a China-cen­tred spi­der web.”

New York-based Fitch Rat­ings ex­pressed con­cern that “gen­uine in­fra­struc­ture needs and com­mer­cial logic might be sec­ondary to po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tions”, lead­ing to “a height­ened risk of projects prov­ing un­prof­itable”.

The fo­rum will be China’s first chance since OBOR’s launch in 2013 to for­mally com­mu­ni­cate its poli­cies to par­tic­i­pants on a large scale, said Li Ziguo, deputy di­rec­tor of the OBOR re­search cen­tre at the China In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. AFP


Peo­ple tak­ing pic­tures of the Golden Bridge on Silk Road

in Bei­jing on Wed­nes­day.

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