Mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism and Chi­nese Dream

Trillions - - In This Issue - By Ni­cholas Rosellini

“Pur­su­ing pro­tec­tion­ism is like lock­ing one­self in a dark room,” Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping warned the as­sem­bled lead­ers at the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum ear­lier this year. “While wind and rain may be kept out­side, that dark room will also block light and air.”

All signs are that China has been heed­ing its own ad­vice.

With the cur­rent geopo­lit­i­cal bal­ance seem­ing to teeter on ev­ery tweet, China’s brand of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism – which Pres­i­dent Xi has de­scribed as “a win-win, open­ing-up strat­egy,” an en­gine of de­vel­op­ment for the world – is an al­ter­na­tive to the zero-sum cal­cu­lus that has fed a wave of na­tion­al­ism across de­vel­oped coun­tries.

At the United Na­tions, where Mem­ber States have pledged to ‘leave no one be­hind’ with the

2030 Agenda for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment, China has been po­si­tion­ing it­self as a cham­pion for in­clu­sive growth and peace. China’s en­gage­ment com­bines de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance, soft loans and direct in­vest­ment, reimag­in­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties in a trans­formed land­scape in which lever­aged fi­nanc­ing, rather than grant-mak­ing, is fast be­com­ing the new nor­mal.

China has be­come the largest con­trib­u­tor of troops and sec­ond-largest con­trib­u­tor of funds to UN peace­keep­ing mis­sions among the five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, which also in­clude France, Rus­sia, the United King­dom and the United States. Through its new UN Peace and De­vel­op­ment Trust Fund, it has pledged USD 1 bil­lion to sup­port mul­ti­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion. China is also com­mit­ting to in­crease its con­tri­bu­tions to the UN de­vel­op­ment sys­tem by USD 100 mil­lion by the year 2020.

It is tak­ing a lead on sup­port­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDGS), ear­mark­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions to sup­port global ef­forts to re­duce poverty and im­prove ed­u­ca­tion and health. And, to much re­lief, it is hold­ing fast to com­mit­ments it made dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional cli­mate ne­go­ti­a­tions to achieve the his­toric Paris Agree­ment and its con­crete fol­low-ups.

Re­gion­ally and among emerg­ing economies, China has been proac­tive in build­ing a mul­ti­po­lar ar­chi­tec­ture of co­op­er­a­tion. Its pres­i­dency of the G20 has helped to build con­sen­sus around in­clu­sive growth as a shared agenda.

Some 57 coun­tries have signed on to the new Asian In­fras­truc­ture In­vest­ment Bank, in which China has a 30 per­cent stake. The BRICS New De­vel­op­ment Bank, with 20 per­cent Chi­nese con­tri­bu­tion, is aim­ing to sup­port sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives in emerg­ing economies. Both are widely seen as an al­ter­na­tive to West­ern dom­i­nance of mul­ti­lat­eral fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions and rep­re­sent China’s lead­er­ship in cre­at­ing new de­vel­op­ment fi­nanc­ing mech­a­nisms and re­con­fig­ur­ing the global gov­er­nance ar­chi­tec­ture.

Ex­am­ples like these are en­cour­ag­ing for pro­po­nents of in­clu­sive growth and eq­uity. Yet prac­tice does not al­ways match prin­ci­ple. China has be­come one of the ma­jor South-south de­vel­op­ment part­ners in the world, pro­vid­ing by end 2015 some US$63 bil­lion worth of de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance to 166 coun­tries, both directly and through re­gional and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions. Under the frame­work of South-south co­op­er­a­tion, China ob­serves prin­ci­ples of mu­tual ben­e­fit, no-strings at­tached, equal­ity and non-in­ter­fer­ence in its en­gage­ment with other coun­tries. In re­al­ity, how­ever, sup­port some­times comes tied to na­tional reg­u­la­tions and re­quire­ments that Chi­nese parts and labour be used. Op­por­tu­ni­ties to build ca­pac­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity some­times are missed in the trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy or equip­ment, or in the build­ing of in­fras­truc­ture.

China will need to per­fect the bal­ance of in­ter­ests un­der­pin­ning its mul­ti­lat­eral ap­proach. How does pur­suit of the ‘Chi­nese dream’ – that of a pros­per­ous coun­try, strong and proud at home, pow­er­ful and in­flu­en­tial abroad – square with the cul­ti­va­tion and preser­va­tion of global pub­lic goods like clean air and wa­ter? Are they mu­tu­ally re­in­forc­ing? Is there a point at which one ends and the other be­gins?

Even those not charged with cre­at­ing pub­lic goods must be re­spon­si­ble cus­to­di­ans of them. As China’s ci­ties grap­ple with the ef­fects of pol­lu­tion caused by decades of ne­glect, the Chi­nese pri­vate sec­tor has in­creas­ingly em­braced sus­tain­abil­ity as a pil­lar of good busi­ness at home and abroad.

Since Chi­nese com­pa­nies are, as a bloc, the third largest in­vestor in the world – their direct in­vest­ments over­seas reached USD 145.7 bil­lion in 2015 – this is wel­come news for global de­vel­op­ment. UN de­vel­op­ment prac­ti­tion­ers are work­ing with the Chi­nese pri­vate sec­tor to pro­mote in­clu­sive prac­tices in busi­ness op­er­a­tions, cre­ate part­ner­ships that con­trib­ute to achiev­ing the SDGS, and en­sure that cap­i­tal mar­kets are aligned to the SDG agenda.

As it rises in promi­nence as a de­vel­op­ment part­ner, China has an op­por­tu­nity to avoid the mis­takes of well-in­ten­tioned ini­tia­tives of the past. It can be de­mand- rather than sup­ply-driven, con­tribut­ing so­lu­tions to chal­lenges that the coun­tries it en­gages with have them­selves iden­ti­fied as pri­or­i­ties. And it can use its mas­sive in­vest­ment, through its blended of­fer, to sup­port around the world new mod­els of growth and co­op­er­a­tion that are an­chored in the prin­ci­ples of in­clu­siv­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity it es­pouses.

For all its vis­i­bil­ity and might, China is still very much a de­vel­op­ing coun­try. Yet its adop­tion of a com­ple­men­tary brand of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism of­fers wel­come grounds for hope in these times.

To much re­lief, (China) is hold­ing fast to com­mit­ments it made dur­ing the in­ter­na­tional cli­mate ne­go­ti­a­tions to achieve the his­toric Paris Agree­ment and its con­crete fol­low-ups.

Photo by mboully, CC

As a wave of na­tion­al­ism sweeps across de­vel­oped coun­tries, China is step­ping up its en­gage­ment as a mul­ti­lat­eral power on its own terms writes Ni­cholas Rosellini, UN Res­i­dent Co­or­di­na­tor and UNDP Res­i­dent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive in China.

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