Author: He Yafei
Posted on: China US Focus | May 22nd, 2017
This is really the best of times and worst of times. With the rise of a large number of developing and emerging countries and relative declining of “advanced countries”, the global convergence of power is accelerating and the balance of power continues to tip in favor of the former. This big picture provides a useful prism through which a clearer view of the world today and tomorrow, including the future of globalization, global governance and global liberal order, comes to our minds.
Liberal order in crisis
Without any doubt, a crisis has been raging across the “liberal democratic world” for some time with “black swan events” appearing in the U.S. and in many European nations which have wreaked havoc with the political eco-system in the western world, weakening the centrist and progressive forces that used to underpin the U.S.-led postwar world liberal order.
Only this time around, the challenges to liberal order as well as liberal democracy come from both within and outside, mostly from within, which raises many eyebrows as to whether the U.S.-led and U.S.-defined liberal order can survive.
Talking about challenges from within, first and foremost is the loss of credibility of economic neo-liberalism since the 2008 financial crisis as the governing ideology for global economic order, which has made many countries to turn to the East, in particular China, for new ideas and concepts.
Next naturally are the “Trump Phenomenon” and its copycat versions in European countries, though the result of French election has given people some relief as Europe stares into the abyss of EU disintegration.
President Trump has been in office for a bit more than four months during which his presidential pronouncements and actions, together with his mid-night tweets are perceived both at home and abroad as risking an end to the role by the U.S. as guarantor of this liberal world order. His view of American decline and his instinctive disrespect for the norms and values of liberal democracy, long held as sacrosanct by western nations, is so blunt and obvious that it is not lost to the world watching the new US administration. Hence comes the question that will the US continue to provide global commons in this new era of globalization or will it backpedal and go into an isolationist Mode Vivendi as has been the American tradition? That is why Francis Fukuyama repeatedly asks that “irksome” question of “do we still live in the liberal international order” as he gives talks on and writes about the fast dismantling of the global order based on liberal democracy.
Why is B&R so popular?
Belt & Road Initiative is both a national developmental strategy of China and an innovative initiative by China to global governance offering huge opportunities for greater cooperation among countries concerned on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. The widely-acclaimed success of the recent B&R Forum of International Cooperation in Beijing testifies to its popularity world-wide. The number of countries, regional and international organizations that have signed MOUs on B&R with China has increased to 68 by the closing of the forum.
Nevertheless, B&R has been viewed with deep suspicion – some in the west portrayed the initiative as China’s attempt to grow its sphere of political and economic influence with a hidden agenda to overthrow the current international system of liberal democracy.
Here we have to distinguish two things that are not really related to each other. The liberal democracy and liberal order as defined in western narrative are indeed under siege and in crisis, because politically and economically they has been used or abused to impose western model of governance onto other nations regardless of their domestic conditions, including “Washington Consensus” and “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P). It has also been followed in rigidity in western countries themselves for capital-holders to extract as much profits as possible from the society, overlooking the negative impact it has on some segments of the populations, especially those who have only unskilled labor to offer. The French economist Thomas Piketty in his famous book entitled “The 21st Century Capital” described this ugly phenomenon in great detail.
The widening gap and exacerbating conflict between the rich and the poor have been blamed on globalization per se. The fact that governments in those countries failed to address this glaring problem has been conveniently forgotten.
Here lies another reason why China’s B&R proposal is so popular.
There are at least two things that make B&R an attractive proposition. One is that this idea of new international cooperation is deeply rooted in the success of China’s economic growth and its domestic governance, including the enormous efforts in poverty reduction and elimination. China was successful in lifting over 700 million people out of poverty in the last three to four decades.
The other is the fact that China’s success has been achieved by taking its own path of development with strong institutional guarantees from government led by the Chinese Communist Party. In other words, China has not followed the governance model of neo-liberalism offered and sometimes imposed by western nations. Other developing countries and emerging markets, as well as many advanced industrial nations have come to the conclusion that China is able to offer an alternative model, though by no means to be simply copied, to economic growth and good global governance with B&R as a typical example.
President Xi solemnly promised at the B&R Forum that the new Silk Road will be “the road of peace, prosperity and innovation with inclusiveness and civilization integration”. B&R is also offered as a way to deal with serious global challenges of peace deficit, governance deficit and development deficit.
It is quite clear that B&R has nothing whatsoever to do with the decline or non-decline of the liberal order or liberal democracy as claimed by some scholars and experts in the west. If there is anything about B&R that can contribute to the future of global governance and world order, it is the inherent opportunities of that proposal to further democratization of international relations and make globalization an equal process for sharing benefits for all nations and therefore more sustainable.