BRI gives economic voice to small countries

By Ong Tee Keat Source:Global Times Published: 2019/11/26 18:12:56

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The world has never been a level playing field for all nations of various ethnicities, religions, civilizations and political systems.

Since 1990s, free trade and multilateralism have been the cornerstone of globalization. But the world market never treated all players equally as developed countries set the rules with little regard for their poorer counterparts. 

Over the years, trans-boundary trade and investment has been promoted extensively in the name of multilateral free trade. But these are implemented with straitjacketed rules and interpretations, as dictated by the developed countries' unipolar geostrategic influence and security interests. Small states have virtually little or no say at all in shaping the ground rules of globalization. This conspicuous absence of inclusiveness has given rise to an increased expression of nationalism within the global order. Many countries seek to fall back on protectionism and unilateralism, purportedly to safeguard their national interests.

The economic disparity between the rich and poor nations has thus become more pronounced than ever, as the powerful economies forced open and exploited the developing world markets. The third world which provides easy market access to these economies remains poor and undeveloped for lack of infrastructure connectivity. Progress and prosperity that free trade promised remain alien to the poor and weak nations so long as their accessibility to the supply chain remains impeded by poor connectivity.

The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has no doubt provided a viable option timely, if not the solution, to these countries by enabling them to embark on infrastructure connectivity initiatives. The popular response to BRI across the globe, though not without fair degree of reservation, speaks volumes about the level of acceptance among the partner countries of the BRI. 

To date, the total tally of BRI partnering countries has touched a record high of 130, in addition to 30 international institutions signing the documents of collaboration with China. This is a good testimony of BRI's level of acceptance at large.

Despite that BRI is still consistently under severe criticism and close scrutiny, somewhat biased in many instances, by its hostile skeptics primarily from the West, it remains a viable alternative model of economic collaboration with emphasis on mutuality, namely mutually consultative, mutually operational, and mutually beneficial. This is a stark contrast to the prevailing US-led modus operandi, widely deemed as predatorial, designed primarily to enhance the West's security and economic interests in the developing world.

The prevailing anxiety of displacement in the ruling superpower is expected and likely to escalate further. Nonetheless this has in no way impeded the acceptance of BRI as a new chapter in globalization. The principle of shared prosperity and shared destiny underpinning BRI has won the initiative the moral high ground, particularly in the developing world.

The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing April this year marks the watershed of BRI implementation. The initiative is now ushering into a new phase of implementation with a clarion call for building a community of shared future for mankind. 

Unfortunately in reality, the world dynamics do not seem to move in the desired direction conducive to good global governance. Some of the international institutions tasked with addressing prevailing global concerns such as climate change and sustainable development have very often found their effectiveness undermined by the dominant powers' recalcitrant defiance of existing rules. 

In certain cases, the powers because of their sheer arrogance, even chose to withdraw completely from these world bodies. In short, the tools for global governance have over the years been reduced to mere pawns, even lame ducks, by the whims and fancies of the hegemonic unipolar powers. 

Against such a gloomy backdrop in which the current international order has proven ineffective in addressing an ever-increasing list of global challenges, the call for the pursuit of a community with a shared future for mankind through the implementation of BRI is no doubt a game changer.

As a sizeable developing economy, what can China offer?

Many a hairsplitter may argue over the term used to describe China's economy. No doubt it is now the second largest economy after the US, but its per capita GDP is still far behind that of developed economies. 

Nonetheless, its meteoric success in alleviating 850 million of its citizens out of abject poverty is a feat unrivalled in human history. The China story is an inspiration to the world, an ideal model to emulate, as humankind civilization strives to advance global governance.

The reform and opening-up, spearheaded by the late Deng Xiaoping, marks a watershed moment in modern China's progress. 40 years later, China has transformed itself into an economic powerhouse, assuming world leadership in manufacturing, infrastructure and technological innovation. To feed a populace of 1.4 billion is by all account, an incredible challenge. 

China's turnaround from a weak planned economy burdened by a massive population to the world's second largest economy cannot be attributed solely to its admission to WTO, as some China critics would claim. They cannot ignore the fact that China's success is the result of the Chinese technological advance and the development of a form of governance that is responsive to people's needs.

China's wisdom and experience in addressing its own exigencies, many of which are simply enormous, perhaps can provide the world with new solutions. A case in point is its success in poverty eradication which is now one of the most pressing global exigencies that may destabilize world peace.

Parallel to this, over the years, Chinese technological advancement has helped improve the quality of life of many in China and the world, though very often it has to operate under the radar in the hostile environment of a unipolar world order.

While the US is blocking market access to China's cutting-edge technologies such as 5G telecommunication and drones, the world should instead embrace an inclusive ethos to promote innovations that could enhance the quality of life of all humankind.

China's increasing global role is unstoppable. To enhance cooperation and communications between countries, civilizational interaction and dialogues need to be given priority in order to forge a global community of shared destiny. This would form the foundation to cultivate tolerance and understanding across cultures, and to prepare an environment conducive for collaboration.  

As a rising power in a multipolar world, China is expected to assume a leading role in this endeavor. To that end, the Dialogue of Asian Civilizations in May, held in Beijing, was an apt example. This should be replicated in other countries, even expanded as an inter-continental initiative. 

The author is chairman of Center for New Inclusive Asia, a think tank based in Malaysia and former member of House of Representatives, Parliament of Malaysia, former transport minister in the Malaysian federal cabinet.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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