Global bodies look to recover drive and verve

By Mun Loong Wong Source:Global Times Published: 2014-11-13 18:38:01

Most major economies, including China, have been on the convention and meeting circuit recently - it was the APEC meeting, then the ASEAN summit and now the G20 event in Brisbane, Australia, this weekend.

The year of 2008 saw the G20 being transformed into an important platform. Leaders of the group met for the first time. It coordinated fiscal stimulus efforts around the world. It redrew the regulatory framework around global finance and began the reform of international institutions such as the IMF. But today, it seems to have lost its drive and verve. The reform of the IMF has been stalled for four years.

The 2014 Brisbane meeting will be important, because it is one of the last chain of meetings that have sought to promote a free trade regime in the world. It is also significant because of recent rising geopolitical tensions.

The tussle between the US and China may play itself out at the G20 summit. Recent Chinese economic initiatives, such as the Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have riled Washington.

Typically, the US has applied pressure on its allies to limit China's growing economic diplomacy. Australia and South Korea, for example, caved in to intense US lobbying and declined to join the AIIB.

During the APEC meeting, the US and its allies kept their focus on the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership rather than the broader Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

This growing economic, diplomatic, financial and political rivalry between the US and China will continue.

If the G20 is serious about global economic reform, it needs to continue to push for real change. This must include a fast-track reform of the IMF, the World Bank and other financial architecture and institutions. It also needs to ensure and push for greater emerging and developing countries' representation, as many multilateral institutions appear to be passé, outdated, highly bureaucratic and rather "colonialist" in their approach.

The G20 needs to realize that there are new regional initiatives, and in some cases, transcontinental collaborative ventures and those new regional platforms may be more effective.

Developing and emerging countries have been concerned with greater liberalization and tighter regulation and protection of the market, especially in developed countries.

The major developed economies in the West have to understand that the world has changed. Today, more than half of the exports from developing economies are not sent, as traditionally assumed, to developed economies, but to other developing economies. For example, in Asia, more than 60 percent of trade is conducted within Asia, Africa and the Middle East, compared with just 15 percent to North America and Europe.

China is a growing economic power and a major supplier of capital. It can and should exercise its economic diplomacy judiciously to win friends and influence.

Australia cannot just be an innocent ally of the US. It cannot be a mere observer and supplicant. It has some influence and can seek an independent track for itself. The Australian leaders need to be bold and recognize that there is a changing of the guard, and that Western-dominated structure of power and governance needs changing.

Rather than merely following the US line, Australia should try to make more engagement with the developing world, including China. Snubbing Chinese initiatives will only result in serious blowback for Australia, given its current economic trajectory.

As host of the G20 summit, Australia needs to articulate the concerns of developing economies and not be stuck in the same political-economic rut of its past.

The author is an associate professor at the University of Nottingham and has worked in Australian universities for over 20 years.

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