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The East and The West — Cooperation via Belt-Road-Initiative #OBORI

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China owns the Belt Road Initiative, or the world owns it? Cooperation comes with collective vision and effort. It does not only from friends, but also from "rivals". In a Chinese saying, there is no forever friends, also no forever enemies/rivals. Aiming for the joint prosperity and just keeping working on it does matter. - writes Dr Ying Zhang.

 Deeply rooted in the ancient Eurasian Silk Road developed over a thousand years ago and lately revisited by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 in the period of China’s economic transition, the BRI, also named as New Silk Road and One-Belt-One-Road, has been seemingly widely accepted as an initiative to facilitate cross-continent trade, geo-economic integration, and global prosperity. However, with regard to this idea, since its emergence, it has been interpreted variously, mainly in two directions: aptly reflecting what China has been challenged in terms of domestically slowing-down economic growth and boldly projecting the growing influence of China onto the global landscape with an alternative international geo-economic relationship approach. This initiative has also elicited the respect and awe as well as the enthusiasm and paranoia to its proposer—China — as a visionary idea of the world— in dire need for, but also raised questions that whether this idea is an altruistic game changer for the world, or is just another plot of an egotistically motivated superpower to further its own self-interest.  

 The concern comes with a reason, similarly to the pursuit of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by the other superpower being lauded as well as criticized. Some thought of it as a beacon of world trade, giving the economies of the pacific rim of their well-deserved trading club; while others saw it as just another instrument of the USA to align its pacific rim allies in an exclusive club of economic cooperation. With the unexpected withdrawal of the USA from the TPP in the Trump’s Administration, the general attention has shifted to the other forward-looking initiative of BRI and China has ultimately been catapulted into the position as a thought leader to build a new world order.  This position will undoubtedly draw the eyes of the entire world to discuss BRI from China and of course expose China to the risk of losing its ordinary charm vis-à-vis the ordinary onlooker.

 The current wave of reaction to BRI is similar but also different, with the different profile showing both an enthusiasm to BRI from some countries, and criticism from others. The criticisms are mainly loaded by those against changes, and those “favoring” self-power and populisms rather than being oriented to collective prosperities. Over three years of BRI -framework projects happening cross the Eurasian Continent since the mid of 2013, the lines have been shifting as disappointment has to face the reality.  Typically many countries of the world started to be supportive to BRI platform as they see tangible advantages, both in short and long-run, while other continue to beat the drum against a change. There are also some being torn between believing into the benefits of a new vision and fearing its ramifications that they cannot fully grasp. Their wait-and-see-attitude is a linchpin. 

 In the same line, AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), the BRI’s sister-initiative, however, has been widely accepted and operated.  AIIB, commonly labelled as a “crowd-funded and crowd-owned” project, gives an insight to question if BRI can share the same label. It would make sense that BRI is not only a joint owned platform, but also the one requiring shared-commitment (including design, plan, investment, and execution).  If we shall label AIIB as a bridge to the future financial order of the new world, BRI should be another arm for the logistic and trade of new order. 

 Furthermore, to face the change of the world, with the pulling force of technology such as digitalization, DNA technology, and AI from the front, as well as the pushing force of geo-social-economic reshuffling deriving from a new model in the format of sharing economy from the back, to build a harmonious global society, each participant needs to carefully take a consideration of the facts of the past, seriously see through the phenomena of the current, and ethically plan for the future. We need to bear in mind that the future is the future for all communities, not only for a particular member or a particular club. BRI, as a cross-continent platform with the purpose of facilitating global common prosperity, can be used as an instrument to nurture the future society in the nature of equality-based social-economic environment, and can be used to cultivate the principle of conducting such a setting in the loop of “Acceptance-Trust-Support”. 

 This vision will probably take ages to achieve, but does not mean not possible. In addition to carry such a faith and resolve the concerns from many in parallel, both the East and the West need to own up to the concept of BRI, and be more responsible and mindful to sync with one another. Both sides should cooperate in finding solutions to existing crippling problems, eliminate an overall defensive and competitive mentality, and create a cooperative foundation for the future agenda. These tasks as a condition for BRI should not only be on the shoulder of governments of countries, but also on the shoulders of business, research institutes, educations, and each of individuals. By taking both sides of force from different stakeholders, a systematic road map for an inclusively equality-oriented community can be set up. But something we need to always bear in mind is that differences are the source of the disputes, however it is also the origins of the creativity as well as the motivation for us to aim for building a harmonious global community.

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De-coupling from China would be the wrong way to go, Germany warns

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The European Union needs to engage with China despite many differences instead of opting for a more isolationist approach, Germany said on Wednesday (21 April).

"In the EU, we have been describing China as a partner, competitor and systemic rival at the same time," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (pictured) said ahead of a virtual meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

"In all these three dimensions we need strong, sustainable communication channels with Beijing. De-coupling is the wrong way to go."

Berlin's warning against de-coupling is in line with Beijing's long-held position against disengagement among nations, including with China, despite mutual differences.

Last month, China was hit by a round of coordinated sanctions from the United States, European Union, Britain and Canada over reports of forced labour in the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang, accusations that Beijing rejects.

Ties between China and Germany have generally remained stable since last year, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said later in his meeting with Maas.

Wang also said major economies like China and Germany should jointly resist any de-coupling, and instead seek to uphold the stability of global industrial and supply chains, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.

At the same time, China does not approve of any re-drawing of ideological lines, and is even more opposed to engaging in “small cliques”, and even arbitrarily imposing unilateral sanctions based on false information, Wang said.

Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in his first face-to-face White House summit since taking office, where both leaders said they shared serious concerns about the human rights situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

In a show of economic cooperation to the exclusion of China, Biden said Japan and the United States would jointly invest in the tech sector including semiconductor supply chains.

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China’s Xi calls for fairer world order as rivalry with US deepens

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Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen on a giant screen at a media center, as he delivers via video link a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia, in Boao, Hainan province, China April 20, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Yao NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds at the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 10, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen on a giant screen at a media center, as he delivers via video link a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia, in Boao, Hainan province, China April 20, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Yao NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (pictured) on Tuesday (20 April) called for a rejection of hegemonic power structures in global governance, amid growing tensions between Washington and Beijing over a widening range of issues including alleged human rights abuses, writes Kevin Yao.

Speaking at the annual Boao Forum for Asia, Xi criticized efforts by some countries to "build barriers" and "decouple", which he said would harm others and benefit no one.

China has long called for reforms of the global governance system to better reflect a more diverse range of perspectives and values from the international community, including its own, instead of those of a few major nations.

It has also repeatedly clashed with the biggest stakeholders in world governance, particularly the United States, over a range of issues from human rights to China's economic influence over other countries.

"The world wants justice, not hegemony," Xi said in remarks broadcast to the forum.

"A big country should look like a big country by showing that it is shouldering more responsibility," he said.

While Xi did not identify any country in his remarks, Chinese officials have in recent times referred to US “hegemony” in public criticisms of Washington’s global projection of power in trade and geopolitics.

On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden held his first face-to-face White House summit since taking office, in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in which China topped the agenda.

Both leaders said they "share serious concerns" about the human rights situation in Hong Kong and China's Xinjiang region, where Washington has said Beijing is perpetrating a genocide against Muslim Uighurs. China has denied abuses.

In a display of economic cooperation to the exclusion of China, Biden said Japan and the United States would jointly invest in areas such as 5G technology, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, genomics and semiconductor supply chains.

As the Biden administration rallies other democratic allies to harden their stance on China, Beijing is seeking to strengthen ties with its autocratic partners and economically dependent neighbours in Southeast Asia.

Chinese speakers at the Boao forum, Asia's answer to Davos, also affirmed Beijing's commitment to global free trade.

China's trade practices were a focus of an intense tariff war between Beijing and Washington under the Trump administration, with the United States accusing Beijing of unfair subsidiaries that give Chinese companies unfair advantage abroad and forced transfers of technology and intellectual property.

"The biggest experience that China's accession to the World Trade Organization 20 years ago is that we Chinese are not afraid of competition," Long Yongtu,China's former chief negotiator for the China's WTO entry in 2001, told the forum on Monday (19 April).

However, despite the persistent confrontation between the US administration and China, both sides have rediscovered a common interest in battling climate change, after bilateral talks on fighting greenhouse emissions fizzled out during the Trump era.

Last week, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry flew to Shanghai to meet with his Chinese counterpart in the first high-level visit to China by a Biden administration official.

Both agreed on concrete actions “in the 2020s” to reduce emissions.

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Competition: EU and China will discuss competition policy priorities in the digital sector during the 21st Competition Week

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Officials from the EU and China will meet online from 26 to 28 April 2021 for technical discussions on competition law and enforcement. The 21st EU-China Competition Week will focus on subsidy cases under the Fair Competition Review System that China started implementing in 2016. It will also deal with the co-operation between the European Commission and EU member states with respect to state aid cases as well as Regulation and policy initiatives to address competition concerns in digital markets. The Competition Weeks offer a platform for exchanges on competition policy between the Chinese State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) and the European Commission together with EU National Competition Authorities. The Competition Weeks are the cornerstone of the longstanding competition dialogue between the competition authorities of the EU and China in line with the commitments set out in the Memoranda of Understanding and Terms of Reference signed between all sides. The EU-China Competition Week is part of the Competition Co-operation project, a 5-year EU funded programme offering technical co-operation to competition authorities in Asia. The objective is to exchange experiences and strengthen convergence in competition policy, to the benefit of citizens and businesses in both the EU and Asia. More information about the European Commission's bilateral dialogue with China in the field of competition policy is available on the Commission's website.

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