People's Daily, 12/05/17

The following is an English translation of a People’s Daily article written by Martin Jacques. 

The trend towards globalisation that dominated the world from around 1980 – driven by the neo-liberalism of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms – began to lose momentum with the Western financial crisis in 2007-8 and came to something of a shuddering halt in the West with Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump as US President in 2016.

But the hubris of the anti-globalisation movement has been noticeably weakened during the early months of this year. Although Brexit is very likely to happen, doubts about it in the UK are beginning to grow, not least the fearsome challenge that it poses. The UK is turning inwards and is likely to be profoundly self-absorbed, to its great detriment, over the next decade by the Brexit challenge. Predictions that other countries would follow Britain out of the European Union now look hopelessly wide of the mark. Meanwhile, it is becoming clear that Trump’s ideological convictions – unlike those of Reagan and Thatcher – are little more than skin-deep and that his most startling characteristic is his sheer unpredictability. Does anyone know what he will do next; have we any idea where he will be at the end of his first term? None of this is to suggest that the anti-globalisation movement in the West has run out of steam, but it is no longer triumphalist in the way it was even as recently as January: the doubts are increasing.

In 1980, as the movement towards globalisation gained traction, very few would have awarded the same importance to China’s economic reforms as to the neo-liberal reforms in the Anglo-Saxon countries. The world was still seen in overwhelmingly Western-centric terms. China was still marginal, bordering on the invisible. Three and a half decades later, the world could hardly look more different. When President Xi Jinping delivered his speech at Davos in January in which he outlined the argument for globalisation, he was listened to in the West with an attentiveness and sense of expectation which had never before been given to a Chinese leader. His was the alternative voice to that of the US President and was regarded as such.

While President Trump was promoting the idea of ‘America First’ and pouring scorn on multilateralism, President Xi Jinping embraced the idea that globalisation was the way of the future. His message struck a deep chord. The world knew that China’s rise had been made possible by globalisation and that China had always been sincere and candid about this. Furthermore, from being a follower and beneficiary of globalisation, China was increasingly becoming a shaper and maker of globalisation. Scores of countries, including many in the West, have enthusiastically signed up to one of China’s great new initiatives, the AIIB, and now the world is in the process of seeking to understand and embrace the possibilities offered by China’s other great initiative, ‘One Belt, One Road.’ The contrast between America First on the one hand and ‘One Belt, One Road’ on the other is the parable of our time. As America turns inwards, China turns outwards. In 1980 such a dichotomy would have been inconceivable: today it is a reality.

The prospects for ‘One Belt, One Road’, of course, would be much rosier if the whole world was on board. But it is not. A large slice of the West is being pulled in the opposite direction by the anti-globalisers, protectionists, isolationists and the go-it-aloners. But this group, though much larger than it was several years ago, only represents a section of Western opinion. Another part remains supportive of globalisation and increasingly interested, curious and intrigued by the meaning and possibility of ‘One Belt, One Road’. The significance of the project, in this context, is not simply what it might achieve but also what it represents: the idea that co-operation, multilateralism, connectivity and mutuality are the ideas that should inform the future. Of course, these ideas are not new: they have held the upper hand for the last thirty years and more. What is new is that the bearers of these values are no longer primarily in the West but are, above all, to be found in China.

Nor are these ideas simply a replica of those that held sway during the heyday of Western neo-liberalism. They may overlap but they are not synonymous; China’s notion of globalisation is distinctive from that of the West. The latter was imbued with the belief that globalisation was the vehicle by means of which the world would be westernised – economically, culturally and politically. Always a tendency, it is no longer the dominant tendency and nor will it become that. China’s view of globalisation, in contrast, is based on the centrality of development, that globalisation has the potential to transform the developing world, as it has China, and whence the world. This is the central proposition of the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.

Western-style globalisation foundered on two key counts. It failed to share its benefits equitably across its own populations, resulting not least in Brexit and Trump’s election. Even more seriously, large parts of the world, notably the Middle East and North Africa, did not benefit at all. As a result, the world became increasingly polarised. In contrast, the main objective of ‘One Belt, One Road’ is to bring development and growth to great expanses of the Eurasian land mass, and beyond, that have so far been left out and left behind. While Western-style globalisation was characterised by exclusivity, China’s rests on inclusivity. For the developing world the appeal of ‘One Belt, One Road’ is obvious and irresistible.

In the Western world, the response has been slower and more muted, notably in the United States. In Europe the idea is slowly but surely catching on, even in its western half. European growth has been miserable since the financial crisis. Europe is confronted with either more of the same or a profound rethink. The transformation of the Eurasian land mass is such an idea. It has the potential to reconfigure Europe’s relationship with the landmass of which it is but a small part, and thereby also its relationship with the world, to look east rather than narrow-mindedly towards the west. ‘One Belt, One Road’ offers Europe the possibility of rethinking and remaking itself. Herein lies the magic and grandeur of the idea: ‘One Belt, One Road’ gives diverse countries and continents the opportunity to dream of a different future, it affords the world a platform for imagining how our futures might be different.

The forthcoming conference in Beijing on ‘One Belt, One Road’ could hardly be better-timed or better conceived. It is a reminder of the fundamental importance of the values of cooperation, openness, sharing, mutuality and development. It provides a new impetus for globalisation on a breath-taking scale and in a new form. In a world where pessimism, division and introspection have become increasingly widespread, it offers us all a chance once more to think big, to realise that things can be different, that the world can share a dream of transformation. ‘One Road, One Road’ is neither a plan nor a tablet. It is an idea that will grow and be transformed by the participation of the broadest range of nations and peoples. The conference can play an invaluable role in this process.