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Leading the Way
President Xi's Davos forum attendance showcases China's promotion of global governance reform
By Xu Yanzhuo | NO. 5-6 FEBRUARY 2, 2017


A Chinese engineer instructs local workers in operating a production line in a China-funded transformer factory in Kenya on October 5, 2016 (XINHUA)

President Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech at the opening session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2017 in Davos, Switzerland, on January 17. This marked the first time a Chinese president has attended the international gathering of political, economic and academic grandees, notably under the context of a growing anti-globalization trend worldwide. Xi's participation is of considerable significance with regard to global governance reform and its further development.

As the world's second largest economy, China has shared its wisdom against the backdrop of growing global issues and proactively shouldered its international responsibility in line with the concept of Responsive and Responsible Leadership, which was also the forum's theme for 2017.

Opportunities and challenges

The year 2016 witnessed remarkable events—from Europe to the Middle East and from East Asia to Latin America—which raised hot debate and doubts as to the development of globalization and the process of regionalization. The approach of tackling global problems through multilateral diplomacy has changed, largely due to public opinion that overwhelmingly prioritizes national interests and leans toward nationalism. The rise of populist leaders and right-wing parties has engendered disregard for international consensus and shared identity, bringing instead an emphasis on conflict and confrontation. Under such circumstances, China was presented with both opportunities and challenges in deciding to take part in the WEF annual meeting with top leaders. This placed China center stage in proactively engaging in the development of globalization and proposing to the world its global governance reform initiative.

Donald Trump had expressed his willingness to curtail the United States' global responsibilities after winning the presidential election in November 2016. This was evidenced in his opposition of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, advocacy of an "America First" policy, criticism against the current international trade system and insistence that the United States' allies should share more security expenses. Whether or not his comments were intended as eye-catching political rhetoric or to introduce "the art of negotiation" with a view to greater gains, they reveal the United States' declining role in global governance. They also embody worldwide dissatisfaction—in both developed and developing countries—with the current international order and system.

Some commentators argue this implies that, as the United States retreats, China is expected to fill the void and lead global governance. More importantly, it also demonstrates that the current mechanism is incapable of solving today's growing global problems, and that citizens of neither developed nor developing countries believe they will benefit from deeper integration.

Therefore, Xi's WEF participation signifies much more than a bid for global leadership; it raises the perplexing question, "How is it possible in such a complex environment to strengthen confidence in integration and improve international coordination to achieve a broader and fairer international order?"

The answer to this question lies in China's call for "democratization of international relations," which at its core opposes hegemony and unilateralism, in order to solve international issues through peaceful negotiation and to deal jointly with international affairs. In this case, it could be said that "democratization of international relations" is what is needed at this time as the key to, and basis for, sustainable peace, mutual development and progress for all humankind.

Promoting reform

In a world where globalization is waning, Xi's attendance at the WEF annual meeting is clearly a bid to promote global economic growth through cooperation, coordination, and shared international identity, which in turn implies a move toward global governance reform.

The international community is still a complicated and multi-connected machine, wherein great powers are creators and shapers of international rules and norms. The machine's software, however, is no longer compatible. Brexit weakened EU integration, and regional tensions and economic declines have led to sluggishness of the current multilateral trade mechanism.

As long as these problems exist, international cooperation and global governance will endure. Xi's Davos trip is a responsible effort toward further development of global governance.

China is a promoter of global governance reform. Xi's attendance at the WEF annual meeting confirms China's identity and role in the process. Traditional geopolitics emphasizes inevitable conflict between emerging and established powers, wherein emerging powers are regarded as causing instability. In contrast to Trump's vague foreign policy and aggressive stance on foreign affairs, China's involvement in global governance has made Beijing part of the status quo and a supporter of the current international order.

The WEF has long served as a platform for world leaders to discuss global issues. This year China chose to promote maintaining the current development toward multilateralism in response to the escalation of serious global problems.

The reason behind China's choice is clearly not that the nation has benefited most from globalization, as certain commentators suggest. On the contrary, although China has benefited from the current international system, it has also experienced much negative impact regarding its national interests.

Consequently, China's stand and role in global governance are consistent, supporting the order's stability and the globalization trend, but at the same time proposing reasonable solutions that make it fairer and more balanced.

China was represented at this year's WEF annual meeting by a top-level delegation that delivered China's proposals on global governance reform. The United States, as the leader of global governance, has always emphasized its dominance and leadership of the international

order. Yet, it has provided no effective proposals on how to ensure fairness, justice and inclusiveness in the international order, how to balance regional and global interests, or how to strengthen the global market mechanism.

China has raised its own solution that transcends the traditional contradiction between central and marginalized states; it advocates peaceful coexistence of diverse cultures. Different political systems, social and governance structures, and economic situations coexist in the international system. Therefore, while acknowledging their conflicts and contradictions, each country should also respect others and seek cooperation.

Economically, despite encroaching global trade protectionism, China insists on an open economy and an international supply chain. Based on the current cooperation pattern, it promotes multi-level and all-around cooperation, encourages neglected states to participate in international markets, and advocates an increase in the supply of public goods, and maintaining stability and fairness in the global market.

Shouldering more responsibilities

China's participation in global governance reform has provided the world with an alternative approach and has also created tangible initiatives and plans, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and BRICS Development Bank, through which to formulate and adjust global financial governance rules and widen sources of funding. Moreover, China promotes regional economic zones through the Belt and Road Initiative consisting of the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, thereby improving interconnection between China and countries along the Belt and Road as well as between the countries themselves. It may thus alleviate the currently imbalanced and unfair trade system and provide opportunities to developing countries.

China will shoulder the responsibility of promoting global governance reform through both financial support and trade zone building. The nation will therefore ensure that more people enjoy the fruits of integration by creating greater inclusive mutual benefits and a more reasonable and coordinated international system.

This is an edited excerpt of an eponymous article published on The author is an associate researcher with the Institute of World Economy and Politics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

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