Chen Wenling: Returning to Multilateralism
Speech delivered by Chen Wenling, CCIEE Chief Economist at the Global Economic Development Forum
On March 8, 2021, the “Think Tank & Media Forum on Global Economic Development” was co-hosted by the China Foreign Languages Publishing Administration, China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy, and the Bridge Tank. The People’s Pictorial, the Academy of Contemporary China and World Studies, and the China Internet News Center are the co-organizers of the meeting.
Nearly 20 former dignitaries and well-known experts and scholars from China, France, Russia, Kazakhstan, India, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and other countries conducted extensive and in-depth discussions online or offline.
Chen Wenling, Chief Economist of China Center for International Economic Exchanges, attended the forum as a guest speaker and delivered the following speech.
Ladies and gentlemen, the topic of my speech today is “Returning to Multilateralism”.
First of all, I would like to explain why the world needs multilateralism?
Some countries have proposed returning to multilateralism, but what kind of multilateralism should the world return to? It is definitely not self-interested multilateralism, or a multilateralism that puts the interests of a country above the interests of the world. The multilateralism should not aim at restraining other countries and building a small group alliance. The world is now facing common challenges and severe tests and no country alone can shoulder the responsibility and save the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over yet and in the future, we will have to face more serious disasters. The economic crisis and economic losses caused by the pandemic are worse than the 2008 international financial crisis. Although some countries have started to recover, especially the strong rebound of the US economy in the first quarter of 2021, global debt has reached a record high. According to data from well-respected international organizations, global debt reached US$282 trillion by the end of 2020. In the US alone, the national debt has reached US$28 trillion. Recently, the US Congress approved Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue plan, bringing the U.S. treasury debt to nearly 30 trillion. Therefore, the economic recovery of the United States is based on high debts, which is not really a strong economic recovery.
In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, mitigating and repairing the damage to the ecological environment has become an urgent task for all of us. Mankind is being punished by nature and poverty is also a severe problem. At present, 20% of the world population owns 80% of the resources, one billion people do not have access to clean water and one billion people are threatened by hunger.
These global challenges and problems require cooperation from all countries and the world needs to return to multilateralism. Adhering to multilateralism is not an option, but a action that all countries must follow.
Secondly, the so-called “return to multilateralism” by some countries is actually forming a small alliance to contain competitors.
The current actions and behaviors of a few countries cannot be called a “return to multilateralism”. Multilateralism includes several levels: the first level is the United Nations; the second level is international organizations, including WTO, World Bank, UPU, international governance institutions; the third level is international conventions, that is, global consensus, such as the Paris Agreement, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Polar Convention, the Ocean Convention; the fourth level is cross-border industry conventions, such as the Basel Agreement; and the last level is international dialogue mechanisms, such as G20, APEC. In fact, the goal of the five-level multilateralism goal is to determine common goals, obey rules and standards, coordinates strategies, policies and behaviors between countries to form a lasting and interactive arrangement.
The essence of multilateralism is for the common interests of all countries, to maintain peace, improve development and maintain a healthy relation among countries regardless of their size. This is the true multilateralism promoted by the UN Charter. However, countries like the United States, define multilateralism in a very different way. The US Secretary of State Blinken called China the biggest geopolitical consideration facing the United States in the 21st century, saying that China poses a real threat to the United States in terms of economy, diplomacy, geopolitics, and technology. The United States will regard China as an opponent and a competitor according to its needs.
In order to maintain its hegemony forever, the United States has reconstructed the so-called alliance system to contain China. On March 1, the National Security Council for Artificial Intelligence of the United States submitted a 756-page report on the US-China competition in the field of artificial intelligence. According to the report, artificial intelligence research is an important competition and the US government should continue to suppress China in the microelectronics industry and high-end semiconductor manufacturing. The report even proposes that the US should create technology that is two generations ahead of China. There is nothing wrong with setting ambitious goals, but the US should not contain China. The UN Charter clearly states that every country has the right to develop. China has a population of 1.4 billion. As the Indian speaker just mentioned that China has achieved excellent progress in poverty alleviation: 770 million poor people in China’s rural areas have been lifted out of poverty, accounting for more than 70% of the global poverty reduction population during the same period.
The “2021 Trade Policy Agenda and 2020 Annual Report” of the US also implies that the US should take tough measures to counter China’s trade policy. US trade representative Katherine Chi Tai Dai made it clear that tariffs and other tough measures should be imposed to sanction China. What kind of multilateralism does the world want? It must be a multilateralism with equal development, mutual benefit, win-win results, and shared global development achievements. The multilateralism we want should be fair and just.
Thirdly, how can we get back to true multilateralism?
Only when countries in the world follow the basic principles together can they return to true multilateralism. Specifically, the following steps must be taken: maintaining the international order and regulatory framework formed after World War II, and protecting the authority of international organizations; international organizations such as WTO, WHO, World Bank, IMF should play an important role in coordinating global development; maintaining the global consensus and international conventions that have been formed; maintaining transnational industrial regulations that are conducive to the steady development of all countries; opposing the so-called multilateralism aimed at containing other countries, and curbing the formation of such small groups and circles.
China and the US should not confront each other, otherwise, other countries will be forced to choose their side, which is extremely difficult. They will lose regardless of which side they choose. I believe that the world, especially the two major powers China and the United States, should cooperate and strengthen dialogue instead of setting up new barriers.