The international community needs to reestablish a world order based on rules as the rise of China coincides with the decline in European and American power, according to business and politics experts.
Those comments came at a Tuesday conference in Singapore focused on predicting and investing in the trends that will shape the world — the Credit Suisse Global Supertrends Conference — and the consensus was clear: Instead of “demonizing” Beijing or using military power, other major economies should welcome the opportunity to recommit to and rewrite international statutes.
That is, China has benefited from existing technology, but with intellectual property issues now at the forefront amid its trade war with the U.S., it needs to sign onto and adhere to agreements, they added.
“I think that we need rules more than ever before,” said Anthony Gardner, former U.S. ambassador to the European Union. “We should be able to manage our differences properly. We need rules, not military power, to help manage the rise of China, and to manage the inevitable decline of the United States.”
Ho Kwon Ping, the multimillionaire founder of Singapore-based hospitality group Banyan Tree Holdings, agreed, pointing to the risk of “the whole notion that the rising power and the declining power must come into conflict,” saying it creates a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“I totally agree with the idea that there must be a new rules-based order,” he said, adding that China’s perspective is that many current international statutes were created when it was “not at the table” as a global leader. At the same time, Ho acknowledged that China has managed to work the existing world order to its own advantage.
Still, the hotelier cautioned that it would be “dangerous” for China to be the rule maker, suggesting that it has to “help” set some of the new rules.
“We, the rest of us all, civilized countries, manage the rise of a ‘rogue player’ that is now upending all the rules — I don’t think China likes that kind of concept,” he said. “The world should accept the ascendancy of China, embrace it, make sure we minimize some of its more outrageous behavior, but at the same time integrate China into a new world order in which it plays a great role.”
In managing trade practices surrounding China, Gardner said the U.S. should see the European Union as an economic ally.
“We should be working with the EU together more than we have even in the past in bringing more cases to the (World Trade Organization) … which clearly has problems in dealing with China. Instead we are fighting with the EU, ” he said, referring to U.S. President Donald Trump’s ongoing trade complaints about the bloc.
The ambassador also told CNBC’s Martin Soong that both the U.S. and the EU agree that Beijing should roll back certain practices, such as the forced transfer of technology from foreign firms to their Chinese partners, and restrictions on market access to overseas companies.
“We agree on 90 percent” of the issues about China, Gardner said. “What we should be doing is work with the EU more, not threatening the EU saying we’re going to put tariffs.”
Credit Suisse said in a report issued at its Singapore conference, that the rise of global trade disputes is “one of the most obvious results from the increase of populist governments.”
Citing World Trade Organization figures, the bank said 137 new trade-restrictive measures have been introduced between October 2017 and 2018, affecting $588.3 billion of trade. That’s seven times more than the year-ago period, it said.
The rash of trade conflicts “goes hand in hand with geopolitical challenges, the decline of the Western dominance (politically and economically), the emergence of a new world order, and the raise of new, groundbreaking and powerful technologies,” the report said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and China are set to meet again for another round of trade talks in Beijing on April 30.
China’s Asian neighbors can’t be its ‘vassal states’
Amid that all, smaller Asian nations face a “danger of being caught in the middle,” said Ho.
“How do we avoid choosing sides? … How do we avoid becoming a pseudo colony of China?” he said at the conference.
For countries near China, the dilemma is even greater than for others, Ho added.
“The responsibilities for those of us in Asia are particularly great. We cannot be a vassal state of China, neither can we demonize China the way it had been demonized by the West,” he said, recommending that Asian countries seek to maintain their “own independent course.”
In fact, Ho said, what “frightens” him is that the “one single uniting issue in America today is the demonizing of China.”
“Whether it is going to be Donald Trump or Joe Biden, I do not for one minute believe that Joe Biden will be softer on China,” he said. Former U.S Vice President Joe Biden is said to be gearing up to announce a run for the White House in 2020.
Ho, for his part, acknowledged the controversial issues arising from Beijing’s massive Belt and Road initiative, saying China has made mistakes in the infrastructure investment program. Still, he said the situation isn’t quite as simplistic as critics have portrayed. The U.S. and other global powers have slammed the initiative as an attempt for China to spread its influence and for saddling participating countries with onerous debt.
“There are many things about the BRI that haven’t been done rightly, the Chinese have been extremely heavy handed in foreign aid, as had the Americans been in the past, as had the Japanese been in the past,” he said.