Collaborative Leadership Stumbles; A Dangerous Political Fuse Has Been Lit

How Hwee Young:AFP:Getty Images Ratification

Well all the columns and opinions have been written, I assume,  over the Chinese G20 Summit. Other than congratulating the Chinese leadership for having pulled it off – and there is something to be said for that – the general conclusion to be drawn from these many pieces was that little was achieved with the major concern – coordinated economic growth by all the G20. The communique was a classic instance of bureaucratic ‘gobbledegook’.   While the yardsticks were moved on a number of issues, no bold announcement by the G20 Leaders was made.  As my colleague, Colin Bradford declared in his Brookings blogpost, “2016: The year for leadership that wasn’t for the China G-20”

2016 may have been the year that teed up the need for new direction, fresh initiatives, and strong leadership, but the contrary interests of G-20 member countries seem to have missed this opportunity at Hangzhou. Whereas some of the keywords for an ambitious transformative approach are in the Hangzhou G-20 communiqué, there is evidence of avoiding commitments, ducking the big ideas, and mouthing the right words but dodging the verbs and adjectives that contained ambition.

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At the Crossroads? – The Hangzhou G20 Summit and After

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With the annual G20 fast approaching (September 4th-5th in Hangzhou China) it is worthwhile reflecting on the progress, or lack of it, that the G20 Leaders gathering has accomplished since the successful efforts to avoid the catastrophic consequences of the Great Recession.

For a number of G20 cycles now, observers have recognized that the G20, notwithstanding the urging of many experts and former officials, has failed to make the transition to a steering committee. Meanwhile, G20 process has become heavily freighted with endless recommendations, statements and communiques from a growing variety of expert and non-expert corners.  The question is not whether the G20 finally will be a success because of the hosting by China’s leaders.  The Chinese Leaders know how to run a summit.  They have approached this Summit with great effort and seriousness and should be commended for their efforts. But really,  it will not be Chinese leadership that is likely to reveal G20 progress or not.

The Editors at the EastAsianForum in a very recent post,  “Making the Hangzhou G20 summit relevant” have once again put their collective finger on the issue:

But the fundamental purpose of the G20 is to set the strategic direction. The worry is that the G20 is drifting away from this role and becoming more like an international think tank than the steering committee for the global economy that it was set up to be. The G20’s deliverables are increasingly bureaucratic, focused on commissioning reports, holding meetings, developing strategy papers, publishing high level principles and high level policy documents.

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A Reform Agenda for China’s G20 Summit

Chengdu FM July 2016 copy

Coordination and harmonization are keys to collective action in global governance.  The jury remains out as to exactly what China’s hosting can accomplish with respect to either.

ANU’s Adam Triggs recently wrote that there were only three practical things that any G20 Leaders’ summit can accomplish:

… it can share information and best practice policies between countries; it can reform global governance by either reforming existing institutions like the IMF or creating new ones; or it can undertake what Oxford University’s David Vines calls ‘concerted unilateralism’, where countries implement policies (fiscal, monetary or structural) to suit their own economies, but do so collectively.

As a number of us suggested in our V20 Hangzhou gathering at Zhejiang daxue in the spring, Leaders also can, and should extend, their efforts beyond what is described above. Indeed in our collective view there is nothing more critical than having G20 Leaders direct their message to their own publics.  They need to signal their publics as to what is critical in their G20 efforts.  As our Blue Report to the Chinese leadership urged:

Together, G20 leaders can make clear and powerful statements which can signal the path of economic progress to all actors around the world. … Leaders at G20 Summits can strengthen their connection with their publics by devoting more attention to the content and the modes of communications from the summit platform.  … Key ideas could be summarized and Leaders could speak in more direct ways to their publics.  … G20 Leaders understand that globalization requires fair and updated rules that can elicit trust, a sense of fairness, and certainty.

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China and a People-Centred G20

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So it is evident there is much anger out in ‘election land’ and among the many electorates these days. The distemper is widespread.  The ‘oddest’ of campaigns of course is the Presidential race  – just 98 days away – in the United States.  A campaign driven in part by the Republican nominee who has abused his opponents and his putative friends – all in the name of ‘no more political correctness’. We are reminded constantly that rising inequality and plodding economic growth across the established powers and increasingly among the rising powers has led to growing frustration and anger from those in the 99 percent. Whether you are looking at global GDP, global trade, or global investment, all these measures of possible global prosperity look anemic. At a minimum these measures signal that the global economy has in fact not really recovered from the Great Recession.

Gideon Rachman of the FT suggested very recently that there is a strong link between those supporting Donald Trump in the US and those who voted in favor of leaving the EU in the UK referendum. As Rachman concludes in assessing these Brexit voters:”The second [parallel] is the way in which the Trump and Brexit campaigns have become vehicles for protest votes about economic insecurity. The third is the chasm between elite opinion and that of the white working class.” While it is of course much harder to identify frustration and alienation from governments in authoritarian societies, it is not hard to believe that there is much anger lying ‘just below the surface’ in states with authoritarian regimes and high degrees of inequality such as in China and Russia and in more democratic developing ones such as Brazil and South Africa.

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Time to Return to the Blogosphere


So it’s time to rejoin the blogosphere!

I apologize to all of you who might have looked to Rising BRICSAM for news and views on the BRICS and the other Influentials in the global order.  It was an extended absence, I know, but it was not time ill-spent.

Over the last months we completed the chapter on ‘concert diplomacy’ for the volume the Next Great War? The Roots of World I and the Risks of US-China Conflict – a work edited by Richard Rosecrance and Steve Miller from the Belfer Center at Harvard.   And then there was the paper for the ISA in New Orleans entitled, “The Challenges to Contemporary Global Order” that can be found at my ResearchGate site.  But the most critical work has been the effort by myself and many others from the Global Summitry Project at the Munk School, The Rotman School of Management and especially from Oxford University Press to get the lights on for the new OUP journal, Global Summitry: Politics, Economics and Law in International Governance. Hopefully the lights will be fully lit by the end of this month.  This latter project is a ‘real labor of love’.  Working with Don Brean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, we hope

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The Flood of Remembrance – 100 Years Since the Great War

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With the recent turn of the calendar to 2014, we find ourselves closing in on August 4, 2014.  That date records a civilization-shaking anniversary. On that date 100 years ago the European powers went to war – to be joined by the Ottoman Empire and Japan and then later, the United States.  August 4th thus marks the commencement of World War I. Not surprisingly there is a growing flood of historical analyses and reflections on the ‘War to End All Wars’.

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At Least a Better Tone – On Sino-US Relations

Xi-Obama at Sunnylands

A noticeable difference in tenor.  That is the first thing that struck me about this Dialogue meeting just recently concluded in Beijing.  The tenor of this Harvard-CASS Think Tank Dialogue on “Towards a New Model of Major-Country Relations between China and the United States” differed significantly from the Harvard-Beida Conference of January 2013.  The earlier Harvard-Beida Conference was filled with defensiveness and harsh questioning by our Chinese colleagues over the ‘American pivot’.  Chinese experts made repeated references to US efforts to contain China.  The suspicions over US policy and its intentions in Asia – especially US efforts to contain China – were largely absent from this meeting – apparently the 9th in the series.  Instead, in this meeting there were numerous references to the 35th anniversary of US-China relations.

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Tiptoeing to Freer Markets – China and the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone

Shanghai Waterfront


I apologize to all those who regularly read these posts.  They have, unfortunately, failed to be regular recently.

But I have been out there in the wide world – first in Russia at the St. Petersburg Summit and all last week in China. I shall report more on both these trips in the near future.

I did want to report, however, on an interesting experiment now underway – at least as of Sunday September 29th – China’s Shanghai pilot free trade zone (FTA).The FTA, it appears, is the cutting edge of the new leadership’s effort to bring more market and less regulation to China’s economy.  The FTA is 29 square kilometres in the north eastern section of Shanghai – stringing together areas of docks, hangars and warehouses in the Pudong district.

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Operating from Weakness, Not Strength – the CPC and Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping

Chris Buckley of the NYT reopened yesterday in the main western press the question of Document No 9 (sounds like a title to a movie).  This document first identified, apparently, by the Economist is supposedly a “secret” CPC document, according to Buckley, that has “undertaken a “mass line” campaign to enforce party authority that goes beyond the party’s  periodic calls for discipline.”  The document calls on the Party to oppose the promotion of western constitutional democracy. The narrative suggests that leftists in the Party have also picked up the anti-western critique to oppose the market reforms that Xi and the leadership are pressing for.

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Democracy and Economic Development in India


Well once again I must apologize for a prolonged silence. These past two weeks I have been travelling through parts of India most particularly Delhi and Agra and then through Rajasthan – Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jesilmar – etc.  This trip was deliberately far from the more rarified halls of global governance discourse.  It is always good to step away from the conference schedules and think tank encounters. Such action is an effort to get some tangible feel for the country.  But I always find it is well worth it – no more so than India.  India from the palaces and forts and bazaars is, as I found, an endlessly fascinating place.  The colors, smells and busy human activities are enticing and suggest possibilities for the future for this ancient/new land.

One of the continuing discussions I had with one of our Indian hosts was the state of progress for economic development in India.  This discussion emerged in a generally jocular discussion over the state of India’s roads.  But there was also a serious discussion as well.  It was an experience travelling on the roads through Rajasthan and Utter Pradesh.  They were, however, from a North American perspective – but for one road/expressway – quite dreadful.  The expressway was terrible for another reason that I shall relate in a moment.

These roads were filled with an enormous variety of vehicles from camel-pulled or buffalo-pulled carts, to the famous tuk tuks, to large trucks and small, bicycles and the ever-present motorbikes, all crowded on to generally badly paved and far too small carriageways.  But enough of the description.  The roads in fact are emblematic of a much larger societal issue – the tension between democracy in India – which as best as I could tell is alive and well – and the demands of development, market growth and prosperity more generally.  The ongoing discourse went something like this: the roads are inadequate for the demands of commerce, the market and people.  Their inefficiency burdens the movement of people and goods throughout the nation.  On the other side a strong Indian push back.  You, meaning me, see the roads from a “western perspective”.  These roads are satisfactory for Indian needs; Indians don’t crave what the system in North America provides.

Now it is not to say there are aren’t some expressways – I travelled on one – the Yamuna Expressway from Agra to Noida – about 10 km outside Delhi.  It is an amazing – amazing especially in the context of highways in India – but it was largely empty.  Most notably absent were the trucks – the big colorful loaded trucks.   There were some evident features that explained this rather haunting emptiness.  First there were almost no exits from Agra to Noida.  Truckers I was told prefer to connect from one community to another – offloading and taking on goods. That is impossible on this super expressway and in addition the stops really don’t accommodate trucker lifestyle, which includes stops conversation and sleep.  The end result is a magnificent highway for the tourists and individual vehicle occupants – that’s it.  Thus the critical goods and services transport is assigned to secondary hugely overcrowded roads.  Indeed in our travel from Delhi to Jaipur we ended up in a several hour delay surrounded by trucks in a very narrow stretch of this so-called main road.

So why are the roads the way they are?  And do the state of the roads threaten economic development?  Let’s look at the first issue – the terrible state of the highway network.  Here the tension with democratic wishes is evident.  Voters in the rural areas – a powerful influence in India – don’t set a high priority in enlarging and improving the road system.  This is especially the case where enlargement and improvement requires the confiscation and compensation of rural folk principally farmers.  Most farmers – with little enough land as it is – want nothing to do with shaving off portions of precious land.  Opposition abounds.  Politicians in India are not blind to the opposition and the voter impact.  So roads aren’t built, or they are built without reference to need.  Now obviously there are alternatives especially rail.  But don’t get me started on that.  My experience tells me that the rail system suffers from serious infrastructure underfunding, but I’ll need to explore further on that.

Now I don’t have the numbers on cost and time delivery but I have to assume that what I saw really suggests an inefficient costly system.  It is why many experts have come to believe that in the contest for economic growth and prosperity China and no India will achieve the better results in raising the poor from poverty.  Steven Rattner, a long time Wall Street financier and some time public policy participant has recently drawn that conclusion in a January piece in the New York Times entitled “India is Losing the Race”:

Many Westerners fervently hoped that a democratic country would triumph economically over an autocratic regime.  Now the contest is emphatically over. China has lunged into the 21st century, while India is still lurching toward it.  That’s evident not just in columns of dry statistics but in the rhythm and sensibility of each country. While China often seems to eradicate its past as it single-mindedly constructs its future, India nibbles more judiciously at its complex history. … Democratic it may be, but India’s ability to govern is compromised by suffocating bureaucracy, regular arm-wrestling with states over prerogatives like taxation and deeply embedded property rights that make implementing China-scale development projects impossible.

Maybe we “westerners” do not have the right frame of reference, as suggested by my Indian colleague, but I am willing to commit to a standard of economic growth, opportunity and increasing prosperity for India’s poor.  And right now India’s politics are failing India’s economic development needs.

What do you think?

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