A Reform Agenda for China’s G20 Summit

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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?

Image Credit:  ithappensinIndia.com


“What’s on Second”

So let’s stipulate – I like acting like a US lawyer – that the US grand strategy  of the second term seems fixed on Asian rebalancing or  a ‘Pivot’, and that we have at least some acknowledgement in the halls of Washington that the new grand strategy is as much about economic diplomacy as political and military actions, as I wrote in the last blog post – ‘Determining Who’s On First‘.  Well how does this then line up the US-China relationship in the face of new leadership in Beijing?  That requires us to look at both the domestic and foreign policy stance of the new leadership.

On the domestic front are we likely to see significant economic and even political reform?  On the foreign policy front are we likely to see a more reflective and restrained Chinese strategy in the Asia Pacific in the light of the need to build or rebuild economic alliances and wider collaborative behavior?

Now a quick examination of likely domestic policy moves.  First, let’s dispel the impossible.  There was little likelihood, asymptotically approaching zero I’d say that these new leaders – from this generation of leaders – would on their own adopt democratic political reform.  As China expert Susan Shirk put it recently in the FT.com in the run up to the new Standing Committee choices:

This is a question of legitimacy and popular support for the party,” says Susan Shirk, a US expert on Chinese politics put it ft.com in “China wrestles with democratic reform (November 7, 2012): “They need to show that they’re moving in the direction of democracy but they are very fearful of losing actual control.

So their might be musings of reform – in fact there were such thoughts expressed by some in the old Standing Committee, but actual reform – not likely.  To seemingly underscore this, the two candidates most likely to favor political reform – Li Yuanchao the head of the Organization Department (and an early attendee to Harvard’s Kennedy School) and Wang Yang the Communist Party Chief of Guangdong Province – were both left off the Standing Committee. As Iain Mills, a freelance writer in China saw it:

Also of note was the public reappearance of ex-President Jiang Zemin alongside one of the instrumental figures in the Tiananmen crackdown, ex-Premier Li Peng. Although Jiang had taken on the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and secured China’s accession to the World Trade Organization during his presidency, in terms of social and economic policy, the influence of this generation of leaders would seem to be highly retrograde. Jiang loyalists took senior positions in the Central Military Commission, while conservative factions appear to have blocked the promotion of reform-minded officials such as Wang Yang.

Okay so little likelihood of serious political reform.  But what of significant economic reform.  Certainly the previous leadership including Premier Wen Jiabao pointed to the need  to tackle the growing economic power and corruption of China’s State-owned Enterprises.  Now of course The Premier only began to talk about this at the twilight of his career.  And it would appear that the collective message, including from the new Chairman Xi Jinping,  is a broadly anti-corruption message.  Unfortunately this message is conservative and not reformist.  The anti-corruption message is an internal Party message to root out bad guys -if they can be found – and not indicative of major structural reform. Again Iain Mills reflections on economic reform seems apt:

It should also be noted that the renewed pre-eminence of conservative elements on both the Standing Committee and the Central Military Commission comes ahead of potential changes of the heads of key civilian institutions including the People’s Bank of China, the state-run power sector and the National Social Security Fund. How these institutions will be aligned and function under the new administration remains unclear. The broader picture, however, seems one of an economic reform agenda that will continue at a gradual pace, while hopes of major political reform have been pushed out to 2017 at the earliest.

Finally, what then of foreign policy action? Now it was positive that the new Chairman took over the the Central Military Commission.  It is evident that foreign policy has suffered from a number of voices.  China’s behavior in the Asia Pacific has seemingly become more assertive.  The pattern has yet to end.   A new policy to take effect on January 1st provides that border patrol police will have the right to board and expel foreign ships entered disputed waters in the South China Sea.  China has also begun to issue new visas that includes a picture including disputed territory in the South China Sea.  Various South China states including the Philippines and Vietnam have publicly objected to the new visas and refused to validate them.  Officials seem to be continuing policies that reflect the assertive China strategy in the South China Sea, not to mention the East China Sea.  In the face of little moderation, China policy, as described by Mills, appears to continue to be an assertive nationalist approach:

Beijing has often been unable to speak with one voice on major external events and has offered no clear articulation of how it would operate as the largest power in Asia. This vacuum, coupled with still-fervent nationalist sentiment in many quarters, appears to have been filled by those who favor a more forceful approach to enforcing China’s foreign policy objectives.

The assertive China approach has driven a number of ASEAN states to encourage a US return to Asia; it has even enabled Japan to play the military card with a number of Asian players.  There is little to hinder the new leadership if it chose to moderate its stance in the Asia Pacific.  Let’s watch closely for a more collaborative China approach of the new China leadership.

Image Credit:  Reuters

Determining Who’s On First

The last couple weeks have concluded busy leadership contests.  The two contemporary great powers of the international system – The United States and China – both have chosen new leadership.  The methods could not be more different.  Many observers have commented on the dramatic contrast.  And the contrast is stark –  Barack’s democratic national election voted on by millions upon millions of American citizens, as opposed to the backroom horse-trading by unelected Party seniors concluding shortly after the 18th Communist Party Congress, with the traditional march on stage of the seven – all men – Standing Committee Members of the Politburo.

But this yawning gap in the reliance on popular will and accountability is no surprise.  This has been, and sadly continues to be, the CPC modus operandi.  Nor is it a surprise to witness the dramatic electoral slog by sitting Presidents – all to the good – and the US contenders “dukeing” it out – in this instance President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney – and billions spent by both sides in this electoral contest.  Instead let’s look at the expectations and consequences of the choices made.

Certainly, the reelection of Barack Obama keeps fixed in place – at least for now – the signature American foreign policy thrust – the rebalancing of US policy toward Asia – the so-called pivot. And indeed Obama’s first foreign sojourn has been to Asia and to the leaders EAS gathering in Phnom Penh.  And on the way Obama – a son of Asia in part – visited Thailand and more startling – Burma – indeed the first American President to make such a visit.  But it was at the EAS, the Leaders forum, where the United States made its presence known.  One of the agreements signed was with the ASEAN, a key player in Asia, where the US and ASEAN signed the “Expanded Economic Initiative” or E3 -an agreement as the White House Press release declares is:

… a new framework for economic cooperation designed to expand trade and investment ties between the United States and ASEAN, creating new business opportunities and jobs in all eleven countries

ASEAN at this time has a combined GDP of USD$2.2 trillion and is the fourth largest export market for the US and largest trading partner overall.

But this agreement signals a more nuanced and sophisticated foreign policy.  US policy has been so militarized over the last decades and in particular by the initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan that many officials and observers fail to recognize today the critical nature of economic diplomacy.  But the US rebalancing is not just about – and indeed possibly not primarily about – repositioning of forces, though this is important as well.

It is more than evident that foreign policy officials, especially Secretary of State Clinton see that US grand strategy is about – economic diplomacy.  In fact just before the announcement of the E3 initiative between the US and ASEAN, Secretary Clinton delivered a speech at the Singapore Management University entitled, “Delivering on the Promise of Economic Statecraft.”  This important speech includes the ‘startling’ admission that:

For the first time in modern history, nations are becoming major global powers without also becoming global military powers.  So to maintain our strategic leadership in the region, the United States is also strengthening our economic leadership.  And we know very well that America’s economic strength at home and our leadership around the world are a package deal.  Each reinforces and requires the other.

Now in fact the myopia of the Washington beltway is rather breathtaking when you think about it.  Geez foggy bottom has discovered economic diplomacy.  It is not just about guns boys and girls.  I would gently point to my mentor, and indeed a mentor to many in the international relations field  – Richard Rosecrance – now at the Harvard Belfer Center that wrote way back in 1986  The Rise of the Trading State: Commerce and Conquest in the Modern World. The book focused in part on Germany and Japan that had chosen the path of territorial conquest only to discover post war – and following the enormous destruction brought by territorial conquest – that power and plenty and great power status could be acquired through trade, investment and commerce and without the resort to territorial aggrandizement.

In the context then of current US grand strategy then, as Secretary Clinton states:

In short, we are shaping our foreign policy to account for both the economics of power and the power of economics.  The first and most fundamental task is to update our foreign policy and its priorities for a changing world.  … Responding to threats will, of course, always be central to our foreign policy.  But it cannot be our foreign policy.  America has to seize opportunities that will shore up our strength for years to come.  That means following through on our intensified engagement in the Asia Pacific and elevating the role of economics in our work around the world.

Of course the path of US grand strategy is equal parts domestic and foreign policy.  The so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ and debt accumulation of the US do need to be addressed.  To counter China views of US decline, US domestic policy needs to repair its economy – and not on the backs of others.  But US economic initiatives of the sort that Clinton reviews in the Asia Pacific will be critical in raising US economic growth from the anemic to the robust and ensuring the US a continuing influence in the Asia Pacific.

But what about China and its new leadership?  Stay tuned.

Image Credit:  Daily Telegraph – dailytelegraph.com.au