by Andrea Fais
The words that Xi Jinping said at the 47th World Economic Forum (WEF) have really surprised just the most inattentive people. During his visit to Davos, where leaders, entrepreneurs and economists meet every year to talk about the main international economic issues, Xi has referred to globalization essentially trying to defend its historic meaning from some unfounded accusations.
China is long applying for the position of pioneer in a overhaul process of the global economic and financial architecture according to new parameters that let competitiveness and innovation determine the international balances and go beyond the prejudices and antagonisms related to the Cold War world concept. It was not by chance that for several years the Chinese government's reports have placed terms like 'globalization' and 'multipolarization' side by side in a sort of cause-effect relationship.
The World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab's warning about the risk to confuse globalization with the indiscriminate market fury had already revealed the rising points that the participants would have faced within the frame of the forum which was dedicated to the theme of the Responsible and Responsive Leadership. However Xi Jinping went beyond all this and defined globalization as "the big ocean that you cannot escape from", in which it is necessary "to swim".
The Chinese President has also described the international financial crisis as "the consequence of excessive chase of profit by financial capital and grave failure of financial regulation". He said nothing strange while he asserted that to leave the global economy and pursue protectionism "is like locking oneself in a dark room" where it would be possible to take refuge from wind and rain but light and air would be blocked at the same time.
Since more than two years we have tried to pursue a rational and prudent key to the interpretation of the globalization process starting just from the idea of the double meaning of this phenomenon that by now characterizes our life, production and consumption standards.
On the one hand we can consider the globalization in its subjective dimension, that is strictly political. It marked the 1990s scenario when the US, after the end of the Cold War, tried to expand its sphere of influence and reproduce its development model abroad. Several years ago, the Polish-US analyst Zbigniew Brzezinski described that "idealist" stage as the Bill Clinton's trial to make the foreign policy into a simple extension of the domestic policy. On the contrary at Davos Xi Jinping has underlined that "no country should view its own development path as the only viable one".
On the other hand we need to consider the globalization in its objective dimension, that is strictly economic. It has increased the trade and flows of investment all over the world, allowed many underdeveloped regions to acquire new capabilities and effectively contributed to reduce the poverty.
It is exactly this last and concrete meaning of globalization process that Xi Jinping has referred to, especially when he has said that "from the historical perspective, economic globalization resulted from growing social productivity, and is a natural outcome of scientific and technological progress, not something created by any individuals or any countries". Even when the President has talked about the contradictions of our times, quoting a famous sentence from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities novel, he seemed to remark this double meaning - economic and political - of the globalization process. On one side there are the "growing material wealth and advances in science and technology", on the other one there are the "frequent regional conflicts, global challenges like terrorism and refugees, as well as poverty, unemployment and widening income gap".
For us as westerners, who were long used to an ideological yes-global/no-global dispute between conservative rightist parties and radical leftist movements, it is not so easy to understand how the Communist Party of China's General Secretary could have spoken in favour of the expansion and facilitation of trade and investment, especially in an implicit anti-protectionist debate with the US president Donald Trump (or with the European Union?). Nevertheless it is not the world to have been overturned as many newspapers have wrongly written inside their articles to capture their readers' attention by resorting to some challenging and catchy titles. The world economy is simply restructuring its own framework according to the new balances that see China not banally taking the US place as the global dominant power but becoming a sort of spokesperson or primus inter pares, with due proportion, of a thick multitude of emerging nations that have been chiefly excluded from the decision-making in the 20th century.
This is the deep meaning of a big plan like the Belt and Road (OBOR) strategy that the President Xi Jinping launched more than three years ago to bring the old Silk Road routes back from the past connecting more rapidly and easily not only Asia to Europe but also Pacific and Indian Oceans to the Mediterranean Sea. It is surely a geopolitical revolution and it will imply a global change of mentality especially in Western Europe because we have been long used to look mainly toward the other side of the Northern Atlantic as the guiding light of the world development. Maybe Italy represents an exception in this sense since our country has never really lost the contact with the East even during the Cold War preferring to follow its particular multi-vector foreign policy. Anyway the European political and social perception is still influenced by the old-fashioned idea of Western primacy that, as a last resort, could bring our people to choose populist paths like a hard-line protectionism and dangerous tensions with the Muslim world.
Xi Jinping is right when he argues that the recent crisis, as the financial or migration ones, are not the outcome of globalization, a word to which we westerners have vaguely long ascribed miracles or catastrophes. Is it the globalization that has brought Europe in this confused situation or rather the lack of suitable mechanisms of regulation and control, the absence of a common and independent foreign policy and the idealization of the austerity and fiscal instrument as absolute guarantors of stability and equity?
As the fate would have it, in the same day of Xi's speech at Davos the UK Prime Minister Theresa May presented the British strategy to leave the EU ratifying the address assumed by London after the referendum in 2016. Anyway whoever believes that, leaving the Union, the British government will abandon its historical trade and financial vocation to shelter behind a castle in Cornwall or reopen some old forsaken factory in the Midlands, will be very wrong. Mrs. May made clear that she wants to build a "stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking" Great Britain at the point that just China is significantly rising among the UK partners after the Brexit. The image of the recent first freight train arriving to London from Yiwu in just 16 days is worth a thousand words and makes us understand that many things are really changing.
What about Donald Trump? Although his commercial threats and his gaffes on Taiwan, one week before the Davos Forum the White House new tenant had received Mr. Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, to understand how to reorient American goods in the Chinese market throughout the e-commerce with the chance to create one million of jobs in the US. If Trump will be prudent and realist he could even find a common ground of dialogue with Beijing in trade and investment fields. The Chinese supply-side structural reform is really transforming the country in a new modern, innovative, sustainable and high-tech content market and by the end of the 13th Five-years plan in 2020 we could see another China
very different from twenty or thirty years ago, with an economy that will be driven no more by exports but domestic consumption.
Who is now risking to be at the mercy of the waves is Europe. If Brussels will be unable again to ¡°swim¡± in the globalization ocean just suffering its effects or insisting on an old-fashioned conflict with Russia, the price to pay could be very high.
(Andrea Fais (b. Perugia, 1984) is the editor-in-chief of the Italian magazine of global affairs ¡®Scenari Internazionali¡¯. )