The Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2023 was held from March 28-31 in Boao town of Qionghai City, Hainan province. The theme of this year's Annual Conference, "An Uncertain World: Solidarity and Cooperation for Development amid Challenges", is highly relevant as it fits the current situation and concerns of all parties. In this great change full of uncertainties, people are eager to have stronger forces of certainty to push the world towards a better future.
Based on the above background, Professor Zheng Yongnian discussed the role of China in maintaining international peace and security and promoting global development and prosperity.
Q: The theme of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2023 is " An Uncertain World: Solidarity and Cooperation for Development amid Challenges ". In terms of agenda setting, we will focus on four major topics: "development and inclusive benefits", "governance and security", "regional and global", and "present and future". What role do you think China can play and what advantages it has in these four issues?
Zheng Yongnian: Not only is China experiencing profound changes unseen in a century, but all economies in the world are facing enormous difficulties and challenges. In the face of bottlenecks in development, "openness" is still the most important thing for countries. Historically, "opening up" is an important prerequisite for economic development. Without opening up, the development would be difficult.
For many years, starting from the Trump administration, the United States has been suffering from trade protectionism and economic nationalism due to a bad economy. The West now calls this "economic populism". The "hyper globalization" of the past 40 years has created enormous wealth, but the distribution of income within the country has become increasingly unequal, the society has become increasingly divided, and the middle class has shrunk, which has led to the desire to adopt protectionist policies. What to do in a bad world economy? What about Asia? What about the whole world?
"Openness" is an effective answer to the trade protectionism, economic nationalism, and economic populism that have prevailed in some Western countries since Trump took office. Most countries face the problem of unfair income distribution and social polarization. However, to solve these problems, not behind closed doors can be solved, but in a truly open state.
The themes of "development and shared benefits", "governance and security", "regional and global", and "present and future" are all related to the inclusive multilateralism we have been advocating. If only one country develops while other countries fail to do so, this cannot be called universal benefits. The Asian platform is open to all countries in the world. Therefore, the Boao Forum was originally open to Asian countries, but now it is also open to Europe and the US. The Boao Forum itself is a symbol of an open China and an open Asia.
We are now faced with the challenge of how to solve our problems. In a word: We will continue to deepen reform and opening up. As Premier Li Qiang stressed at the Boao Forum, China's door will open even wider. The Boao Forum is a result of openness, which should be used to address the issue of confidence in the world.
Q: Please give a brief analysis of the current global economic situation, and on this basis, talk about the status and role of China's economy in the global economy.
Zheng Yongnian: China's role is very important. Now various international organizations are raising their forecasts for China's economic growth. According to the assessment of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Europe and the United States will not be able to lead the global economy this year even if there is no major economic recession due to the banking and financial crisis.
China's leadership has become important, with its contribution to world economic growth likely to reach 30 percent this year. China is the second-largest economy in the world and the largest economy in Asia. China's opening up has long been an important international public good.
In addition to achieving sustainable economic development, we also need to avoid conflict and war. Asia cannot afford war or chaos. Now the US and some countries are challenging our Asian order. How can we unite among Asian countries in the face of external forces? We are still facing many challenges this year.
Q: The world is facing such problems as inflation, slowing economic growth, regional conflicts, and global trade. Ban Ki-moon, chairman of the Boao Forum for Asia and former Secretary-General of the United Nations, described the current uncertainties in the world as a "mixed picture". Li Baodong, Secretary-General of the Boao Forum for Asia, also believed that the world is in turmoil and intertwined, and the two deficits of development and security have become more prominent. What do you think China can do to stabilize the world order and provide more confidence for world peace, development, and international cooperation? As a responsible major country, how can China provide better international public goods to the world? How to inject more certainty into the world?
Zheng Yongnian: Development and security are two interrelated concepts. Development is the foundation of security, and security is the guarantee of development. Today, the world is facing problems in both development and security. Of course, China faces some challenges, Asia also faces some challenges, but the main problem is the development of the West, especially the United States. Because the West has always been a developed economy, and the United States is the largest economy. When problems arise in the domestic development of the United States and in Europe, they are directly reflected at the international level and become international problems.
Clearly, two factors have contributed to today's development and security deficits. The first factor is America. Compared with Europe and America, the economic development momentum of our Asian countries is still quite good. However, because our Asian countries (including China) developed their economies under the state of opening up, the development problems of the United States and the West also have a great impact on our development.
The second, more important factor is the geopolitical change brought about by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The U.S. sees China as a competitor, bringing about changes in Sino-U.S. relations. Geopolitical issues have morphed into security issues. For Asia, of course, security issues have yet to erupt the way they have in Europe. Among them, China has played a positive role in stabilizing the situation in Asia.
Development impetus and security are the biggest and most core public goods that China provides to the regional and international order. The G20 Congress called for a steady expansion of institutional openness in rules, regulations, management, and standards. This shows that we need to use institutions to ensure opening up. In other words, we need to use institutions to ensure that China provides international public goods to the world. From the perspective of maintaining regional and global order, a major country should shoulder greater responsibilities and provide more and better public goods, as China has done. The Belt and Road Initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the BRICS Bank we have proposed are all good public goods.
Q: The Annual report "Asian Economic Prospects and Integration" released by the Boao Forum for Asia on March 28 predicts that the weighted real GDP growth rate of Asian economies in 2023 will be 4.5%, becoming a bright spot in the gloomy picture of the world economy. This shows that Asia is a key driver of world economic growth and sustainable development. In your opinion, what will be the driving force of the Asian economy in the future? What are the advantages of the Asian economy? Further, how can and should Asia drive the global economy?
Zheng Yongnian: The first point is of course technological progress. Technological progress used to be the driving force for growth in Europe, and it has also provided a driving force for the development of Asian countries today.
The second is integration, in the form of free trade and the building of a common market, in which Asian countries open up to each other. For example, China advocates the construction of a domestic unified market, ASEAN advocates the construction of a regional common market, and Northeast Asia free trade area.
The third is the labor dividend. The labor dividend in China and other Asian countries is huge, and the labor dividend in India and ASEAN countries is still huge, with a lot of good young talent.
The fourth is Asia's consumer market and middle class. The middle class in Asian countries may be the world's largest consumer group.
The fifth point is infrastructure investment. China has invested in the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which are all ongoing large-scale investments and construction.
In Asia, the dynamics are stronger than elsewhere. As long as there is no war between Asian countries as there is now in Europe, the future is infinitely good.
We need to see Asia's resilience and economic capacity. China is now the world's second-largest economy, Japan is the third-largest, India is rising fast, and ASEAN has a rising middle class. Asia is now the center of the world economy. Asia is now rising as a whole. It is not only the economies of great powers that are rising, but also those of middle-sized countries like Vietnam.
Asia's economies are resilient. Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chains and industrial chains within Asia have been largely unaffected. Asia's economic capacity, consumption capacity, development space and driving force are all there. Asia also has a spirit of openness. Asian economies have the capacity and the will to open up. In Asia, China is calling for openness, India is calling for openness, and ASEAN wants to be more open than anything else. Few countries say that we want to engage in trade protectionism and economic nationalism. These are the conditions for the continued rise of Asia.
Q: When attending the Boao Forum for Asia, The Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong said that when bilateral and regional issues inevitably arise, it is crucial to normalize economic and trade relations. How can China enhance cooperation with other countries in Asia and beyond to maintain stable and viable bilateral relations? Against the backdrop of increasingly fierce competition among countries and rising trade protectionism and unilateralism, how can we ensure normal and orderly economic and trade exchanges between Asia and the world?
Zheng Yongnian: Lee Hsien Loong mainly mentioned three points: For Asian countries, the first aspect is to strengthen economic relations with China, the second aspect is to strengthen relations among Asian countries, and the third aspect is to strengthen economic relations between Asia and economies outside the region. From Singapore's own national experience, the core concept of its economy is "opening up". Opening up to China, other Asian countries, Europe, the United States, and India is a characteristic of Singapore.
At this point in time, it's important to stay open. I think we should not only have stable bilateral relations but also emphasize multilateral relations. Bilateral relations are only one aspect. Bilateral opening-up should be based on multilateral opening-up. Trade and economic relations are always multilateral. Bilateral relations are only part of multilateral relations. If the emphasis is on bilateral relations, such as the one between the United States and Singapore, to the exclusion of other bilateral relations, then it leads to an economic relationship in which one country is dependent on another, and that is something that small countries want to avoid, and that is what Southeast Asia is trying to avoid.
ASEAN is an open platform, open to China, open to the United States, and open to India, and it will never be dominated by another economy. This is a very important point that we must make clear. It is very important for Singapore and ASEAN countries to maintain their relations with China, with other Asian countries, and with countries outside the region.
Foreign trade is very important for an open economy. Japan and the four Asian Tigers, including China's Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta, are all open economies that have developed through integration into the world economy. Under such circumstances, it is important to stay open even in times of economic hardship.
Economic cooperation is a system, and the traditional concept of free trade can no longer meet our current needs. China has now started negotiations with ASEAN on version 3.0 of free trade. But in fact, the concept of Version 3.0 is no longer enough. We now have to come up with the concept of a common market. The further globalization of the world is to promote the integration of the world, so we welcome any open policy. ASEAN's opening up to us, to the US and Europe is an effective way to promote globalization.
Q: In his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia, Premier Li Qiang proposed that the vision of a community with a shared future for mankind should be taken as the guide to injecting more certainty into world peace and development. How do you see the connection between the vision of a community with a shared future for mankind and world peace and development? In the context of the new international order, how to understand the positive significance of China's diplomatic ideas such as the Community with a shared future for mankind, the global development initiative, the global security initiative, and the global civilization Initiative to the world?
Zheng Yongnian: "Opening up" is good for us and good for other countries. The global development initiative and the global security initiative, including the latest Global Civilization Initiative, are interrelated.
Common development and common security are part of a community with a shared future for mankind. Without security, where can there be development? Without development, where is security? Development is the greatest security for any country, and everyone needs development. For regions and countries, no development is not secure, but development does not necessarily bring security, as income disparities and social inequities often lead to the rise of populism.
Therefore, security and development should be viewed at two levels, one is at the domestic level and the other is at the international level. Domestically, a country can only be safe if it has both development and an effective government that guarantees basic social equity. At the international level, common development should be ensured in a state of openness. Common development is part of the body of human destiny, which itself has its inherent economic logic in it, and is not just a slogan.
On the other hand, the Global Civilization Initiative is more important. Now Christian civilization, Muslim civilization, and our Eastern civilization seem to have entered what Huntington called a "clash of civilizations." Why are we proposing civilization initiatives now? The initiative refers to dialogue, exchanges, and mutual learning among civilizations. The rise of modern Western civilization is actually the result of mutual learning, it is not a simple revival of ancient Greek civilization. Since the Renaissance, the West has sought out the values of ancient Greek civilization, science and mathematics from Arab civilization, and secularism and rationalism from Eastern civilization.
Western civilization since modern times is actually the result of mutual learning, which is what China advocates. Why do we propose a new form of human civilization? Since modern times, the West has become what we see as Western civilization through mutual learning. However, the West has become strong in modern times. Social Darwinism and "survival of the fittest" are used to demonstrate the "advanced" of imperialism and colonialism. Should we do such a civilization?
The rejuvenation of Chinese civilization is a pursuit of peaceful development. Our new form of human civilization does not mean that Eastern civilization will replace Western civilization, but that we do not want to follow the path of colonialism and imperialism taken by Western civilization.
Our modernization is not a modernization in which some people get rich, but a modernization in which all people get rich. Externally, we want to pursue peaceful development, rather than expansion through war. That is why we want to talk about a new form of human civilization. We want to avoid the damage and devastating results that the previous expansion of Western civilization caused to other non-Western civilizations.
China is a secular civilization, and the nature of a secular civilization is openness and inclusiveness, which is what the world needs. China's "inclusive multilateralism" is now shared by other countries. In the process of the rise and rejuvenation of Chinese civilization, not only China itself should become more open and inclusive, but also the whole world should become more open and inclusive.
Q: Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar said that in the post-COVID-19 era, the momentum of Belt and Road cooperation should be consolidated. In the spirit of solidarity and cooperation, Asian countries and the rest of the world should join hands to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, promote social justice, and raise living standards in an all-round way. The development of the Belt and Road Initiative is the most vivid manifestation of the spirit of solidarity and cooperation. In terms of promoting peace and inclusive development in Asia and the world at large, what is the specific significance of the Belt and Road Initiative for world peace and development? What more can China do to promote international cooperation so that more people in other countries and regions can benefit from China's Belt and Road Initiative?
Zheng Yongnian: Over 100 countries have joined the Belt and Road Initiative. It is an international public good in itself. The purpose of its establishment is to promote common development and common modernization, which is fundamentally different from Western colonialism and imperialism in the past.
China's Belt and Road Initiative and the AIIB mainly help local developing countries with infrastructure construction. Infrastructure, from our own experience, is an important driver of economic development; Without infrastructure development, the economy cannot develop. China's Belt and Road Initiative aims to share its good development experience with all.
We are now building roads, high-speed rail, seaports, airports, hospitals, schools and stadiums in Africa and Asia, all the infrastructure a country needs to grow economically. We have come this way ourselves, and we want these countries to have good infrastructure. In the process of construction, considering the ability of local countries to pay, there are some exchanges, but this is not the Western slander China "neo-imperialism".
We need to be confident that the local countries will welcome us and that the Belt and Road Initiative will be sustainable. We still need to be positive. After years of hard work, the China-Laos Railway and the China-Europe Express are both achievements. These are high-quality public goods that we have provided to other countries in the world.