The world is undergoing challenges rarely seen in a century and multilateralism is increasingly under stress. To counter this volatile landscape, much of the international community has fortunately reaffirmed its support for a more open world economy.
Over a decade after a global financial crash stemming from Wall Street sent panic across the world, global economic recovery remains fragile. It now faces a surge of unilateralism and protectionist measures that threaten global economic and security interests.
This instability further “creates incentives for some countries to try to break the rules,” said Mauricio Santoro, Professor of International Relations at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“In the short term, some countries can gain a certain advantage, but in the medium or long term, we all lose,” said Santoro.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Second China International Import Expo in Shanghai, China, Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Roberto Azevedo, among other trade officials, called for the re-embracing of multilateralism.
“Global output growth is slowing down,” the WTO Chief warned. “The optimal way forward is for countries to work together.”
Acknowledging that multilateralism today faces difficulties, former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said that it is “absurd and more so dangerous” in period of tensions to desert and abandon cooperation and channels of dialogue.
“Nations today are so interdependent … that cooperation is a daily obligation,” he said.
Unilateralism is not confined to economics. Natural disasters partly caused by rising temperatures and sea levels terrorism, and the risk of nuclear proliferation are increasing at unprecedented levels.
Fiji has been consistently ranked high in climate change vulnerability, among other countries in the South Pacific Region.
Speaking at a workshop on climate change this month, Fiji’s Minister for Agriculture, Waterways & Environment Mahendra Reddy said it is evident that climate change is one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced.
“Our reliance on climatic sensitive sectors means it is vital that we enhance the climate resilience of Fiji’s economy,” he said.
Global solutions through multilateralism is needed to address climate change due to its nature as a global problem, the minister said.
Although Washington has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal two landmark global accords to tackle climate change and nuclear proliferation the highly unpopular moves have stimulated more governments and international institutions to speak against acting alone.
“These challenges call for immediate and collective action and can be tackled only if we all put our shoulders to the wheel,” wrote Ulrika Modeer, the United Nations Development Programme Assistant Secretary General. “This is where multilateralism plays a critical role, now, more than ever.”
In the face of rising unilateralism and trade protectionism, China has showcased its strong commitment to safeguarding multilateralism, upholding international governance with the UN at its core, and supporting international law.
“Chinese diplomacy appears to me as inspired by a conviction deeply rooted in Chinese culture: cooperation is worth more than tension,” said Raffarin, adding that the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) was born from such conviction.
According to Robert Lawrence Kuhn, Chairman of the Kuhn Foundation, China’s strong commitment to multilateralism is vital to the stability, security and healthy development of the entire world.
“I am struck by the breadth and scope of China’s engagement with the world,” said Kuhn, adding that the importance of the BRI “is hard to overstate.”
“It is crucial for the developing world’s economy, and thus it is vital for the peace and prosperity of the entire world,” he said, explaining that the BRI expands links between Asia, Africa and Europe and thus reduces development imbalances while promoting economic growth.
China’s expertise and experience in infrastructure construction is what the developing world needs to kick-start their economies, he added.
Recently, China has unveiled plans to implement a slew of new opening-up measures, including further lowering tariffs and transaction costs, and importing more high-quality goods and services from around the world.
At a time when some major powers are “looking inward” or advocating protectionism, China has become a cheerleader for international solidarity in tackling global challenges, said Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Mukhisa Kituyi.
“It’s a vote of confidence in multilateralism and international cooperation, and I think the world needs that significantly at this moment,” Kituyi said.
During their interviews, officials and experts acknowledged China’s role as a responsible player in promoting world prosperity and security.
“There is no multilateralism to be possible if China doesn’t play an active role in that process, not only in its construction but also in its reform,” said Arancha Gonzalez, executive director of the International Trade Center.
“China is an essential factor in commercial multiculturalism, in countering climate change and in any dimension of multilateralism,” Gonzalez said.