China’s One Belt, One Road initiative is the fusion of two development schemes—the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Together they comprise infrastructure between 65 countries containing 63% of the world population, more than 35% of global merchandise trade, and 30% of global GDP. To date about $ 150 billion in investment has been committed.
After several decades when most Western governments inclined toward freer and more global trade, the mood seems to be changing. In the US, the presidential candidates have agreed on little but the need to keep a closer eye on trade agreements. In the United Kingdom, the new Prime minister, Theresa May, seems determined to fulfill the British public’s wish to leave the European Union, despite the fact that the pound sterling sank recently to a 168-year low. Skepticism over trade deals seems likely to remain a stubborn presence in most of the mature economies, so what should Chinese companies do to react?
For the past three decades, the general political consensus in the mature Western economies has been that trade liberalization is a good thing: most economists credit rising levels of global trade and cross-border investment with lifting nearly a billion people out of poverty in the developing world and reducing prices for consumers almost everywhere. Yet despite those successes, a growing segment of the public in the mature economies sees the impact of liberal trade policies quite differently— the revisionist view sees free trade as a major cause of the declining prosperity in the mature economies. Why has an anti-globalization consensus developed?
Asia is seeing growing rivalries—and also the enduring influence of the US. In the post-war years it was perhaps easy to take for granted the deep and vast sway held by the US in Asia—from its significant role in the Asian Development Bank to its closeness to regional powerhouse Japan. China’s recent rise has reconfigured the terms of politics, economics and trade in Asia—and the world. That has informed the US’s much-discussed ‘pivot’ to Asia, a key plank of which has been the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Are China’s prospects in trade and regional influence hampered because it is not a signatory of the TPP?
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