The WTO is the world’s primary trading system, comprised of 164 member-economies scattered across all of the world’s five continents, and it is obviously in the interests of the world that it works effectively. But growing disputes between China and the Western economies are making the World Trade Organization increasingly dysfunctional. Could the result be a radical overhaul of the global trading system?
Europe is not used to getting its way in trade negotiations with China. But that is exactly what appeared to happen at the EU-China Summit recently. In the days leading up to the meeting in Brussels, it looked like the two sides would fail to agree a joint statement for a third straight year. European Union ambassadors complained of the “slow and difficult” talks with their Chinese counterparts. Just four days ahead of the summit, one diplomat told Euractiv that Brussels and Beijing remained “worlds apart” on several key issues. But all that changed when the Chinese side made a last-minute push to secure a deal.
The rapid deterioration in relations between China and the US over the past 12 months has left many scratching their heads and wondering how we got here. Stephen S. Roach is not one of those people. A former Chief Economist of Morgan Stanley and currently Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Roach has been watching the development of Chinese-US relations closely for more than three decades. For him, a tariff war between the world’s two largest economies was as predictable as it is harmful.
The Sino-US trade tussle has had the greatest impact on multinational corporations in China—precisely the group that the US started out trying to support. Many have begun considering radical courses of action to stay in business.
For many in Beijing, the trade war confirms long-held suspicions that the United States is determined to thwart China’s rise as the world’s next superpower. As a result, US demands that China abandon Made in China 2025 have also tended to be viewed by Beijing as being motivated not by concerns over fair competition, but by a desire to make sure America keeps its lead in the global innovation race. Public statements from senior figures in the Trump administration have fueled these concerns—the trade war not as an isolated incident, but part of a longer history of US attempts to undermine rival powers.
Few thinkers can speak about global governance with as much authority as Kishore Mahbubani. A former President of the United Nations Security Council, Permanent Secretary of Singapore’s Foreign Ministry and Dean of the renowned Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, he has been named “the muse of the Asian century”. In his latest book, due next year, Mahbubani plans to tackle the rising tensions between the US and China. As he explains, the US should embrace a more minimalist and strategic approach to foreign policy to maximize its interests in an era of Asian dominance.
China’s huge current account surplus was once the symbol of its status as the “factory of the world.” But in recent years, that surplus has been shrinking. Last year, it sank to 1.3% of GDP. The half-year deficit announced in August was the first in more than 20 years. Some economists predict China could soon be running a current account deficit. If that happens, it will be a watershed moment with implications for all manner of issues, from the policies Beijing is able to pursue to the status of the RMB as a global currency and maybe even the way the US finances its debt.
For nearly 50 years, most of the world’s oil has been bought and sold with US dollars. But that may be changing, as the energy exchange center in Shanghai has begun trading a yuan-denominated oil futures contract. Six months after the contract, more 10% of the world’s oil is now traded in yuan. Why are the Shanghai contracts so popular? Will the world enter a petrol-yuan era from petrol-dollar era? How will the situation evolve against the background of trade war between the two largest economies?
Cleaning up China’s poisoned air, water and soil and transforming its industry-dependent economy is a vast task, one that may need an investment of up to 620 billion per year—and government can only directly fund 10-15%. To achieve its ambitions, the government needs to attract investment from the financial sector, private companies, households and international investors. Green finance offers the opportunity and China has rapidly established itself as one of the biggest players in the global green finance movement. But how green are China’s green bonds? Many analysts argue that if you scratch under the Chinese system’s green veneer, it reveals a different color entirely.
The speed at which China has emerged as a major player in Southeast Asia is stunning. In 2000, total trade in goods between China and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was only $40 billion. By 2014, this had leaped to $480 billion, and is forecast to reach $1 trillion by 2020. Southeast Asia has become a strategic market for companies across the whole Chinese economy. Manufacturers are looking to offshore production in order to reduce labor costs, while tech companies are eyeing the region’s 633 million-strong consumer market as a new source of growth.