Global Economy: Reducing “China-Dependence” Is Not Practical. Nor Feasible – Modern Diplomacy

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Wealthlandnews June 7, 2022
Updated 2022/06/07 at 3:53 PM

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The US fears of global economic “over-reliance” on China have failed to result in a desirable shift away from “Made in China” to “Made around China” even as the latest epidemic lockdowns have hit the Chinese economy hard. Ironically, the pandemic has forced some companies planning to move out of China to scale back investment plans and forget about lessening dependence on China. Not at all surprising what is being commonly heard in Shanghai and in most world financial centers – the evolution of the world’s economic landscape is determined not by indulging in geopolitical games but by economic rules.
Following the aggressive US trade policy since President Trump began unilaterally imposing ever-high trade tariffs on the Chinese imports in 2018, it’s been more than four years but the world is yet to see any encouraging “movement” in the evolution from Made in China to Made around China. Prolonged lockdowns in China in the past two years either due to the coronavirus pandemic or as many argue due to the country’s “zero COVID” policy, including the ongoing “shutdown” in Shanghai, the world’s largest supply chain “hub,” too have failed to push the multinational supply chains to move away.
As much as it is true that the coronavirus pandemic has not only acquired global import but has also severely impacted international supply chains, it is inevitable that the global economic activity is brought to a screeching halt. As a result, as supply chains withered, virtually all major economies in the world are suffering and have become vulnerable. Further, while it is true the pandemic started in China but it is in Europe, in particular in the EU, where the most lasting impact of the pandemic is felt. No wonder, among foreign businesses in Shanghai it is the European companies either doing business in China or have production units there that are more “excited” with the recent announcement by the Chinese authorities that Shanghai would start easing its COVID measures on June 1.
Moreover, for a large number of Japanese, European, and also US firms, what is of even greater significance is that China is not only a critical market but it also serves as an important base for exploring global markets. Two-fifths or over 2000 European businesses in China are based in or near Shanghai, while there are over 5,600 Japanese firms in Shanghai. To these European and Japanese firms, the comprehensive connection between China and the global economy in terms of both trading and industrial chain is of great significance for global businesses. In this context, a good example to cite here is the positive role China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) connectivity has been playing in facilitating trade cooperation between Japan and the EU.
Europe’s “Twin” Nightmares
Already battered, the coronavirus-hit European economy since early summer two years ago, the EU – the world’s second-largest trading bloc in nominal terms, was facing two nightmares simultaneously at the time of the 23rd China-EU economic summit. One nightmare was the Russian assault on Ukraine in late February, and the other was the total shutdown of factory production and other economic activities in Shanghai a month later. Of the two nightmares, it was the latter that cast its shadow over the China-EU summit on April 1.
European analysts have argued that under the combined weight of the double whammy of the two nightmares, the EU had been forced to scrap its decades-long multifaceted, tripartite approach towards China. “This leads to the conclusion,” says Justyna Szczudlik, Research Head, Asia-Pacific Program, Polish Institute of International Affairs, “China is neither a partner nor an economic competitor.”
On the other hand, in its eighth and latest report released a month ago, the Berlin-based largest European research institute focusing solely on the analysis of contemporary China and its relations with Europe – Mercator Institute of China Studies (MERICS),   has claimed there is a growing public perception that “European dependence on China is increasing.”
At the same time, while admitting that Xi Jinping’s uncompromising “zero COVID” policy has severely hit the confidence of European businesses in China, a survey conducted by the European Chamber of Commerce in China a few days ago revealed that only about 23% are thinking (my emphasis) about shifting future investments to other markets.
Japanese, South Korean, and ASEAN Dependency on China
Riding high on the success of the RCEP, of which China has emerged as perhaps the biggest beneficiary, Beijing appears to have been undeterred by a spurt of economic and political activities recently in East and Southeast Asia. In fact, in spite of the unprecedented weeks-long shutdown of economic activity in Shanghai and nearby hubs, Beijing has been exuding extraordinary confidence in dismissing any threat or danger to the global economy’s continuing “over-reliance” on China as impractical. Reacting strongly to the recently held 28th Japan-EU economic summit in Tokyo, to the electoral victory of the conservative South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol, and to the first-ever US-ASEAN leaders’ summit in Washington, a Global Times editor wrote that China has no problem whatsoever with other countries in the region seeking cooperation within or outside the region, but making issues about China under those agenda is “an ill-advised choice.”
Remember, Japan has more intertwined economic ties within Asia, with China and ASEAN economic bloc being its two largest trading partners respectively. The US and EU rank third and fourth on Japan’s large trading partners’ list. Last year Japan recorded its highest trade deficit in seven years at $42.7 billion, but its exports to China grew 14.9% to $140.8 billion, a record high. Experts in Beijing are aware of the rough tide Tokyo has been encountering in its exports to Europe. The Japanese media is filled with reports about how Brexit has profoundly and adversely impacted the world’s third-largest economy’s businesses in Europe.
Additionally, the fact that the UK has been a vital base for the Japanese business operations in Europe, and due to both a slumping European economy and the UK exiting the EU forced several Japanese businesses to shut down production units in Britain. Japan’s Nikkei Asia had reported in August 2020 how the carmaker Honda first reduced and shifted production capacity back to Japan and eventually closed the UK factory in 2021.
As mentioned, in addition to China’s colossal consumer market and China playing the role of an important base for exploring global markets – the two vital factors making the global economy increase its “China reliance” – a third vital factor the global economy can ill-afford to lessen China-dependency is China’s BRI transportation connectivity paving the way for an alternative route for multinational industrial supply chains to ship cargo from China to markets abroad. The Japan Times had reported how in recent years Japan had been exploiting the BRI transportation projects in coordinating its trade with Europe.
China-US Inter-dependency: “De-coupling” or “Diversionary trade policy”    
According to the annual white paper released a week ago by the American Chamber of Commerce in China, 83% of the American businesses in China are “not considering relocating manufacturing or sourcing outside of China. The AmCham China white paper (2022) also revealed nearly 50% of the American firms believed China’s growth in domestic consumption and the rise of its growing, affluent middle class is seen by them as a top-class business opportunity. Besides, despite challenges brought by COVID-19 resurgences, the return of long lockdowns, and global uncertainties, China’s YOY actual use of foreign capital jumped 26.1% to $74.47 billion in the first four months of this year, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce.  In Beijing, the MOFCOM also claimed the investments from the US surged by 53.2% year-on-year in the first quarter of this year.
Business experts in the US and China have been warning against attempts to cut China out of supply chains as this would lead to not only losing China’s huge market but also result in rising costs. Earlier, explaining some US-bound production moving out of China to Southeast and South Asia as “trade diversion” and not “de-coupling,” the IMA Asia managing director Richard Martin said new locations outside of China invariably continue to import components and materials from mainland China. Likewise, early this year, Indian media had reported how China’s loosening grip over the world textile trade was opening a door for the Indian manufacturers. On receiving an export order of 400,000 T-shirts from a large German brand, the managing director of an apparel export firm in the Indian textile manufacturing hub, Tirupur in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, had said: “In the last few months, many Tirupur-based suppliers have seen increased orders from international brands and we think this is at least partly due to their lessening dependence on China.”
Finally, the US companies operating in China – just like Japanese firms and European businesses – understand it better than the political elite that switching production means huge financial costs. In the words of Hong Kong-based Aiden Yao, a senior economist and the author of the paper Preserving Made in China in the Age of Globalization, “most companies have fostered such strong supply networks in China that it will be difficult for them to move.” But above all, businesses are driven by economic benefits and not decided by geopolitics. Today, manufacturing in China is no longer about low labor costs, but more about the sophistication and scale of the country’s supply chains. Ultimately, as Yao says, foreign businesses continue to flock to China not because they are in love with China, they are there for sound commercial and economic rationalities.
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Hemant Adlakha is professor of Chinese, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He is also vice chairperson and an Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), Delhi.
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Globalization is defined as the dilution of national borders, socio-cultural and socio-political interaction, and cross-border economic and trade cooperation among nations. There is not an iota of doubt that Globalization in the 21st Century repudiated the socio-cultural barriers and paved the way for cross border transactional interactions but the achievements of Globalization are eclipsed by its harm with more intensity. At the holistic level, Globalization is de facto Westernization which only benefitted the Core countries at the expense of the periphery countries. The harm of Globalization overshadowed its achievements.
Firstly discussing the good aspects of Globalization: Globalization helped humanity to broaden and enhance their knowledge and exposure through different kinds of cultural exchange programs. Among 193 countries of UNO the socio-cultural and historical understanding of other nations, ethnicities, and religions amplified under the educational exchange programs like UGRAID and Fulbright Scholarship. UNESCO is the global sponsor for cultural exchange too under the flagship banner of Globalization. Such programs create awareness, tolerance, and diversity in society. The educational exchange among the different nations due to cross-border diversity paved the way to celebrate diversity.
Secondly, Globalization helped to remove the conflicts among nations through different defensive mechanisms to curtail the threat of third world war. The dialogue, negotiations, and agreements helped in recent decades to avoid the threat of war and prevail in peace. Apart from this Globalization connects people in such complicated conditions that nations are interdependent and interlinked which declined the threats of war and large-scale mass destruction.
Coming to the main thesis about the harms of Globalization; Globalization has done more harm than good. Globalization increased the dependency of economies in the world in which if one were lapse of economic mechanism occurs the entire global community suffers. For example, the lapse in the American banking system in 2008 caused the Global Economic Recession. Due to the miscalculation of one country’s economic policies the entire globe suffered. The rising dependence of economies in the world retard the growth of third world countries because First World countries come out from economic recession within due time but the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa came to enormous loss. Greece-oriented Eurozone economic depression put the entire Europe into the economic vulnerability.
Similarly, Globalization also damaged the Gender cause. As economies of third world countries are captured by world organizations like IMF and World Bank so these institutions focused to put spending cuts on the countries. Cutting the spending systematically causes more damage to women and culturally ghetto social classes. Government under social welfare programs provides educational and health reliefs to the marginalized classes and women but spending the social welfare cuts like cutting the funds for education and health put the women in a disproportionate place.
In the percept of World System Theory Globalization only caused disproportional growth in the First World and Third world countries. The flow of raw materials, brain drain, cheap labor, and other resources from the peripheral countries to the core countries helped only the European and Western countries to flourish at the dispense of the periphery countries. Moreover, the decline of traditional patterns and structures of families in the third world countries due to the rising surge of homogenization of cultures is also a cause of Globalization. The vernacular dialects of languages in the third world countries are dominated by English superiority which halts the growth of the regional cultures and languages. The cultural imperialism of Western countries and European-centered Globalization only benefited the First world countries.
Moving towards more harms of the Globalization; it is most common that Globalization caused the Global economic inequalities among nations. If the trajectory of global progress is accessed from the reports of the World Bank and Global Research Think Tanks the First world countries have exponentially grown in the last ten years than the third world countries. Multinational companies and corporates like Exxon Mobile Corporation (XOM) have more economies than entire countries. For instance, the revenue of XOM is $280.4 billion. The enrichment of the global corporations under the banner of Globalization is at the dispense of poor countries.
Discussing the environmental catastrophe and exploitation of labor rights in the third countries by the MNCs is also the outcome consequence of the Globalization. The economies of MNCs like Nestle and Occidental Petroleum are more than the GDPs of countries like Somalia and South Asian countries. Due to strict labor laws and regulations in the First World countries, these multi-national corporations can’t function smoothly. As the labor and environmental laws are not strict in the third world countries these corporations come to the third world countries and exploit their labor and environmental laws. The flexibility in the environmental policies causes the perennial issue of environmental damage in the last decades. In this process, such corporations captured domestic politics by hijacking and campaigning the political campaigns. They empowered the favorable political systems which provide free trade, lenient economic policies, and deregulation of economic policies. The governments under the sway of elites and corporations make elite-friendly economic policies that empowered them at the expense of the middle class. So the rich get richer and the poor become poorer. The cycle of economic inequalities only moves in the favor of the capitalists.
The knowledge economy is a recent concept that empowered the countries through the flow of information and sharing of knowledge. Under the neoliberal economic order, the First World Countries never provide the information and technology which can empower the third world countries. If Globalization is manifested in the way in which the First world countries provide essential knowledge and information for the underprivileged countries to come out of the backward conditions it will serve its true cause.
To sum and substance, the Globalization is a good step by humanity to enhance cooperation and coordination if it is molded into more inclusive and equitable conditions of favor all countries. The De- Globalization is not a solution but the Re- Globalization in which the democratization of institutions like IMF and World Bank. The voting system of IMF and World Bank in which the major voting power is in hands of the First World countries should be minimized and made more equal. Developed countries should provide the flow and exchange of information and technology to contribute to the unfavorable countries in the best manner. To accept the pluralization and heterogeneity of cultures and de attach the notions of progress with only Western Centered definition of civilization. Getting better and progressing the all countries should be the project of the Globalization.
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The world economy is entering a stage in which platforms are becoming key aggregation vehicles at the level of corporates, countries and regions. The Global South countries are starting to play catch-up vis-à-vis the advanced economies in building such platforms, with substantial advances made in building regional platforms in Africa and Asia in the past several years. The world economy needs greater platform diversity as well as greater optionality in trade/investment flows and an expansion in the array of reserve currencies something that could emanate from greater activism in this area coming from the Global South.

The regional integration projects of the Global South have advanced notably in the past several years with AfCFTA and RCEP among the most significant achievements. At the same time, there is tremendous scope for a far greater variability and diversity in the platforms that may be launched by Global South economies, the most sizeable and comprehensive of which could include the aggregation of CELAC (Latin America), African Union (Africa), SCO (Eurasia). A more diverse set of regional blocs that targets deeper integration could feature a BRICS+ platform that comprises the South African Development Community (SADC), MERCOSUR, BIMSTEC, China-ASEAN FTA, Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Other possible variations of South-South platforms could include pragmatic platforms that bring together the national and regional development institutions of the Global South, smart platforms that target greater digital connectivity through digital economic alliances (DEAs) as well as sustainable platforms that are focused on green development.

The vast terrain of the Global South could become a laboratory of innovation in the various forms of platforms that could involve not only country-to country (C2C) or regionstoregion (R2R) platforms, but also platforms that bring together key corporates from the Global South (B2B) in strategic sectors, including high-tech and IT. One of the latest examples of such platforms is a grouping of carbon-negative countries comprising Suriname, Bhutan and Panama the club could further expand and likely could include more countries from the Global South in the near future.

The Global South is of course more fragmented than the advanced world, but the flip side of this is the greater scope for aggregating the numerous regional integration projects and the corresponding development institutions. With the benefit of learning from the leaders of integration in the West the Global South could make use of that wealth of experience in building integration arrangements and platforms and go even further in overtaking the leaders. There may be a number of factors that could make the platforms of the Global South competitive: openness and inclusivity compared to the selectivity and exclusivity of Western platforms; multicultural character of such platforms in the developing world; the significantly greater scope for a reduction in tariff barriers in the Global South as well as the higher growth potential.

In some ways China has already demonstrated the possibilities of leading and outpacing the advanced economies in building platforms that target greater outreach to the Global South and the broader global economy its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has attracted criticism from the West but also efforts to emulate the outreach to the developing world in the sphere of connectivity via such projects as B3W and the EUs Global Gateway. The problem with the latter two projects is that at the start they are presented as competitive substitutes to the BRI, without due provisions for linking up with other such connectivity projects emanating from the Global South.

The formation of the platforms of the Global South will raise the potential for the use of national currencies and the de-dollarization of trade and investment across the developing world. At this stage there are hardly any numerical estimates of the effects of the use of national and regional currencies in the Global South if these are to emerge from the academia one may expect to observe non-trivial dividends on the back of lower currency mismatches (amid at times high levels of debt) and lower transaction costs.

The key to the success of the platform enterprise for the Global South is the joint action coming from China and India thus far experience on this is checkered and contradictory. While there is joint action in platforms such as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), there is also the divide over Indias participation in the QUAD and its non-participation in RCEP. Going forward, joint coordination will be indispensable and may become stronger the more both countries realize the benefits arising from the operation of the platforms of the developing economies. Overall, the key competitive edge that may be exercised by the platforms of the Global South would be avoidance of a core-periphery pattern while it may be tempting to look at the RICs (Russia-India-China) as the Eurasian core of the Global South, it will be imperative to ensure due diversity and scope for inclusiveness in the operation of Global South platforms.

Todays global governance is a frail colossus with feet of clay the rising weight of the Global South and the diversity of platforms and alliances across the globe cannot be duly supported by an institutional framework that is circumscribed to a number of international organizations. A reinvigorated and a more sustainable global governance system needs to allow for the divergence rather than convergence in economic models and platforms and should accord due importance to the role of the developing economies and regional integration arrangements. The future global governance system is likely to evolve towards greater diversity in multiple country-to-country and region-to-region platforms with the dominance of any one single platform being progressively undermined by the rising competition from across the main regions of the global economy.

Most importantly, the formation of the extensive and inclusive platforms encompassing the Global South will enable developing economies to create their very own gateways to integration into the global economy. Countries across Latin America, Africa and Eurasia can become stakeholders in such platforms, with full-fledged ownership and a meaningful role in charting their development path. At the same time developing economies could for the first time deliver a tangible contribution to the reconstruction of Global Governance, with different building material (regional blocs) and different approaches and priorities in economic development and modernization.
from our partner RIAC
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Over the last few months, Sri Lanka has been stuck in its worst economic crisis since independence. The island nation is battling severe shortages of critical items, as well as a severe lack of patrol, medicines, and foreign reserves amid an acute balance of payments crisis.
The financial crisis has led to public outrages and violent protests against the ruling government, compelling Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Cabinet to resign and a new Prime Minister to be appointed.
Though Bangladesh is in a much more comfortable position than Sri Lanka in terms of all economic indicators, some economists speculated that Bangladesh’s increasing trade deficit and foreign debt could lead to a similar crisis in the upcoming years. However, most international and local observers have debated the possibility of such a situation and addressed why the case of Bangladesh is different from Sri Lanka.
The economic turmoil of Sri Lanka is not a mere accident rather it is the outcome of a series of disastrous economic policies of the government. During the last decade, the Sri Lankan government implemented a lot of unnecessary mega-projects like the Hambantota Sea Port, Rajapakse International Airport, Chinese Colombo City, and some unviable highways which are called “white elephant” projects by critics. While most of these projects are not profitable, they have been implemented with high-interest loans from China. The government also collected $9 billion from the international market in exchange for debt bonds which are short-term in nature and comes with higher interest rates of almost 8%. As a result, the island nation’s total foreign debt reached $51 billion, whereas its GDP was only $80 billion. Therefore, Sri Lanka failed to repay the loan installment which was valued at almost $8 billion, and was compelled to declare itself bankrupt.
In contrast, the situation in Bangladesh is mostly different. The government has taken some well-calculated and viable mega projects like the Padma Bridge, Karnafuli Tunnel, Metro Rail, Dhaka Elevated Expressway, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, and the Payra Sea Port which are all infrastructure oriented and set to attract more investment. The signature project “The Padma Bridge” is set to be opened this June which will help increase the annual GDP of the southern part of Bangladesh by 2.0 percent and the overall GDP of the country by more than 1.0 percent. Consequently, the completion of the other infrastructural projects will also boost the economy and bring further investment to Bangladesh. Moreover, the bulk of foreign loans to these projects was from multilateral lenders like the World Bank, ADB, IDB, and JICA. And the interest rates of such loans are also very low (1.4%) with grace periods and long repayment systems.
It is also to be noted that Bangladesh has no commercial or sovereign bonds like Sri Lanka. The 2020 World Bank report points out that Bangladesh has a GDP of 324.2 billion USD which is bigger than the GDP of Pakistan and Sri Lanka combined. While Sri Lanka’s foreign debts account for almost 50 percent of its GDP, the foreign debts of Bangladesh account for only 17 percent of its GDP. As a result, the per capita debt of the people of Bangladesh is only one-fifth of Sri Lanka. According to Prof Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), “Bangladesh is still in a good position in two main indicators of debt management. One is the outstanding foreign debt-GDP ratio and the second is debt servicing liability as a percentage of foreign exchange from export.”
In recent years, Sri Lanka has largely failed to earn revenues from the key pillars of its economy. In 2019, the Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took the erroneous decision of reducing VAT to eight percent from fifteen percent and also withdrew the rebuilding tax. As a result, the Sri Lankan economy lost its one-third of revenue overnight. In the following year, the government made another blunder by banning imports of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to promote organic agricultural production. That flawed policy led to the collapse of agricultural production of the island nation and prompted severe food shortages. In addition, the Russia-Ukraine war and its impact on the global food shortages have fueled the already dire situation in Sri Lanka.
On the other hand, Bangladesh has enjoyed 15% revenue growth in the last eight months, private sector credit growth has been almost 11% – including a promising growth in the exports. As private sector credit growth continues to surge, exports and reserves will increase more in the upcoming years. In terms of food, Bangladesh is not dependent on staple food imports and it is heading towards sustainable food security.
The final nail in the Sri Lankan coffin was the Covid 19 pandemic as it hit hard the tourism sector – the largest source of income for Sri Lanka. The two years long covid-induced travel ban almost paralyzed its economy. Afterward, the simultaneous decline of remittances coming through legal channels left the government with no alternative to earn foreign reserves. As a result, Sri Lanka ended up in a severe financial crisis with almost no viable foreign reserves to import its essential needs.
Bangladesh’s economy, on the contrary, has withstood the Covid 19 chocks pretty well. The largest source of foreign reserve i.e., the RMG sector was also active during the lockdown period. In the meantime, Bangladesh received record $22B remittances in 2021 through legal channels due to its smart policy and the hard work of the labor migrants which has braced its robust foreign currency reserve.
In a recent interview, Hans Timmer, the chief economist of the World Bank for South Asia, said that Bangladesh is not at risk of the crisis that Sri Lanka is currently facing and the situation in Bangladesh is very different. Foreign currency reserves in Bangladesh can cover more than six months of imports, which is very solid, he said. However, the economist also stressed that the government should be cautious about its domestic fiscal policies as there is a worldwide impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on inflation and food crisis.
The decades-long political instability of Sri Lanka and its poor leadership to manage geopolitical implications have also helped shape the ongoing crisis. Meanwhile, Bangladesh has enjoyed uninterrupted political stability in the last decade, and with prudent leadership, it has benefitted from the new geopolitical environment.
Against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan crisis, the Bangladesh government has already taken several steps to slash spending and save foreign reserves. It has decided to suspend overseas trips of government officials in a bid to cut government expenditure and postponed some less important projects that require imports from other countries.
In conclusion, challenges like the increasing inflation rates and the fiscal deficits should be addressed by careful fiscal policies of the government. In terms of expanding the export market, Bangladesh needs to diversify its export industries as it is highly concentrated in the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) sector. While the Sri Lankan crisis is not comparable to Bangladesh, it has worked as a cautionary lesson for the rising nation to further embolden its politico-economic milieu.
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