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Ambassador Xu Bu: "Zero-sum game" is at odds with the times

(From Chinese Mission to ASEAN)

2017/01/18

On January 18, 2017, Indonesian English Newspaper The Jakarta Post published the article "'Zero-sum game' is at odds with the times" written by Dr. Xu Bu, Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN. The full text is as follows:

"Zero-sum game" is at odds with the times

Xu Bu

The Jakarta Post, January 18, 2017

With President-elect Donald Trump taking office soon, the world is closely following the future foreign policies and their ramifications of a new US administration. So far the loud and clear message is "America First", or in Mr. Trump's own words, every deal he makes will have only but one aim: let America win.

That could be dangerous. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been playing a leading role in promoting globalization and free trade. Mr. Trump's election seems to have started a transition towards another direction. The United States may prefer advancing its interests through more conservative and unilateral means, including but not limited to high tariff barriers, unilateral calls for FTA re-negotiations and barrier along borders. Coercion via financial, market and military dominance might also be on the table. These zero-sum approaches, once employed, will be a serious disruptor for the world as we know it.

In all zero-sum games, one party's gain is the other's pain. The underlying rationale is that all parties' interests are inherently exclusive, as was the case of the US-Soviet confrontations in Cold War decades given the polarity of ideologies and the two blocs definitions of their own security and strategic interests. The lack of cooperation made the world a divided one on the brink of a nuclear war. That was not too long ago. Lessons learned are still relevant.

We are living in a time of profound changes and challenges. Although the world economy on the whole is experiencing a recovery, growth momentum is anything but robust. The landscape is marred by financial turmoils, sluggish trade and investment growth, coupled with rising populism and political polarization. In West Asia and North Africa, some countries are still being ravaged by armed conflicts. Millions are displaced. The scourge of terrorism and extremism is fast spreading, putting countries and peoples around the world in harm's way.

With the 21st century already in its teens, we should reject the anachronism of repeating the wrongs of the last century. After decades of globalization, the interdependencies between countries have grown to levels never seen before. Global issues and non-traditional security challenges have long transcended borders. No one and no country can shut itself from the world. The only way forward is cooperation instead of confrontation, and win-win partnership instead of "zero-sum games".

It is the same with addressing the challenges brought by globalization. All countries should work together to promote a more dynamic, inclusive and sustainable economic globalization, and strive to solve the problem of equity and justice, strengthen macroeconomic policy coordination, develop new growth drivers, and build on an open world economy. Closing the doors or resorting to exclusive methods are counter-productive. The assumption that it's natural to build one's gain on other's pain is just wrong.

Unilateral protectionist meddling may deliver short-lived gains at more extensive long-term costs. Too much deregulation may be welcomed by business owners, but hurts workers the regulations are meant to protect. Protectionism may seem a help to domestic manufacturers but it undermines the purchasing power of customers at home. Unproductive jobs can be saved for a while, but it's unnatural and takes resources from more efficient businesses and entrepreneurs that could have succeeded otherwise. One American professor of economics points out, sticking to "zero-sum" thinking may not be good for oneself. Winner-take-all belongs to a bygone era and has outlived its usefulness.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of ASEAN. Over the years, the ASEAN member states have joined hands to respect each other's concerns and comfort, and have achieved ASEAN's solidarity and in-depth development of regional integration. ASEAN signed a free trade agreement with six dialogue partners including China. The negotiation of an ASEAN-led regional free trade arrangement, "Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement" (RCEP), is steadily moving forward. The story of ASEAN offers a best example of regional countries riding the trend of the times towards peace and prosperity.

China has always been a staunch supporter of ASEAN Community building and an active promoter of East Asia cooperation. China has proposed the "Belt and Road" initiative aimed at sharing China's development opportunities and achieving common prosperity with countries not least our ASEAN friends. The Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, a Chinese initiative turning into a global effort, is playing an active role in regional infrastructure development. Its first project in ASEAN countries, a $216.5 million slum redevelopment project in Indonesia, has already been launched.

We are all residents of the global village. In this era of uncertainties, we should establish a sense of shared future for humanity, and strive for common development and prosperity through win-win cooperation. As Ms. Christine Lagarde, President of the International Monetary Fund, said, we should come together and move quickly to build a stronger, more inclusive global economy, which is both the challenge and the opportunity of 2017. We must move fast – and together.

(The writer is Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to ASEAN)

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