n December 3, 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with foreign attendees at the Imperial Springs International Forum, where he introduced China’s governance model and shared his thoughts on the international situation. This is the third consecutive year the Chinese leader met with the forum’s foreign guests.
During the meeting, Xi reiterated China’s stance to hold constructive dialogues and maintain multilateralism in a massively changing world, which was also a major theme at the recently concluded forum.
From December 1 to 2, the 2019 Imperial Springs International Forum themed “multilateralism and sustainable development,” was held at the Imperial Springs International Convention Center in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. Co-hosted by the Australia China Friendship and Exchange Association (ACFEA), the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), the People’s Government of Guangdong Province, and the World Leadership Alliance, more than 260 guests from home and abroad attended the forum, including over 30 former foreign leaders and former heads of international organizations.
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan attended the forum and delivered a speech. He noted the headwinds facing economic globalization in recent years – the rise of unilateralism, protectionism and populism – that are fundamentally impacting the ideas and order of multilateralism.
In his speech, Wang offered China’s answer: sustainable development is the “golden key” to kick-starting new practices around multilateral cooperation. At the same time, he stressed China’s vision to build a new type of international relationship, and create a community of common destiny for mankind. Deeply rooted in the country’s traditional culture, China’s answer has a more prosperous and better world as its goal, the all-win situation at its core, international rules as its basis, fairness and justice as its essence, the multilateralism mechanism as its linchpin, and effective action as its orientation.
Founded in 2014, the Imperial Springs International Forum has run for six consecutive years. As 2019 marked the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, the theme “multilateralism and sustainable development” is timely and necessary, said Chau Chak Wing, president of the ACFEA, and Asia-Pacific regional chairman of the World Leadership Alliance.
In the opening speech delivered at the forum, Chau pointed out that the impacts of unilateralism are causing pressures and worries for many countries, but voices that support multilateralism are still the dominant force in the international community.
He Yafei, former Chinese vice minister and former deputy director of the State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, told NewsChina that the post-WWII global governance system, with the United Nations at its core and rules as its basis, is a huge achievement for multilateralism that over the following decades has expanded to become the mainstream in the international community.
However, since the 2008 global financial crisis, a weak global economic recovery – coupled with immigration issues, climate change, escalating geopolitical conflicts, and rising unilateralism, protectionism, and hegemony – are generating huge impacts on multilateralism, creating instability and uncertainty in the world.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga, former president of Latvia and current president of the World Leadership Alliance, said during a luncheon at the forum that opinions and practices that stress “country first” and “winner takes all” diverge from multilateralism. And these opinions and practices, according to Vike-Freiberga, will bring losses to the world and cause crises in the long run. She said cooperation and all-win situations should be the pursuit of individuals and countries. Former president of Slovenia Danilo Türk, who will take the helm of the World Leadership Alliance early this year, also believes that rising unilateralism is sounding an alarm bell to the world. But he also points out the discussions of unilateralism might be overly exaggerated. “We are confident to keep multilateralism and globalization as the mainstream,” Türk said, adding that China is a highly important stabilizing force in a “world of uncertainty.”
A manifesto released at the forum’s closing ceremony called on the world to strengthen multilateralism and global cooperation, press ahead for a new international order, and construct a “future that we want.”
“I firmly believe that the trend of globalization is unstoppable, and multilateralism is the sure way,” said Yang Jiemian, president of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. He further called for a broader foundation on the part of multilateralism, as the international community recognizes multilateralism more than polarization.
Although China-US relations were not a topic on the meeting’s agenda, it sparked heated talks at the forum.
Neil Bush witnessed four decades of development in China-US relations. In 1974, one year before Bush first set foot on Chinese soil, his father, George H. W. Bush, was chief of the US Liaison Office to China under US President Gerald Ford. Neil Bush recalls his father’s foresight of recognizing China-US relations as the most important, when China’s power was far less than it is today.
“China-US relations are facing major turbulence. But the good news is, issues surrounding trade frictions are being seriously discussed,” Neil Bush said in his speech at the forum. He also pointed out US President Donald Trump’s policy choice does not reflect the country’s mainstream view. He expressed his opposition to some US politicians’ concerns that China’s development will pose threats to the country’s economy and security. “I firmly believe that goodwill shall prevail and put the two countries’ relations back on track,” Neil Bush said.
Zhu Feng, director of Institute of International Relations at Nanjing University, told NewsChina he attributes the root causes of the changes in China-US relations in recent years to a changing balance of power. The opinion that China is a “strategic threat” to the US is, to a large extent, an overinterpretation. Some US politicians are simply slinging mud at China in a bid to find a scapegoat for political and social divisions at home.
Chen Limin, global senior vice president of IBM and chairman of IBM Greater China Group, said that US companies bear the brunt of the turbulence in China-US relations because the Chinese market is indispensable for multinational companies.
Chen further noted that an overemphasis on bringing industrial chains back to the US is both “unreasonable and unrealistic,” as it will result in a mismatch of technology and market. The failure of the market as the invisible hand, and excessive intervention of the government as the visible hand, are against US interests and globalization trends. “The rise of China-US disengagement theory comes as a dangerous signal. It’s partly driven by populism, and has severely impacted the order of supply chains,” said Chen.
Neil Bush pointed out that while China and the US might have disagreements over some issues, the two countries should come to a consensus on most issues and work together to address challenges facing the world.
After years of development, the Imperial Springs International Forum has become a high-end platform for international exchanges, a leader in China’s civil diplomacy, and a window through which the world can better understand China, according to He Yafei.
“The Imperial Springs International Forum has seen growing reputation and influence,” Li Xiaolin, president of the CPAFFC, told NewsChina. “The CPAFFC and the ACFEA will see the success of this year’s forum as an opportunity to make the Imperial Springs International Forum an even better brand for civil diplomacy.”
Chau Chak Wing said that the forum, which has successfully run for six sessions, represents a new type of high-end platform for in-depth exchanges between China and the world. According to Chau, since its founding, the forum has invited a total of over 500 former heads of states, governments, and international organizations, as well as business leaders and academic leaders. They have exchanged views, shared thoughts, built consensuses and promoted cooperation over widely watched issues.
“It can be said that the Imperial Springs International Forum’s ‘friend network’ spans the world,” Chau told NewsChina.