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GDI contains Chinese outlook on development

LI YINCAI | 2022-09-22 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

The 22nd China International Fair for Investment and Trade, which was held from Sept. 8 to 11 in Xiamen, Fujian Province, was themed “Global Development: Sharing Digital Opportunities, Investing in Green Future.” Photo: CFP

In September 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward the Global Development Initiative (GDI) at the general debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly, urging efforts to foster global development partnerships that are more equal and balanced. Confronting core issues at present, the GDI proposes prioritizing development, which crystallizes China’s development philosophy and its experiences on extensive development cooperation in recent years. 

Against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and accelerated global economic recession, the GDI is conducive to building consensus worldwide and steering the international community from conflict and bloc confrontation onto the right development track, fully showcasing China’s high sense of responsibility. 

Dominance of Western model

The global development framework has long been governed by the Western model and discourse. Marked by the dominance of Europe and the US in the global system, the framework takes neoliberalism as the value orientation, the Western development path as the example, and developed countries’ official development aid to the developing world as the main manipulation tool. 

The West-led development framework is intrinsically hierarchical, with intense obsessions with intervening in and subjugating other nations, reflecting Western centrism and hegemony. From development knowledge supply, development planning, to development project implementation and evaluation, the whole process is penetrated with privileges and arrogance. While Western experiences and development paths are “deified,” the non-Western world is smeared as backward, turbulent “others” and reduced to “foreign lands” that should be rebuilt. 

The unequal power relationship between interveners and the intervened countries forms a relational framework of paternalism. Aid and development schemes provided by the West and the organizations it operates, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, are often preconditioned by economic, social, and even political reforms to the objects. In some countries and regions, such interventions are even accompanied by extreme measures like military aggression and regime subversion. Development aid turns blatantly into “development invasion.” 

Since the mid-1990s, the imbalanced global development framework, which is permeated with Western power and hegemony, has become increasingly difficult to sustain. Its norms have obviously been out of step with the West’s practices. Theories concerning economic growth, modernization, and good governance, which were developed based on Western countries’ development paths and experiences, have been incompatible with real needs and conditions of developing nations. The sustainability inherent in development has been destroyed. Moreover, the political and economic strings attached to aid practices, to a great extent, inhibit the autonomy of developing countries, giving rise to doubts like “aid failures” and “dead aid.” International development needs a more balanced and effective development framework. 

The inexorable rise of emerging economies has prompted developing countries to shift focus to themselves, fully exploiting local resources and knowledge, and exploring the endogenous process of development. As a result, many development paradigms have grown from the periphery, fostering a new framework which goes beyond the simple Western development model and embodies developing countries’ diverse practical experiences and their autonomy. At the same time, the subjectivity of recipient countries is also gaining prominence, as development knowledge is being imparted and developmental aid provided with more attention to partners’ independent choices and adjustments for localization purposes. Both sides of such partnerships enjoy more equality. 

China’s practices 

During the reconstruction of the global development framework, China has been playing a notable role in, and serving as a driver of, the global development pattern due to its economic aggregate and super-strong clout in the global economy, particularly its sustained rapid growth, and high political and social stability. Accumulating rich development experiences in such fields as poverty reduction, farming, industrialization and industrial development, green development, the digital economy, and infrastructure construction, the nation has opened up a development path well suited to its own needs and characteristics. 

Take poverty reduction as an example, China established a mechanism with concrete measures for implementation in related villages to ensure that each household would benefit from the work. Vigorously promoting the targeted poverty alleviation strategy, China launched various development projects and implemented dynamic administration, thus effectively and steadily lifting more than 700 million rural poor people out of poverty. 

As the largest developing country, China always regards advancing the development of developing countries as its mission. Although the GDI was conceptualized not long ago, China has in fact invested large amounts of resources and made huge efforts in global development. Brands of external development cooperation, such as industrial parks, agricultural technology demonstration centers, foreign medical aid teams, Luban Workshops [vocational courses named after famed craftsman Lu Ban], and the African Union Conference Center, not only evidence China’s important contributions, but also imply its unique development experiences.

To push ahead with external cooperation for the sake of global development, China proposed the massive Belt and Road initiative to boost infrastructure construction, energy development, and regional integration in countries along the routes. It took the lead to found multilateral development banks, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, BRICS New Development Bank, and SCO Development Bank, and instituted a wide array of development funds, including the Global Development and South-South Cooperation Fund worth $4 billion, and the $1 billion China-UN Peace and Development Fund. 

Moreover, China jointly established multilateral development and financing cooperation centers with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Banco de Desarrollo de América Latina, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, and other international organizations. In addition, it built multiple development knowledge research and exchange platforms, such as the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development [at Peking University] and the Center for International Knowledge on Development, and is planning to set up a global development promotion center. 

Chinese outlook on development 

The framework of the China-proposed GDI aims to break through the current European colonial paradigm for international development and construct a development science based on emerging economies’ own development experiences. Focusing on cooperation with low-income countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the GDI framework contains a uniquely Chinese outlook on development. 

First, the GDI focuses on common development. Since reform and opening up, development has remained the primary task for China. The GDI likewise places development in a prominent position on the global macro policy agenda, advocating for building more equal and balanced global development partnerships. 

Whether economic underdevelopment and conflict arising in developing nations, or lack of growth momentum and development imbalances worldwide, the fundamental solution lies in development. Common development first requires attention to development, investing main resources in development areas. Then it emphasizes mutual benefits of development, not allowing any country to benefit at other’s expense, or form cliques. In addition, policies should be tilted towards lesser-developed and low-income countries, and no country should be left behind. 

Second, the GDI underscores orderly progress and targeted breakthroughs to ensure sustainable development. In terms of pressing challenges facing developing nations, the GDI framework incorporates many key cooperation areas, including poverty reduction, food security, COVID-19 response and vaccines, climate change and green development, and financing for development. 

Meanwhile, it offers a fairly practical plan, putting emphasis on cooperation in industrialization, interconnectivity, and the digital economy. Industrialization and interconnectivity are crucial paths for underdeveloped economies to develop autonomously and achieve economic takeoff, while the digital economy makes it possible for them to catch up and take over. 

Third, the GDI cares about people’s livelihoods, and their rights to life and development. Different from Western countries which solely stress their citizens’ political rights, the GDI is more concerned with people’s rights to life and development. To developed nations, these rights are more basic and important than illusory political rights. 

China has been calling on the international community, especially developed countries, to provide more resources, paying attention to closing the divide between the Global South and North, and helping developing nations fulfill the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Be it tackling realistic problems like poverty reduction and food security, or planning future sustainable development paths, people’s livelihoods are consistently a focus in global development cooperation. 

Fourth, the GDI champions openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and win-win cooperation. Global development cooperation, as upheld by China, objects to isolationism and protectionism. Committed to aligning with countries’ development strategies and regions’ development planning, the framework doesn’t regard other development initiatives as rivals, but aims to maximize synergies between development processes. 

Moreover, the GDI practices true multilateralism. When promoting interest integration and symbiosis between countries, it strives to build global development partnerships and advance global development amid close two-way interaction. 

Fifth, the GDI emphasizes effective governance, which includes effective domestic governance and effective global governance. One of the recipes for China’s high economic growth, sustained for more than four decades, is a highly efficient government’s effective governance of society and its guidance and rectifications of the market, which provides experiences that many “weak countries” in the developing world can draw upon. 

On the global level, currently inadequate and decreasing global governance efficiency has severely affected the international community in coping with crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn. In the face of trends and backlash against globalization, the GDI’s improved development philosophy and model not only make global development fairer, more effective, and more synergetic, but also offer references for global governance reform. 

Li Yincai is an associate research fellow from the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.