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The 21st century expects a comprehensive narrative from China

By Tomas Casas | | Updated: 2017-01-19 14:04

Does a generous trade deal and prosperity constitute the entire Chinese narrative or will, for instance, other important global public goods such as security be delivered if and when the American umbrella goes? Here the savoir faire related to crafting a stable comprehensive order and the attendant narrative emerges.

China can be extremely princely a partner as Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte can attest, but a case by case approach will not scale. Fortunately, China has also its comprehensive and phenomenal One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative. Despite some very promising elements like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), plenty of conceptual works lies ahead.

Asian countries are the most familiar with the Middle Kingdom’s traditional international order, the tribute system. Historically China’s gifts were more beneficial to vassals than the story of imperial kindness. Today whether OBOR or regional trade deals, the narrative’s quality and legitimacy are central. Western tenets like liberalism or democracy would not be effective, but neither will a business-only approach.

What story can China propose? On Monday at a solemn signing ceremony, China and Switzerland committed to review and upgrade their FTA in two years. There is no doubt that both countries intend to make their FTA a comprehensive benchmark, but most importantly they will do so in the context of their “innovative strategic partnership”.

Switzerland is today the world’s most innovative nation - China’s promise for tomorrow is to deliver innovation to the world. That is an attractive tale.

Beyond the official initiatives, non-state actors such as Alibaba are also set to create new opportunities and massive new wealth around the globe by enabling and connecting people and enterprises. The underpinnings of a Pax Sinica are being crafted.

In the 20th century the world eagerly tuned into America and the 21st century expects a strong and whole narrative from China.

Tomas Casas is a faculty member at the University of St. Gallen and its Institute for International Management (FIMHSG).

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and don't represent views of China Daily website.


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