Addressing the 76th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Session on September 21, 2021 in virtual format, China’s President Xi Jinping proposed the Global Development Initiative (GDI) as a global public good. It has now been a year since China’s GDI was announced. However, evidence suggests that the initiative has not moved much forward as the Chinese Government is still in dilemma about some vital issues. Hence, the initiative has also been described as ‘high in political rhetoric and very low in substance’[i]. The paper aims to analyse the objectives of the GDI as well as emerging debates on the subject. In doing so, it first describes the priority areas and the proposed measures for implementation of the initiative.
GDI: Priority Areas and Proposed Measures for Implementation
The stated purpose of GDI is to galvanise worldwide attention to development, strengthen global development partnership, promote international development cooperation, and give a fresh impetus to the realisation of the 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs). While announcing the initiative, President Xi talked about eight priority areas for cooperation: (i) poverty alleviation, (ii) food security, (iii) COVID-19 and vaccines, (iv) financing for development, (v) climate change and green development, (vi) industrialisation, (vii) digital economy, and (viii) connectivity. Further, he called for the acceleration in the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for SDG’s as a means to ‘build a global community of development with a shared future’.[ii]
Chinese leadership has released some details about the roadmap of the initiative. As highlighted by State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in May 2022, China will take following measures to implement the GDI.
Global Development Report released by the Center for International Knowledge on Development (CIKD), Beijing, in June 2022 highlights the importance of GDI as it aims to build a ‘global community of development’, promote international exchanges and share development knowledge. Further, the report informs that more than 50 countries have joined the ‘Group of Friends of the GDI’ established by China at the UN platform and more than 100 countries have ‘expressed’ their support for the GDI.[iv] It is observed that the countries that have joined the ‘Group of Friends of GDI’ are predominantly from the Global South.
The GDI needs to be understood in its proper context. An understanding of the initiative should begin with the Chinese domestic context.
First, the era of double-digit growth is over in China. Experts have highlighted that that China has entered into a ‘new normal’. This could be seen as a process when high growth rate turns to medium rate as a result of structural problems of the economy. Of late, some Chinese experts have emphasised that apart from COVID-19 pandemic, the country faces several risks, including the global supply chain disruptions, the rising costs of raw materials and weak consumer demand.[v] According to the World Bank, China’s economy is projected to slow in 2022, real GDP growth may slow to 4.3 percent in 2022.[vi] It seems that through GDI, China wishes to create a new market for its economy and get economic benefit from it. It wants to enter into various sectors of partner/developing countries, such as industrialisation, digital economy and poverty alleviation.
Second, GDI can be understood as a means to highlight and export ‘Chinese model of development’ to developing countries. The 19th Party Congress in November 2017 acknowledged “It (China) offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development…it offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind.” This was interpreted as China offering a new model of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ to the world.
It seems that China wants to offer and implement its model through its initiatives like GDI. It may be noted that the experience of one country might not be fully applicable in another country due to various factors, including different local conditions as well as different political systems. Further, the Chinese experience provides positive as well as negative lessons, the latter are not easily known as media in China is controlled. Therefore, interested countries should carefully assess positive and negative lessons from China and can implement pilot projects in required sectors to test its adoptability.
Third, in recent years, President Xi has talked about enhancing ‘strategic confidence’ based on ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’. It suggests that “despite growing uncertainties and strategic pressure, China is confident about the long-term picture of its overall development.”[vii] This is in line with the message coming out from the 19th Party Congress (2017) that China has arrived on the world stage. The Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (November 2021) noted that “Chinese nation has achieved the tremendous transformation from standing up and growing prosperous to becoming strong”. It is well documented that Deng Xiaoping’s ‘24 character guidelines’ to keep a low profile in international affairs has been sidelined by President Xi Jinping. China’s goal is to be a dominant power in Asia and the world. President Xi’s proposal of GDI needs to be understood in this background. China is gradually expanding its agenda, which is aimed at exerting influence and establishing itself as a dominant global power. Chinese officials and experts have stated that the GDI is linked to China’s quest to build a community of common destiny (CCD) for mankind.
Community of Common Destiny: GDI and GSI
The phrase CCD was first used by President Hu Jintao in China. Reference to this term is available in the reports to the 17th Party Congress in 2012. President Xi elaborated his idea of a CCD and noted “We need to make sure that all countries respect one another and treat each other as equals”.[viii] However, in practice China has not followed this principle. In January 2017, China issued a White Paper titled “China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation”. The White Paper warned small and medium sized countries in clear terms noting: “small and medium-sized countries need not and should not take sides among big countries”.[ix] It is evident that China wishes to build Sino-centric world order, favours hierarchal relations in international relations and such a policy has alienated many countries, including its neighbours. Further, China’s vision of a CCD could be highly problematic because it assumes that all countries want what China wants. It cannot be considered a pragmatic approach.
The GDI follows another Chinese proposal, the Global Security Initiative (GSI) announced at Boao Forum for Asia by President Xi Jinping in April 2022. The initiative highlighted the need for ‘common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security’ and need to uphold the principle of ‘indivisible security’. Experts have also highlighted GSI as a counter to Indo-Pacific and other proposals for Asian security in the emerging geopolitical situation. Further, the Chinese initiative also seemed to be aimed at creating alternative security architecture. The GDI echoes and reinforces the GSI.[x]
Prof. Wang Yiwei, a well-known expert from Renmin University, Beijing has highlighted GDI and GSI proposed by President Xi as two wings of the CCD.[xi] While referring to GSI, Chinese leadership has highlighted security as the precondition for development. However, a “link between the GDI and China’s new Global Security Initiative is concerning, inextricably tying development efforts with Beijing’s security interests”.[xii] The leadership has acknowledged that the external environment has grown ‘increasingly complex and grave’. Experts have noted that “China now fears containment and denial of technology and markets, its reaction to the evolving Indo-Pacific construct, the QUAD and now the Indo-Pacific Economic framework reflect an element of nervousness”.[xiii]
Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and GDI
Chinese experts have projected the GDI as a ‘major public good’ that China is offering to the international community.[xiv] Foreign Minister Wang Yi has stated that the GDI is another global public good put forward by President Xi following the BRI.[xv] Some experts have also referred to GDI as ‘Expansion of BRI’, while others have considered it as a ‘booster dose to BRI’ which is facing challenges and backlash in various regions/countries of the world.
It is gradually becoming clear that rather than being a ‘global public good’, the BRI has served China’s economic and strategic interests and has invited many controversies in various regions of the world. The current phase of BRI is also characterised by renegotiation, downsizing and even cancellation of the project by recipient countries.
The issue of debt trap has emerged as a major concern in many BRI recipient countries. This is largely because responsible debt financing practices has not been followed by China to avoid unsustainable debt burden on recipient countries. A recent study has identified 53 fragile economies facing debt troubles and it notes that “more than one third of the world’s most debt distressed countries also number among those most indebted to Chinese lenders”.[xvi] Therefore, another Chinese initiative, such as the GDI should not go the BRI way. Chinese initiatives need to adhere to principles of genuine multilateralism and follow international norms and policies with regards to transparency, accountability and financial responsibility.
Critical Issues Related to Resources
While announcing GDI at the UNGA in September 2021, President Xi talked about the practice of ‘true multilateralism’ and informed that China has pledged an additional US$ 3 billion of international assistance in the next three years to support developing countries in responding to COVID-19 and promoting economic and social recovery.
While addressing the 14thBRICS Summit in June 2022, President Xi announced an additional US$ 1 billion to the US$ 3 billion already committed by China to the Global Development and the South-South Cooperation Fund. He also sought to ‘upgrade’ the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund to a Global Development and South-South Cooperation Fund. It seems that there is small increase in funding while the name of the fund has been changed.
There is lack of information on financing of the GDI, there is no clarity how China will help financing of the GDI projects and how much it is willing to spend. What will be the criteria and conditions for Chinese investment under GDI? Whether the Chinese side will be able to provide project loans at feasible interest rates with transparency? These are critical factors on which information is needed from the Chinese side.
In sum, although the announcement of GDI is completing a year in September 2022, there are still ambiguities about its financing and implementation. The GDI as well as GSI aim to serve China’s developmental and security interests and can be understood as means to build community of common destiny (Sino-centric approach) by China. Through these initiatives China wants to confront and overcome the challenges it is facing in the contemporary regional and international situation. Needless to say, China’s aggressive foreign policy behaviour has also contributed in the making of the current regional and international challenges. Further, China needs to learn right lessons for GDI from the implementation of BRI projects. It is pertinent to highlight the importance of consensus-based multilateral initiatives over unilateral initiatives as they allow partner countries to formulate and shape policies in a consultative process.
*Dr. Sanjeev Kumar, Senior Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i]“China Global Podcast: China's Global Development Initiative”, July 12, 2022, available at https://www.gmfus.org/news/chinas-global-development-initiative, accessed 8.9.2022
[ii] State Council, PRC “Bolstering Confidence and Jointly Overcoming Difficulties to Build a Better World” Statement by President Xi Jinping at the General Debate of the 76th Session of the UNGA on 21 September 2021, available at http://english.www.gov.cn/news/topnews/202109/22/content_WS614a9d11c6d0df57f98e0a81.html accessed on 12.09.2022
[iii]Foreign Ministry, PRC, “Address by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi
At the High-Level Virtual Meeting of the Group of Friends of The Global Development Initiative” available at https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/zxxx_662805/202205/t20220509_10683625.html
accessed on 5.9.2022
[iv] CIKD, Global Development Report, available at http://archive.cikd.org/fileCache/pdf/G/Global%20Development%20Report.pdf, accessed on 5.9.2022
[v]Yang Shanshan “Three takeaways from China's key conference for 2022 economic plan” Beijing, available at https://news.cgtn.com/news/2021-12-13/Three-takeaways-from-China-s-key-conference-for-2022-economic-plan-15X8XawYixq/index.html#:~:text=He%20said%20China%20could%20initiate,country's%20energy%20sector%20in%202050.accessed on 5.9.2022
[vi] World Bank, “China Economic Update - June 2022”, available at https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/china/publication/china-economic-update-june-2022, accessed on 5.9.2022
[vii] China Daily “Xi’s Thought on Diplomacy hailed”, available at at http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201806/25/WS5b2ffd47a3103349141de728.html accessed on 12.09.2022
[viii] Xinhua “Full text of Chinese President's speech at Boao Forum for Asia” 28.3.2015, available at http://www.xinhuanet.com//english/2015-03/29/c_134106145.htm accessed on 12.09.2022.
[ix]White Paper, “China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation”, available at http://english.www.gov.cn/archive/white_paper/2017/01/11/content_281475539078636.htm, accessed on 5.9.2022
[x] Foreign Ministry, PRC “Wang Yi :Acting on the Global Security Initiative to Safeguard World Peace and Tranquility”, available at https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjb_663304/wjbz_663308/2461_663310/202205/t20220505_10681820.html accessed on 10.9.2022
[xi] Wang Yiwei “Global Security Initiative and Global Development Initiative: Two Wings for Building a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind”, available at nstytutboyma.org/en/global-security-initiative-and-global-development-initiative-two-wings-for-building-a-community-with-a-shared-future-for-mankind/? accessed on 28.8.2022
[xii]“Unpacking China’s Global Development Initiative” Lowy Institute, available at https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/unpacking-china-s-global-development-initiative, accessed on 5.9.2022
[xiii]Nalin Surie “Reflections on China’s Drivers, Motivations and Strategic Perceptions” DPG, Policy Brief vol. VII Issue 24, available at https://www.delhipolicygroup.org/uploads_dpg/publication_file/reflections-on-chinas-drivers-motivations-and-strategic-perceptions-3848.pdf, accessed on 28.8.2022
[xiv]Wang Yiwei and Chen Chao “Complementary Development Initiatives” April 20, 2022, available at https://www.chinausfocus.com/finance-economy/complementary-development-initiatives, accessed on 28.8.2022
[xvi]“The 53 fragile emerging economies” Economist, available at https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2022/07/20/the-53-fragile-emerging-economiesaccessed on 30.8.2022