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Trade for Geopolitical Stability: Lessons for India and Pakistan

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One of the most volatile zones today apart from the 38th parallel between the North-South Korea is the India-Pakistan border. With attacks and counter-attacks being reported almost every day, the threat of full-fledged war between the two largest nations in the South Asian region cannot be overlooked. Although last time both the countries were at war was in 1999 but the recent decision of the Indian Government on State of Jammu and Kashmir has increased tensions between the two countries. As a result of this rivalry, both the governments have been trying to feed their people with their own narratives and hence it becomes important to ascertain what can be the way out of the age-old conflict between the two nations. While India and Pakistan both are members of various international organizations like UN, WTO, IMF, etc. as well as regional organizations like SAARC, SCO, etc., none of these forums have ever come even an inch closer to resolution of the dispute between the two. Most recently with the decision of India to revoke Article 370, Pakistan has retaliated with the suspension of trade ties with India. The current bilateral trade between the two countries accounts for only a mere 2.1 bn $ and as it only forms 0.83% of total trade between the two countries hence both the countries have nothing to lose in the discourse. This article analyses how trade can ensure regional stability among two major players of the South Asian region.

While trade could have been a measure to ensure harmony between any conflicting nations, yet the first retaliatory measure that countries opt for is to cut off bilateral trade with each other in order to show their resentment over a policy. Although such instances have decreased in number since the formation of World Trade Organization (WTO), yet they cannot be altogether ruled out. At this stage,it is equally important to understand that since the formation of WTO, the world has not seen major wars as it was understood in its traditional meaning as a war between nations. One can equally not neglect the rise of belligerency and insurgency often supported by foreign institutions. Still, one of the credits that cannot be taken away from WTO is that it has ensured that the countries which have higher volume of bilateral trade often prefer peace over war, despite the odds. This claim is not without merit. History is a great educator. A brief comparison before the formation of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and after the formation of GATT would prove it. The GATT was negotiated between countries in 1948. It was one of the founding pillars on which our modern-day WTO is based.

The countries came to an agreement where they fixed a range for tariffs or bound rate beyond which the tariffs cannot be imposed on import of goods. This mechanism ensures certainty in tariff rates which prevents the countries to turn into protectionist regimes. It would not be wrong to say that the first idea of globalization pursued by international community was not freedom of movement of people but the freedom of movement of goods and services. Prior to GATT, during the early 1930s, also known as the period of the Great Depression, lack of such an affirmation in form of GATT and the consequent fear that imports would throw more people out of work led governments to raise their trade barriers, thus creating a vicious cycle of retaliation. As a result, the world economy shattered, eventually contributing to the outbreak of World War II. Such a protectionist approach with no such affirmation as we find in GATT can easily lead us to a situation where everyone loses. However, a deeper analysis in the post-World War II period would establish that the recovery of Western European nations from the aftermath of the war was much quicker as compared to the Eastern European nations.

The effect was such that most of the western European nations today are part of a customs union with free movement of goods as well as of people. Even the Soviet Union (USSR), which opposed the idea of market economy before its disintegration showed interest in becoming a member of GATT in 1986. Several letters and correspondence between GATT members and USSR prove this point. Much later after its disintegration, during 2000s most of the newly formed nations acceded to the GATT with Russia ultimately joining the WTO in 2008. What was realised much later in form of European Union (EU)found its place in the writings of French Philosopher Montesquieu and Italian Economist Pareto. Montesquieu, in 1748,quoted, peace is a natural effect of commerce. Pareto argued in 1889 that customs union can help to achieve peace between European nations. None of these claims have been proven wrong. Since the formation of EU, none of the surveys have ever claimed of Europe being the centre for next major war between nations. It can be equally argued that this has been made possible because now the focus of nations has shifted from acquiring territories to improving their respective economies. Yet, the importance of economics behind a war cannot be totally neglected. Going by the report of UNICEF conducted by M Humphreys of Harvard University in 2003 came to a similar conclusion stating, countries which trade with each other are less likely to fight each other. He illustrates his argument with how most of the leftist scholars have yet not come out of the mercantilism hangover as the modern trade regime is not based on mercantilism which believed that imports per se are bad for any country.

Another recent example can be seen in the shift that UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have brought in contrast to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The interlinkage between the idea of development and conflict which was missing in MDGs find their place, and rightly so, in the SDGs. Even the ASEAN which today has become a successful economic bloc was formed with the intention of stopping the spread of communist ideas in the region. Since 1990s the organization has remained an important voice in nearly all the economic platforms. Even scholars from all around the world have supported similar idea.Daniel Griswold, examined the idea that whether free and open markets promote human rights and democracy. He observed, “Economic liberalization provides a counterweight to governmental power and creates space for civil society. The faster growth and greater wealth that accompany trade promote democracy by creating an economically independent and political aware middle class. A sizeable middle class means that more citizens can afford to be educated and take an interest in public affairs. They can afford cell phones, Internet access, and satellite TV. As citizens acquire assets and establish businesses and careers in the private sector, they prefer the continuity and evolutionary reform of a democratic system to the sharp turns and occasional revolutions of more authoritarian systems. People who are allowed to successfully manage their daily economic lives in a relatively free market come to expect and demand more freedom in the political and social realm.”

Turning to the question in context, i.e. South Asia, especially India and Pakistan, this is probably not the first time that someone has come up with the idea of trade as a means to ensure peace and stability in the region. In one of his recent articles,Dr. Ranjan, Professor at South Asian University, arguesThe people of South Asia surely deserve a prosperous and a peaceful future.  The onus is on the leadership of the two biggest countries in the region to deliver. While solving difficult political questions will undoubtedly take time, it won’t be a bad idea to start working towards creating an atmosphere where even difficult questions can be resolved. Increasing bilateral trade can be one such step towards creating such a positive atmosphere.

In a study published by Woodrow Wilson International Centre, “trade relation between India and Pakistan have often blossomed even while political relations wilted. In 1948–49, 56 percent of Pakistan’s exports were sent to India. For the next several years—a period of tense political relations—India was Pakistan’s largest trading partner. Between 1947 and 1965, the two nations entered into 14 bilateral agreements related to trade facilitation.”

Source: Bloomberg (Quint)

In a recent report by World Bank, the potential of trade between the two nations is a whooping 37 bn $. However, in reality it is at 2.4 bn $ which is insignificant for both the countries. The informal trade between the countries stands much higher at 4 bn $, which is routed through UAE. With regards to the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) clause, India granted MFN to Pakistan in 1996 and withdrew it post Pulwama attacks in 2019. Pakistan has yet not reciprocated the same. It is however quite strange that none of the successive governments in India has ever brought the issue to the WTO against Pakistan’s non-compliance of MFN obligations. Even under the regional trade arrangements like South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), Pakistan maintains a negative list of over 1200 products which it doesn’t import from India. Apart from these tariff measures there are other non-tariff reasons such as port restrictions prevailing between both the countries which further narrows down the scope of increased trade. The other logistical reasons include the transport restrictions through Wagah Border, where none of the transport vehicles are allowed to move out of the border zone and have to unload their cargo.

The condition worsened post article 370 amendment, when Pakistan decided to suspend all trade ties with India. Although none of the decisions taken by either of the governments ever impacted their respective economies, yet retaliatory measures undertaken by both the countries with respect to not granting or withdrawal of MFN or even suspension of trade cannot be justified if brought before the dispute settlement body of WTO. A measure which goes against the principles enunciated under the WTO agreements is only allowedin cases when they either fall under the category of General Exceptions or National Security Exception. However, a prima facie observation of all the measures ever undertaken by either of the governments shows that none of these qualify either under the general exceptions or national security exception.

The problems pertaining to the conflict between the two nations is not merely political but also dependent upon the perception of ordinary people. Recent survey by Pew Research Centre found that 76 percent of Indians viewed Pakistan as a serious threat and 61 percent of Pakistanis viewed India as a threat, more than 55 percent who viewed Taliban as a threat. Another survey by Pulse Consultant in 2017 found 95 percent of Pakistanis designating India as the worst enemy. This narrative has further been deepened by the media houses in both the countries who often during debates promote the hatred. This public perception depends a lot on the population and what narrative they read and follow. As the median population in both these countries is around 24-28, most of them have not witnessed the horrific impact of either the 1965 war or the 1971 war between the two nations. To change this perception, free trade can be one of the ways. With freer trade in place, it is not only the products which cross borders, but also the ideas and other forms of expressions in form of magazines, news etc. It might not be as effective as educating and spreading awareness among people, yet when the political class of both the countries is occupied with bashing each other at international forums, this can be a good start.

Overall, with such a trade potential between the two nations it is imperative for the governments of both the countries to ensure that their trade policy should be separated from other policies. One suggested method as Raj Bhala, a trade expert, explains can be in form of use of clause 11 of Article XXIV of GATT which deals with the concept of regional trading arrangements. As prior to partition, the entire Indian subcontinent was seen as a single customs territory, the clause provides that the provisions of this Agreement shall not prevent the two countries from entering into special arrangements with respect to the trade between them, pending the establishment of their mutual trade relations on a definitive basis.As it is quite clear from the text of the provision, if India and Pakistan make use of this provision grant of any bilateral preferences between them will not be considered as a violation of any principle of WTO. Unfortunately, as Dr. Ranjan remarks, this has become a forgotten rule.

The countries can ensure better trading network by removing impediments to trade such as trade infrastructure and logistics, changes in their visa policy, easing cross border financial transactions etc. As Zareen F Naqvi, Director of Institutional Research at University of Fraser Valley, Canada, argues in his article, “both India and Pakistan need to tackle their restrictive visa regimes. A number of issues related to trade infrastructure and logistics can be done unilaterally such as the initiation of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), more efficient customs processing at land border crossings, setting up or upgrading and warehousing, testing and security facilities, and setting up bank branches to ease financial transactions on both sides of the border.

As already proven above through various researches and surveys, trade has the potential to provide political stability to any volatile region. With continuous threat of full-fledged war lurking on both the nations, economic development cannot be ensured as most of the times these countries tend to focus on their military needs. Human development in both these countries still remains low on the HDI index. Today, the future of around 2 billion people in the world rests on few politicians in both these countries. The improvement in standards of living, poverty, employment, etc. rest a lot on the political willingness of the countries. It is the need of the hour to ensure that the two nuclear capable countries should not involve in a full-fledged war with each other as it would lead to a major catastrophe. The economic development of Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan do show us a path which follows the same narrative of freer trade between nations. Both these nations have to realise that trade ensures the active involvement of manufactures involved in export, civil societies and middle class in foreign relations. Once that is achieved, it would not be easy for any government to go for a fur fledged war as it is peace which ensures that the interests of these sections of the society are preserved.

Samarth Trigunayat is LLM graduate from South Asian University, New Delhi. South Asian University was established by SAARC member nations to enhance cooperation between the member states through the tool of education. The author is currently employed as Young Professional (Law) at Ministry of Commerce, Government of India. The author has previously worked as Assistant Professor at Faculty of Law, Shree Guru Gobind Singh Tricentenary University, Gurugram, India. His area of interest includes International Trade Law, International Investment Law, Feminist Jurisprudence and Constitutional Law. The author can be reached at: lawyer.samarth[at]gmail.com

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Can The Lessons of 2008 Spare Emerging Europe’s Financial Sector From The COVID-19 Cliff?

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The more we know about the past, the better we can prepare for the future. The 2008 financial crisis provides important lessons for policymakers planning the COVID-19 recovery in 2021.

Over 10 years ago, the world stumbled into a financial crisis that changed the very fabric of our societies.

A cocktail of lax financial regulation and casual attitudes toward debt and leverage led to a global fallout that few countries in the world escaped. Despite a decade of recovery, the scars of that era are still very visible. This was particularly true for many parts of Europe. And as is often the case in major disasters, both natural and man-made, the most vulnerable were hardest hit.

Striking parallels

Today, as countries grapple with the economic impacts of Covid-19, policymakers in emerging Europe must strive to remember the hard-learned lessons from 2008. In financial terms, the parallels between now and then are striking.

Back then, countries in Central and Southeastern Europe were among the worst hit. In the run-up to the crisis, big euro area banks bought up local subsidiaries. Backed by these parent banks, credit started expanding rapidly from a very low base. The credit boom was accompanied by climbing real estate prices and mounting personal and corporate debt. Aspirations to replicate the living standards of the EU’s wealthiest member states led to citizens and businesses shouldering more than they could handle.

Suddenly, the global crisis stopped capital flows in the region and turned the boom to bust. Credit growth went into reverse, real estate prices nosedived, economic growth stalled, and non-performing loans (NPLs) spiraled up. Over the next decade, much of the region would be caught between weak economic growth and lackluster financial sector performance.

Familiar feedback loop

Covid-19 is a strong contender for the worst economic shock in our lifetimes. In its aftermath, a familiar feedback loop is on the horizon: high leverage and depressed growth will amplify financial sector vulnerabilities in the months ahead.

True, banks in emerging Europe entered Covid-19 with stronger liquidity and capital buffers than before the global financial crisis, but they are far from immune. The longer the pandemic lasts, the more businesses and consumers are likely to struggle. Next come the debt defaults. Before the domino-chain of NPLs gains momentum and countries spiral into widespread financial crisis, policymakers must act. This means taking four overarching measures.

First, rising NPLs require a proactive and coordinated policy response. If banks resist writing down bad loans and continue to lend to zombie firms, the resulting credit crunch becomes longer and more severe. Policymakers were slow off the mark in 2008. Once they realised a coordinated response was needed, much of the damage was already done. In NPL resolution, the mere passage of time makes a bad situation worse, and policymakers and bankers need to respond early on to prevent the problem from spinning out of control.

Second, supervisors should engage with highly exposed banks and ensure that they fully provision for credit losses. An important lesson of the global financial crisis is that building bank’s capital is a requirement for resilient recovery. In this pandemic, banks have been asked to play an unprecedented role in absorbing the shock by supplying vital credit to the corporate and household sector. Policymakers should resist pressure to dilute existing rules. Soft-touch supervision doesn’t address the underlying issues and only kicks problems down the road. To credibly stick to the rules, regulators can conduct stress tests to identify undercapitalised banks.

Resolve, fairness, and transparency

Third, a timely and orderly exit strategy from debt relief and repayment moratoriums should be prioritised. Countries in Eastern and Southeastern Europe promptly introduced these plans when Covid-19 struck and to good effect. But prolonging such schemes comes with a hidden cost. It can weaken borrower repayment discipline, and give firms, that were already struggling before the pandemic, a fresh lease on life.

The question of when and how to phase out the measures does not have a simple answer. Nevertheless, the general principle should be to unwind them as soon as conditions permit. This could be done by gradually narrowing down the range of borrowers eligible for support so that only the viable enterprises are supported.

Fourth, distressed but potentially viable firms will need loan restructuring. To restore the commercial viability of ailing companies entails restructuring of their liabilities, matching payment schedules with expected income flows. Loan restructuring of non-viable borrowers, by contrast, will only lead to delaying inevitable losses.

There will be uncertainty about who can and cannot survive. An assessment will be needed to separate the lost cases and viable ones and everything in between. This will help release capital from underperforming sectors and propel more dynamic firms to drive renewed economic momentum.

We live in difficult times that require resolve, fairness, and transparency in policymaking. But these qualities are not easy to live up to in times of great uncertainty, heightened anxiety, and lack of access to relevant information. Fortunately, we can look to the past to glean lessons for the future. Now, it’s time we put them into practice.

Originally posted at Emerging Europe via World Bank

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The strategic thinking behind the EU-China investment deal

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Washington was understandably perplexed that a China-EU investment agreement was concluded a few weeks before the Biden administration, especially a  president who has been advocating for multilateralism and the restoration of trust and an alliance with the EU.

Some analysts argue the agreement is a big win for China by breaching the transatlantic partnership, while some scholars contend that Beijing has made historical concessions to Brussels, indicating the future lucrativeness of European business in China. Both are valid to some extent, but the strategic thinking of Beijing and Brussels behind the pact may have been overlooked.

Beijing’s strategic thinking

The EU has always been the favoured target for Beijing. Despite numerous rebrandings, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the admittedly core economic, infrastructure and diplomatic policy proposed by President Xi in 2013, was initially intended to connect with the EU, facilitating Eurasian economic integration. According to Hellenic Institute of Transport, there was no regular direct freight service between China and Europe in 2008, whereas in 2019, 59 Chinese cities and 49 European cities in 15 countries have been linked by the BRI.

Also, although the EU is situated within Western democratic thought, the views of EU members regarding China are diverse and relatively different from the US and other English-speaking countries. Germany and France, the key pillars of the EU, still allow the usage of Huawei, whereas the US, Australia, Canada and the UK have variably banned it. Italy is the only one to endorse the BRI in the G7, a group of major Western democracies. The summit of China and Central and Eastern European Countries, known as “17+1”, has been held since 2012, gaining certain support from some EU members, in spite of Brussels’ aversion.

Probably, in the Chinese diplomats’ perceptions, the post-Brexit EU may become much more approachable and pragmatic to China, a mysterious rising land from the East, in that European continent nations with different linguistic and cultural backgrounds have been living together for millennial generations, leading to a more diverse and pragmatic approach to Beijing.

As for compromises Beijing has made, some of them, such as various reforms of state-owned-enterprises, would have been the essential component of the Chinese economic agenda, but the intriguing point is the timing and astonishing scope of concessions. After seven years of drawn-out negotiation, Beijing suddenly started pushing this pact at the beginning of 2020, when the Covid-19 broke out globally, and the Sino-American trade war further exacerbated, leading to China’s reputation plummeting in the West.

Through Sino-American relations, I doubt that Beijing may have noticed, as Professor Susan Shirk, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State during the Clinton administration, pointed out, that even the American business community, benefitting enormously from the Chinese market, has not really “stepped forward to defend US-China relations, much less defend China”, which is rare in bilateral history.

Recently, President Xi Jinping even wrote a letter to encourage Starbucks’ former chairman Howard Schultz to repair Sino-American relations. Having observed this, Beijing thus decided to show a high level of sincerity and openness to European business elites, not only by economic reforms but also by promising to work on labour rights. The latter may not be a priority in Beijing, but Beijing conspicuously notes the ideological concerns of EU politicians in order to win the hearts and minds of Brussels.

Brussels’ strategic thinking

As for the EU, China has unquestionably been an attractive market. Calculated by purchasing power, China’s GDP has been de facto the largest economy for years. As the only positive-growth nation in 2020 among G20 members, China has the largest middle class, signifying potent consuming ability. Recent Chinese economic reforms primarily aim to promote consumption, which is the icing on the Chinese market’s cake, and this is also embedded in European views of China and the US.

The Pew Research Center has shown that more countries in Europe viewed China rather than the US as the world’s leading economy in 2019 and 2020. Also, more residents in Germany and France regarded US power and influence as threatening than China in 2018. Even with the new Biden administration, EU leaders anticipate a renewed trans-atlantic partnership but do not expect a sudden revolution of EU-American trade war, as bilateral trade disputes are structural and beyond Trump’s presidency.

More realistically, what is one of the major external concerns EU members face today? Back in the Cold War, the western expansion of the Soviet Union deeply disturbed European security, necessitating their consistent alliance with the US.

However, as Jonathan E. Hillman, a senior fellow at Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote: “Russia has nuclear weapons but also a one-trick economy focused on energy exports, a rusting military, and a declining population.” In particular, Russia has been increasingly challenged to maintain traditional influence in Ukraine, Belarus and Central Asia, not to mention any comprehensive aggression to EU.

Furthermore, geographically, China is distant, and the EU does not have fundamental military interests in South China Sea but rather seeks to maintain peace and freedom of navigation for their shipping and trade, notwithstanding Brussels’ political friction with Beijing. But the large-scale uncontrolled migration from Africa and the Middle East may well be the EU’s main worry. However, regardless of some Western media ostensibly branding China as a neocolonialist in Africa, China has essentially supported the African economy via the BRI investment, creating local employment and purportedly discouraging the flow of a certain amount of immigrants to Europe. So, realistically, by signing the pact, the EU may keep the door open to cooperate with China in Africa.

On the flip side, if the EU sides with the US to the exclusion of China, what will happen to the EU? Certainly, Brussels will be praised by Washington politically, while the business sphere may be a different story. The recent Sino-Australian trade disputes indicate that “in the world of international commerce, democratic and strategic friends are often the fiercest rivals”, argued Professor James Laurenceson from the University of Technology Sydney, as Chinese tariffs against Australian goods have brought opportunities to businesses in America and New Zealand. So, US corporations in China must be delighted to see business space left by the EU companies because of possible EU-China trade skirmishes.

Sensibly, the EU is adopting an independent foreign policy to maintain autonomy between China and the US. More notably, as a third party during the Sino-American power competition, having signed a deal with Beijing, Brussels may possibly request Washington to offer more, thus maximizing its geopolitical and commercial interests.

Conclusion

To conclude, both sides made pragmatic decisions to sign the pact. Professor John Mearsheimer, at the University of Chicago, argued a few years ago that liberal dreams are great delusion facing international realities. China has executed a realist foreign policy since Deng Xiaoping’s reform, and this time, the EU may have woken up, because this deal signifies that geopolitical calculation has overtaken ideological divergence.

Author’s note: First published in johnmenadue.com

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The Silk Road passes also by the sea

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On December 30, 2020, China and the European Union signed an agreement on mutual investment.

After seven years of negotiations, during a conference call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the European Commission, with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel, the “Comprehensive Agreement on Investment” (CAI) was adopted.

This is a historic agreement that opens a new ‘Silk Road’ between Europe and the huge Chinese market, with particular regard to the manufacturing and services sectors.

In these fields, China undertakes to remove the rules that have so far strongly discriminated against European companies, by ensuring legal certainty for those who intend to produce in China, as well as aligning European and Chinese companies at regulatory level and encouraging the establishment of joint ventures and the signing of trade and production agreements.

The agreement also envisages guarantees that make it easier for European companies to fulfil all administrative procedures and obtain legal authorisations, thus removing the bureaucratic obstacles that have traditionally made it difficult for European companies to operate in China.

This is the first time in its history that China has opened up so widely to foreign companies and investment.

In order to attract them, China is committed to aligning itself with Europe in terms of labour costs and environmental protection, by progressively aligning its standards with the European ones in terms of fight against pollution and trade union rights.

With a view to making this commitment concrete and visible, China adheres to both the Paris Climate Agreement and the European Convention on Labour Organisation.

China’s adherence to the Paris Agreement on climate and on limiting CO2 emissions into the atmosphere is also the result of a commitment by China that is not only formal and propagandistic. In fact, one of the basic objectives of the last five-year plan – i.e. the 13th five-year plan for the 2016-2020 period – was to “replace unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable growth… also with innovative, coordinated and environmentally friendly measures…”.

In the five-year period covered by the 13th five-year plan, China reduced its CO2 emissions by 12% – a result not achieved over the same period by any other advanced industrial country, which shows that the policy of “going green”, so much vaunted by European institutions, has actually begun in China, to the point of making it realistic to achieve “zero emissions” of greenhouse gases by 2030, thanks to the decision to completely relinquish the use of fossil fuels in energy production.

President Xi Jinping has entrusted China’s policy of “turning green” to the Chinese government’s “rising star”, Lu Hao, i.e. the young Minister of Natural Resources aged 47, who has been chosen as the political decision-maker and operational driving force behind a major project to modernise the country.

Lu Hao has an impressive professional and political record: an economist by training, he was initially appointed First Secretary of the “Communist Youth League”, and later served as deputy mayor of Beijing from 2003 to 2008. Governor of the Hejlongjiang Province (where 37 million people live),he has been serving as Minister of Natural Resources since March 2018.

He is the youngest Minister in the Chinese government and the youngest member of the Party’s Central Committee.

While entrusting Lu Hao with his Ministerial tasks, President Xi Jinping stressed, “we want green waters and green mountains… we do not just want much GDP, but above all a strong and stable green GDP.”

A “green GDP” is also one of the objectives of the “Recovery Plan” drawn up by the European Union to help its Member States emerge from the economic crisis caused by the Covid 19 pandemic through measures and investment in the field of renewable energy.

“Going green” may represent the new centre of gravity of relations between Europe and China, according to the operational guidelines outlined in the “Comprehensive Agreement on Investment” signed on December 30 last.

China’s commitment to renewables is concrete and decisive: in 2020 solar energy production stood at five times the level of the United States while, thanks to Lu Hao’s activism, in 2019 China climbed up the U.N. ranking of nations proactively committed to controlling climate change, rising from the 41st to the 33rd place in world rankings.

On January 15, Minister Lu Hao published an article in the People’s Daily outlining his proposals for the upcoming 14th Five-Year Plan.

During the five-year period, China shall “promote and develop the harmonious coexistence between man and nature, through the all-round improvement of resource use efficiency…through a proper balance between protection and development”.

In Lu Hao’s strategy – approved by the entire Chinese government – this search for a balance between environmental protection and economic development can be found in the production of electricity from sea wave motion.

Generating electricity using wave motion can be a key asset in producing clean energy without any environmental impact.

Europe has been the first continent to develop marine energy production technologies, which have spread to the United States, Australia and, above all, China.

Currently 40% of world’s population lives within 100 kilometres of the sea, thus making marine energy easily accessible and transportable.

Using the mathematical model known as SWAN (Simulating Waves Nearshore), we can see that along the South Pacific coasts there are energy hotspots every five kilometres from the shore, at a depth of no more than 22 metres. In other words, thanks to currents, waves and tides, the Pacific has a stable surplus of energy that can be obtained from the sea motion.

Today, energy is mainly obtained from water using a device known as “Penguin”, which is about 30 metres long and, when placed in the sea at a maximum depth of 50 metres, produces energy without any negative impact on marine fauna and flora.

Another key technology is called ISWEC (Inertial Sea Waves Energy Converter). This is a device placed inside a 15-metre-long floating hull which, thanks to a system of gyroscopes and sensors, is able to produce 250 MWh of electricity per year. It occupies a marine area of just 150 square metres and hence it allows to reduce CO2 emissions by a total of 68 tonnes per year.

ISWEC is an Italian-made product, resulting from research by the Turin Polytechnic Institute and developed thanks to a synergy between ENI, CDP, Fincantieri and Terna.

Italy is at the forefront in the research and production of technology that can be used for converting wave motion into ‘green’ energy. This explains the attention with which Chinese Minister Lu Hao looks to our country as a source of renewable energy development in China, as well as the commitment that the young Minister, urged by President Xi Jinping, has made to promote an extremely important cooperation agreement in the field of renewable energy between the Rome-based International World Group (IWG) and the National Ocean Technology Centre (NOTC), a Chinese research and development centre that reports directly to the Ministry of Natural Resources in Beijing.

The cooperation agreement envisages, inter alia, the development of Euro-Chinese synergies in the research and development of essential technologies in the production of “clean” energy from sea water, as part of a broad Euro-Chinese cooperation strategy that can support not only the Chinese government’s concrete and verifiable efforts to seriously implement the strategic project to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution from fossil fuels, but also support Italy in the production of “green” energy according to the guidelines of the European Recovery Plan, which commits EU Member States to using its resources while giving priority to environmental protection.

The agreement between IWG and NOTC marks a significant step forward in scientific and productive cooperation between China and Europe and adds another mile in the construction of a new Silk Road, i.e. a sea mile.

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