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The Extraordinary President

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in’spresidency has been extraordinary on several terms. It did not just mark an electoral win with the largest vote share and the quickest transition period in South Korean political history, the first instance of a Liberal acceding power in a decade  but also a novel experiment with Social democracy in a country with a prolonged history of right wing authoritarian regimes. As Moon prepares to bid adieu to the Blue House forever (as South Korea’s Constitution restricts the Presidency to a single term of five years), it is important to reflect on his stint as the 18th President of South Korea.

The Man

Born to refugee parents who fled from North Korea during the Korean War (1950-1953), Moon’s childhood was stricken with poverty as his parents tried hard to make ends meet. He had to stand in queues for hours to receive rations of corn and milk powder distributed by Catholic Churches. Moon grew up to become a political activist fighting for freedom and justice at a time when the authoritarian regime of Park Chung Hee trampled all democratic values promised in the Constitution to pave his way for a lifelong Presidency. His first protest against the regime was in 1969 when Park tried to amend the Constitution and grant himself a third term.

In 1972, the year Moon entered the College of Law at the Kyung Hee University, Park launched his notorious Yushin Constitution which not only banned all forms of political expression including opposition parties, but also dissolved the Parliament and the Judiciary. Like thousands of young students across South Korea, Moon was at the forefront of pro-democracy protests where he met his college mate and future wife, Kim Jung-sook. He was eventually arrested and expelled from the University.

In 1980, he passed his bar exams and finished second at the Judicial Service and Research Institute. He opened a law firm with his friend and another future President, Roh Moo Hyun, through which they provided legal aid to people who could not afford lawyers, particularly factory workers. The two future Presidents actively participated in the 1987 Pro-democracy protests which brought the epoch changing transition to democracy in South Korea. Roh entered politics while Moon chose to stay back in Busan and continue as a lawyer.

Roh became South Korea’s 9th President in 2003 and Moon joined as his close aide, earning the sobriquet “Shadow of Roh“. Roh’s government fell short of the high expectations of the people and disenchanted Moon from politics as he realised he was not fit for public life. However, it was with Roh Moo Hyun’s suicide in 2009 owing to allegations of corruption against him, which were later unfounded, that Moon decided to hold his mantle. Roh’s death did not just shake Moon to the core but South Korean progressives at large who looked towards an uncertain future as the Grand National Party led by Park Geun-hye (former dictator Park Chung hee’s daughter) gained momentum.

Moon contested the Presidential elections in 2012 and lost by a slim margin to Park. However, he won the seat from Busan and entered the National Assembly.

Park’s regime was outlined with gross corruption and repression; however, the worst was yet to come. As she neared the end of her term in October 2016, it was revealed that she not only  actively let an unelected civilian named Choi Soon-sil intervene in political and security issues but also incorporated his economic benefits in her policies. This enraged the South Koreans and a new popular movement called the Candlelight Movement or Chot bul (촛불) emerged. In a country of fifty million, nearly fifteen million hit the streets in peaceful protests to remove Park from office and install a democratic rule. At the forefront was Moon, who had opposed Park’s father 47 years back in a similar fashion. Park’s impeachment was supported by two-thirds majority in the Parliament, confirmed by the Constitution Court in early 2017.

Elections took place as planned in March 2017 and Moon Jae-in won with a massive 41.1% vote share, the largest ever in South Korean history. He assumed office the very next day, becoming the President with the quickest transition in South Korean history.

Grave Challenges

Moon’s support base was predominantly formed by the country’s disenchanted youth. The term ‘Hell Joseon’ (헬조선), which highlighted the plight of South Korea’s capitalist society marked by high unemployment rates, long working hours, discrimination against non regular workers and massive income inequalities, became increasingly popular during 2015. On the home turf, he was faced with the challenge of curbing unemployment, reviving the stagnating economy, levelling inequalities as well as  restoring democratic ideals.

Internationally, he had to rebalance relations with not just an increasingly hostile North Korea but also China, the United States and Japan.

Domestic policies

On Economy

Moon pledged to create more jobs to counter unemployment. He promised to create 810,000 jobs in the public sector, starting from 12000 jobs in the Civil services in the second half of 2017. He planned to create 174,000 civil service positions in national security and public safety; 340,000 in social services and to convert  300,000 non regular workers into permanent employees. Moon’s first appointment after getting elected was with non regular public sector workers of Incheon International Airport when he promised to grant them permanent appointments.

Moon severely criticised the close State-family owned business conglomerate (called Chaebol (재볼)) nexus which he promised to weed out. He pledged to bring in a cumulative voting system that would make it easier for minor stakeholders to place their preferred candidates on the boardroom if they come together. He promised to keep away the Chaebol from sectors better suited for smaller firms and build a transparent system by reforming the top 10 Chaebols. He planned to revamp the ownership structure of the Chaebols and take firm action in embezzlement cases against businessmen as well as illegal transfer of power within their family.

Corruption was a major issue for Moon not just as a pro-democracy activist and human right lawyer but as a close aide of Roh who had suffered deeply due to false allegations of embezzlement.

Moon promised to clean the deep seated irregularities left by the decade-long conservative and corrupt regimes of Lee Myung-bak (2008-2013) and Park Geun-hye (2013-2017). He aimed at setting up a special committee to push for confiscation of illegitimately earned wealth of both Park and Choi. He also promised a probe into the Four River Refurbishment project commissioned during Lee’s regime. Furthermore, he pledged to probe into cases of corruption against high level government officers.

People’s President

In his inaugural speech, Moon pledged to relocate the Presidential office to Gunghwanmun in downtown Seoul and promised to be the President who would be  closely linked to his people and not isolated from them.

Struggling with financial difficulties in his early life, Moon realised the importance of social safety nets and their lack in South Korea. In 2017, OECD ranked South Korea  among the worst performers in terms of expenditure for social welfare.

Flaring income chasm between the rich and the poor has created a Sampo generation (삼포세대) who struggle hard to survive and have to give up on courtship, marriage and children as a result. For the past years, South Korea has been facing a downward trend in both marital and fertility rates. To counter this, Moon promised to provide state accommodation and quality jobs to newlyweds. He also promised to expand state run creches, set up village schools, extend parental leave and double the leave pay.

Moreover, he promised to provide financial subsidies to Koreans of all ages. Parents with children upto 5 years of age were promised monthly subsidies worth ₩100,000. ₩300,000 of monthly subsidies were promised upto 8 months to young unemployment people aged 18-34 years and ₩300,000 were promised to elderly aged 65 and above who form the bottom 70% of the income bracket.

Moon also promised to implement a welfarist approach in medical care and expand medical insurance coverage. A separate facility for elderly patients suffering from dementia was also promised.

Reforms in education have been a top priority for Moon. He promised to expand the existing state supported tuition subsidy to both preschool and highschool. He also planned to diversify the school curriculum by letting students choose the electives of their interest instead of studying compulsory subjects. Moreover, he promised to simplify the university entrance procedure so as to increase the number of students in higher education.

Claiming himself to be a “Feminist President“, Moon recognised the lack of women’s participation in the workforce and the wide pay gap among male and female employees. He promised to not only support women entrepreneurs but also provide them good quality jobs and equal wages. Moon refused to support LGBT rights and openly opposed homosexuality.

Working closely with workers for decades, Moon claimed to represent their demands in his election promises.  In fact, the country’s largest umbrella labour union endorsed his campaign. He promised to create a joint platform for workers, managers and the government to negotiate on labour demands. Moreover, he promised to reduce working hours, raise the minimum wage to ₩10,000 by 2020 and appoint irregular workers as permanent employees.

Moon Jae-in also promised to curb pollution due to minute dust particles and pledged to collaborate with China in this regard. He also planned to halt Lee’s controversial Four Rivers project which is alleged to have led to deteriorating water quality and promised to restore the rivers to their natural state.

On Democracy

Being a leader of the pro-democracy movement that enabled South Korea’s historic democratic transition and continuing democratic consolidation, Moon was viewed as the champion of democratic values by many. He promised to reduce the extensive executive powers of the President, who currently stands as the second most powerful President in all of Asia after the President of Kazakhstan, certainly the most powerful when it comes to functional democracies. 

Apart from promising an internal probe into corruption cases against prosecutors and judges, He promised to scale back the monopolistic authority enjoyed by the state prosecution and hand over their ordinary investigative duties to the police. Moreover, Moon pledged to restrict the National Intelligence Services from collecting domestic personal data.

Foreign relations

Moon’s foreign policy revolved around mending relations with both China and Japan, which deteriorated over the installation of THAAD  and of Comfort Women respectively.

North Korea was accorded a special place in Moon’s diplomacy. Unlike his predecessors, Moon did not just realise the importance of dialogue in achieving denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula but understood cooperative relations between the two nations in a much deeper  way. Hence, he promised to negotiate with Pyongyang on the lines of Kim Dae-jung’s “Sunshine Policy”.

Dubious Legacy

Moon’s Presidency has received mixed reactions.

In terms of employment, the “Jobs President” has not been able to keep his word. In July 2021, the minimum wage was raised to ₩ 9,160 which ruffled feathers among both labour unions and business circles. While the labour unions wanted the minimum wage to be over ₩ 10,000, the businessmen wanted it to be below ₩ 9000. It has also badly affected small businesses which find it hard to employ part time workers. His critics have also labelled his policies as ‘anti-business’ and hence, detrimental to economic growth. Moon granted regular contracts to 9,785 non regular employees of Incheon International Airport within 7 months. The workers of the Korean Railway Corporation fired in 2003 strikes were also reinstated.

However, his decision to regularise non-regular workers has created fissures within the working class as those who were regularised through long periods of service and examinations saw the easy regularisation of the ones with more than 9 months of service as a form of reverse discrimination.

As promised, Moon brought in reforms to curb the power of the Chaebols. The weight of their vote to elect their auditor has been restricted to 3% which loosens family control over the business. Apart from widening the scope of non-family members entering the business, the new laws also allow an independent probe into unlawful business transactions with Chaebol affiliates. Working conditions still remain poor as demonstrated by the October 2021 protest by workers donning the costumes of the popular Korean drama Squid Game to highlight their precarious situation.

Moon’s government passed several housing laws to bring rising real estate prices in the Seoul metropolitan region under control but it has only created hurdles for those below 40 to purchase houses as the prices continue to skyrocket. The Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice revealed that 42 governing party legislators own two or more houses and earned huge profits as a result of rising real estate prices, bringing the intent behind the laws under question.

The “Feminist President” has performed well but still lags in terms of achieving a 50-50 gender representation in government where South Korea performs better than the United States with women forming  22.2% of the government. A major roadblock to reaching the 50% mark is the lack of qualified women candidates for both higher level government jobs and politicians.

Though Moon quickly formed committees to investigate  embezzlement allegations against Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, his own image has not remained untarnished. In January 2019, his public relations manager was charged with a two and a half years of imprisonment over manipulating social media to build a favourable opinion of Moon. His Justice Minister Cho Kuk has also come under fire for corruption allegations.

The 2021 Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Administration report enlisted the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport as the most corrupt ministry, with the Korean National Police Agency, the National Tax Services and the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety performing only marginally better.

Moon’s environmental policies have also remained dubious. In October 2020, South Korea declared to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, the realisation of which remains under question provided that 40% of its electricity generation depends on coal with only 6% is  dependent on renewable resources. Seoul’s emission targets remain weak and its Green New Deal is more about economy than the environment.

Moon’s Presidency has also failed to live up to his past record of democratic and human rights defense. His government has been accused of abuse of power on several tangents, including reducing the National Assembly to its ‘law passing agency’ where it dominates all 17 of its standing committees. The Moon administration has also circumvented all subcommittee reviews and other consultative procedures as required under the National Assembly Act.

The Supreme Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) has also been brought under the government’s complete control. The head of the SPO, Yoon Seok-youl, who prosecuted corruption cases related to the Moon administration, has also been harassed on charges that have been unfounded. Moon and his Party have remained silent on sexual harassment allegations against their local government heads including Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon.

On the foreign policy front too, things have not been satisfactory. South Korea’s relations with both China and Japan remain rocky. Moon’s agenda of crafting an independent foreign policy has also failed as it continues to tilt towards the US.

Moon’s policy to negotiate with North Korea too has met a tragic end. Hopes were high when Moon met his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un at Panmunjom in April 2018. Several crucial issues related to cultural and economic cooperation were raised as the two leaders embraced each other and walked hand in hand.

It seemed serious commitments on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula were underway when US President Donald Trump met Kim in June 2019 and became the first US President ever to step foot in North Korea. However, all hopes shattered when the Hanoi Summit between Washington and Pyongyang broke down over the issue of unconditional denuclearisation and lifting of sanctions. Pyongyang bombed the Kaesong joint liaison office it had established with Seoul to further cooperation and severed all communication lines. Relations have been strained since then. Moon however did not leave hope.

At the COP 26 meet in Glasgow, Moon called upon North Korea to join Seoul in a joint reforestation campaign but received no response. A fleeting moment of hope came in December 2021 when both sides agreed to call an end to the Korean War (1950-1953), which without a peace treaty, continues in principle. However, North Korea’s rapid missile launches in January 2022 and its claim to restart ‘all abandoned activities’, which might indicate nuclear tests, have hit the relations to an all time low and Moon has drawn considerable flak for ‘appeasing’ Pyongyang by calling for peace.

Covid 19

Moon’s Presidency also encompassed the extraordinary times of the Coronavirus pandemic, the severity and expanse of which took the whole world by surprise. Up until December 2020, South Korea presented the shining model of pandemic control. It was one of the first high income economies to reach pre-pandemic levels and death rates remained low. The miracle was possible because of its “three-T strategy” i.e. early, frequent and safe testing; effective contact tracing and treating patients by segregating mild cases to government monitored centres. South Koreans were also provided with medical kits including oxygen saturation measurement devices and thermometers. Seoul managed well without a stringent nationwide lockdown.

However, cracks soon began to appear in the healthcare infrastructure with the advent of the highly infectious though less deadly Omicron variant as infection rates reached the million mark in February 2022.

The new “select and focus strategy” has been criticised for abandoning people under 60 who are now expected to obtain medical kits at their cost, creating problems for the poorer citizens.

As noted, Moon leaves behind a dubious trail of legacy. For some, he gave way too much than desired; for others, he didn’t do enough. While his views on homosexuality and silence on harassment charges against his aides are disheartening and disturbing,  it must be pointed out that most of his shortcomings stem from South Korea’s liberal democratic and capitalist economic structure. With decades of authoritarian rule including nearly three decades of quasi military dictatorship, South Korean democracy still lies on the lower end of the continuum of democratic consolidation. Governance remains authoritarian, Parties remain weak and Human rights are frequently flouted as abuse of power continues. The capitalist system structurally favours Chaebols to the extent that any attempts at curtailing their power  ends up destabilising the economy. The fissures between the workers too point to a weak collective consciousness as a result of decades of authoritarian rule which furthered a rigorous agenda of workers’ suppression to achieve economic growth.

This applies to the issue of Gender inequality too. The continuation of a blend of  Confucian codes of chastity and feminine morality along with militarist ethos has restricted progress to a small pool of qualified female leaders. The dominant view against homosexuality can also be located in the militarist ethos.

Toeing the line set for it by the United States since its inception in 1948, choosing a foreign policy completely aloof from Washington is a step too radical for the Republic of Korea to achieve, that too in a single term of five years. Moon’s efforts to negotiate with Pyongyang however, have been the most remarkable. Even in failure, he cannot be blamed for not trying. His legacy would last as not just a  fleeting attempt at crafting out a social democracy on a soil with a long tryst with authoritarian regimes but more so as a reminder of what political and economic flaws South Korea retains and how they must be corrected through structural changes. So how does Moon Jae-in go down in history? Till the historians of tomorrow present a better insight, as an Extraordinary President.

Non-resident Vasey Fellow at Pacific Forum, Hawaii. Cherry Hitkari is an Advisory Board member of 'Tomorrow's People' at Modern Diplomacy. She holds a Masters in East Asian Studies specialising in Chinese Studies and is currently pursuing an advanced diploma in Chinese language at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, India.

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East Asia

Assad’s visit to China: Breaking diplomatic isolation and rebuilding Syria

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Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Hangzhou, capital city of east China's Zhejiang Province, Sept. 22, 2023. (Xinhua/Yao Dawei)

The visit of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to China to participate in the opening of the Asian Games came as a serious step to try to break the diplomatic isolation from Syria.  Syrian President “Bashar Al-Assad” was keen to meet his counterpart Xi Jinping in the city of Hangzhou in eastern China, where the Asian Games are being held, as this was the Syrian president’s first visit to China since 2004.  According to the Syrian regime’s Al-Watan newspaper, Al-Assad will attend the launch ceremony of the (nineteenth edition) of the Asian Games, which will open on September 23, in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.  This visit to Bashar al-Assad reflects the great coordination between Moscow and Beijing, as it is likely that the Russians pushed for this visit at this precise time.  Perhaps, through his visit to China, Bashar al-Assad is trying to deliver a specific message about the start of “international legitimization” of his regime.  Syria’s accession to the Belt and Road Initiative in January 2022 is an indication of the possibility of implementing vital Chinese projects, especially since it is located between Iraq and Turkey, making it a vital corridor for land routes towards Europe.

 Bashar Al-Assad’s visit to China also comes in an attempt to attract it to reconstruction projects in the affected areas in Syria, as China has the ability to complete reconstruction infrastructure in residential and civilian areas with exceptional speed. This is the same as what the Chinese ambassador to Syria “Shi Hongwei” announced in August 2023, that “Chinese companies are actively involved in reconstruction projects in Syria”. The war in Syria led to massive destruction of infrastructure and the destruction of many vital sectors of the Syrian economy, including oil, while the Syrian government is subject to harsh international sanctions.  We find that the Chinese side has shown great interest in the reconstruction projects in Surba, such as the presence of more than a thousand Chinese companies to participate in (the first trade exhibition on Syrian reconstruction projects in Beijing), while they pledged investments estimated at two billion dollars.

  China played an active role through diplomatic movements in Syria, as it participated in the “Astana” process, and obstructed Security Council resolutions related to Syria, to confirm its position in support of Damascus, using its veto power more than once in the Security Council, against resolutions considered to be a blow to Assad’s “legitimacy”.  In September 2017, the Syrian regime classified China, along with Russia and Iran, as “friendly governments” that would give priority to reconstruction projects. Therefore, Al-Assad affirmed during his meeting with Chinese President “Xi Jinping” that: “this visit is important in terms of its timing and circumstances, as a multipolar world is being formed today that will restore balance and stability to the world, and it is the duty of all of us to seize this moment for the sake of a bright and promising future”.

  According to my analysis, China follows the policy of “breaking diplomatic isolation on presidents and countries against which America is angry”, so the visit of “Bashar al-Assad” comes within a series of visits that China witnessed during the current year in 2023, to presidents who are isolated internationally by the United States of America, such as: Venezuelan President “Nicolas  Maduro”, the Iranian President ”Ibrahim Raisi”, and the Belarusian “Alexander Lukashenko”.

  China is also keen to conduct interviews in its newspapers and official websites affiliated with the ruling Communist Party with many presidents and officials of countries isolated internationally and diplomatically by the United States of America and the West, such as the Chinese keenness to conduct and publish an interview with Syrian Foreign Minister “Faisal Mekdad” on September 21, 2023, and the Chinese reviewed his statements, saying that “the United States of America has plundered oil, natural gas, and other resources from Syria, causing losses worth $115 billion”. The Chinese newspaper “Global Times”, which is close to the ruling Communist Party, also focused on the United States’ greater role in the deterioration of “Syria from stability to chaos” . The Chinese newspaper compared this to China’s policy, which constantly calls for peaceful dialogue and opposes “foreign interference” .

   Through his visit to China, Syrian President “Bashar Al-Assad” is trying to lay the foundations for joint cooperation between China and Syria within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, with full Chinese support for Syria’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a dialogue partner. China has always affirmed its firm support for Syria’s efforts against foreign interference, with the Chinese rejection of the stationing of illegal forces on Syrian territory. China is also making great efforts with many countries to lift sanctions and the illegal economic blockade on the Syrian people, in addition to Chinese support for building Syrian capabilities in the field of combating terrorism. Knowing that despite its alliance with President “Bashar Al-Assad”, China did not participate in supporting him militarily, but it used the right of criticism to obstruct the passage of resolutions against him in the Security Council.

   We can reach an important conclusion that Bashar Al-Assad’s visit to China has a greater political track, and that Beijing is trying to play a greater role in the issue of resolving conflicts or to have a greater actual role in negotiations related to sensitive issues in the region. The implications of Assad’s visit to China are also politically significant, as China is trying to play a greater political role in the region, as China has been trying since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war and the emergence of a vacuum in the Middle East as a result of the decline of Russian influence due to its preoccupation with the war, so Beijing is trying to expand in the Middle East and Africa. 

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China’s Inclusive Diplomacy for Global Cooperation

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President Xi Jinping’s address at the recently held 2023 CIFTIS resonates as a powerful call for inclusive development and cooperation in the services trade sector. China’s commitment to expanding market access, increasing connectivity, and aligning policies with global standards demonstrates its commitment to ensuring a level playing field for all nations.

This commitment extends across different sectors, including telecommunications, tourism, law, vocational examinations, and the larger services sector. President Xi’s address emphasized China’s intention to expand broader, broaden market access, and support inclusive development in the services trade sector. His sentiments resonate with the global world as China seeks to create new prospects for openness, cooperation, and economic equality.

Over the last few decades, the services trade landscape has changed drastically, becoming an essential component of international business. However, this expansion has not been uniform, with developing countries frequently encountering difficulties such as limited market access, complex rules, and capacity limits that prevent them from fully participating in international services trade.

Notably, China is committed to promoting inclusive growth in the services trade sector. It assured of taking continuing steps to accelerate Chinese modernization through high-quality development, to open up new avenues for openness and collaboration for all countries.

Through openness, cooperation, innovation, and shared services, China emphasized the need for inclusive growth and connectivity. Recognizing that a rising tide in services trade should raise all boats, particularly those from nations with limited resources, China has launched a series of ground-breaking initiatives. Additionally, China is actively expanding its network of high-standard free trade areas, participating in negotiations on the negative list for trade in services and investment.

China is setting an example by aligning its policies with international standards. President Xi highlighted in his speech that national integrated demonstration zones for increased openness in the services sector, suitable pilot free trade zones, and free trade ports will be at the forefront of aligning policies with high-standard international economic and trade regulations. These zones demonstrate China’s commitment to fostering an atmosphere conducive to international cooperation and growth.

Real-world examples vividly demonstrate the practical impact of China’s assistance to developing countries in the services trade. China’s investments in transport infrastructure, such as the Standard Gauge Railway, have considerably facilitated the flow of goods and people in Kenya, boosting the services sector indirectly.

Pakistan’s experience with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is similar, with improved physical connectivity catalyzing the expansion of digital services and e-commerce. Various infrastructure developments in Indonesia have resulted in spectacular advances, opening up new potential for services trade.

Ethiopia, too, has reaped the benefits of China’s commitment, with active participation in industrial parks reviving the services sector, which includes logistics, banking, and education. These real-life success stories highlight China’s critical role in facilitating the expansion and development of services trade in developing countries.

China’s commitment to capacity building and technical aid is critical in its support for developing countries in the services trade. China provides these countries with the knowledge and skills they need to participate effectively in the services trade by offering specialized programs. Furthermore, China’s significant investments in infrastructure projects such as ports, logistical hubs, and telecommunications networks play an important role in facilitating the smooth flow of services.

Furthermore, China’s commitment to reducing entry barriers and optimizing regulations indicates the country’s persistent commitment to creating an equitable environment. This approach not only promotes equitable possibilities but also simplifies market access, making it easier for developing countries to export their services to China’s enormous and dynamic market.

Furthermore, China gives significant financial support in the form of loans and grants for service trade-related initiatives, recognizing the financial problems that many developing countries confront. This financial assistance enables nations to overcome economic challenges and invest in the expansion and improvement of their service sectors, thereby encouraging economic equality and cooperation.

As the world continues to evolve, services trade will play an increasingly important role in global economic growth, and China’s leadership in this realm is helping to shape a future where opportunities are shared, disparities are reduced, and cooperation knows no bounds. It is a vision worthy of appreciation and support since it is consistent with the ideals of justice and equality, moving the globe closer to a more linked and wealthy global community.

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China’s Multilateral Engagement and Constructive Role in the G20



Image source: X @narendramodi

The recent G20 Summit in India has once again taken center stage, attracting global attention as it gathered together leaders and delegates from the world’s 20 most powerful economies. This high-profile event was significant in shaping international relations and addressing serious global concerns due to its broad presence and crucial talks. This high-stakes gathering occurs at a pivotal juncture, marked by escalating divisions among major powers on a multitude of pressing global issues, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, global economic recovery, food security, and climate change.

The recent inclusion of the African Union (AU) as a permanent member within the G20 serves as a positive signal, signifying consensus among major economies. However, lurking concerns persist about the formidable challenges involved in achieving unity and issuing a joint declaration in the midst of these complex global dynamics.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s opening remarks at the 18th G20 Summit in New Delhi resonate as he underscores the paramount importance of unity and collaboration among G20 member nations. He emphasizes the critical need for effective coordination of macroeconomic policies to restore hope and generate momentum for long-term economic growth.

 Premier Li eloquently highlights the interconnectedness of humanity’s destiny and calls upon nations to demonstrate mutual respect, seek common ground while momentarily setting aside differences, and work tirelessly towards peaceful coexistence. In a world characterized by profound crises and shared hardships, he aptly observes that no nation can thrive in isolation. Therefore, the only plausible pathways for guiding humanity forward are those rooted in cooperation and harmony.

The G20, originally established to navigate global financial crises and forge collective strategies for addressing economic challenges while fostering global economic development, has, regrettably, experienced a decline in consensus and a rise in differences among major powers. This shift has been particularly evident since the onset of the Ukraine crisis and the United States’ strategy of containment against China. Consequently, the G20 is increasingly devolving into a forum marked by discord, rather than the once-productive and constructive multilateral mechanism it was intended to be.

Nevertheless, the G20 retains its significance as a pivotal forum for international collaboration in confronting global challenges. With the increasing contributions of developing nations like China, India, and African countries, the voices within the G20 have diversified, no longer solely dominated by Western perspectives. As a response, the United States seeks to regain control of the multilateral process to further its agenda of great power competition. However, this approach is unlikely to be warmly received by the broader international community.

China remains steadfast in its commitment to deepen reforms and open up further to foster high-quality development and its unique brand of modernization. China views itself as a catalyst for additional momentum in global economic recovery and sustainable development. China stands ready to collaborate with all stakeholders to contribute to the well-being of our shared Earth, our common home, and the future of humanity. Despite Western media’s attempts to sensationalize China’s stance and magnify perceived differences, China continues to play a constructive role within the G20, dedicated to its multilateral mission.

To ensure that the G20 remains a platform focused on global governance rather than being overshadowed by geopolitical conflicts, China remains determined to fulfill its constructive role within the group, regardless of attempts by Western powers to politicize the mechanism. China’s efforts have expanded the G20 to include the African Union, effectively transforming it into the “G21.” China was the first nation to endorse African Union membership in the G20 and advocates for the African Union to assume an even more significant role in international governance.

The growing divisions and disputes within the G20 have eroded its effectiveness as a platform for addressing global challenges. These divisions, primarily driven by American actions and policies, have spawned tensions with far-reaching global implications, from the Ukraine crisis to escalating tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea. These developments underscore the critical role the G20 plays in promoting cooperation and unity.

Amid the current geopolitical landscape characterized by major powers’ divisions, tensions have surged, resonating globally and causing ripple effects. From the Ukraine crisis to tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea, the significance of the G20’s role in fostering cooperation and unity cannot be overstated.

All G20 member nations must recognize the urgent imperative of cooperation in building a world that is safer, more prosperous, and increasingly peaceful. Given the global challenges that transcend narrow national interests, effective responses can only be crafted through international cooperation. The G20 stands as a pivotal arena for this cooperation, with China’s positive contribution being indispensable in promoting cohesion.

Despite Western media’s efforts to sensationalize China’s position and magnify perceived gaps, China remains a committed multilateral partner within the G20, dedicated to constructive engagement. The G20 continues to serve as a critical platform for addressing global concerns, fostering unity, and promoting international collaboration. As the world grapples with intricate issues, it remains imperative that nations adhere to the principles of multilateralism and collaborate relentlessly to secure a more prosperous, peaceful, and sustainable future for all.

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