On Challenges to International Security: Joint Efforts, Responsibility, and Reform

-- Address at the 6th World Peace Forum

Surakiart Sathirathai , Former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand

There is a clear nexus between globalization and international security. This is because globalization came with a promise that it will bring development, and international security depends on development.  

Logically then, anti-globalization is anti-development and anti-security.

Without development there can be no security.  That is, without sustained economic growth that enables people to live with enough to eat, with adequate shelter, with job opportunities, with realistic hopes for the future, the necessary conditions for international peace and security will not be present.
Globalization in the past forty years indeed has had a remarkably positive impact on our lives and our peoples.  It is sometimes easy to take it for granted, but the movement of people, the wealth and opportunities created, and the transfer of information, innovative ideas and culture, have moved the world forward at a speed not known before in the history of humanity.

Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty and new opportunities for a brighter future have been opened up for countless more millions.  Indeed, one of the epicenters of the latest wave of globalization has been the city of Beijing where we are meeting today, and the advances that have been made here are plain for all to see. 
However, at the same time, we must confront the fact that there have been those who feel left behind because of rapid change and globalization.

Today there are people in both the developed and developing world, for whom looking forward into the future brings apprehension, a sense of foreboding. Globalization once brought jobs, it had promised that prosperity would trickle down to all. But today, for so many, globalization holds a very different meaning. People are nervous about the transformation of the economy and society, they are nervous about their jobs disappearing, either getting sent to another continent or being superseded by a robot. They are worried that they will not be able to keep up with others.  They are angry that others seems to be getting ahead of them.  People are concerned about loss of sovereignty. They are anxious that their cultures and communities are being consumed, transformed and forgotten in a colorless, uniform global world.  Brexit and the most recent US presidential elections bear testimony to this trend.

As long as there has been a phenomenon of globalization, there has been opposition to it. But what is of pressing concern today is that anti-globalization is no longer a fringe movement of ideological protesters or anarchists on the streets as it was in the past. Today, the anti-globalization movement is broad, it is mainstream, it is populist. Opposition to globalization is fueling anxiety about the future in the communities of both developed and developing countries.

This anti-globalization sentiment is being tapped into by leaders on both the left and right. On the left there are those who stand against the inequality and elitism. On the right, there is a belief that the clocks can be turned back to a simpler time, where decades of progress and openness are being turned back to an idealistic imagined past. In some parts of the world, this narrative is shifting into a more  divisive, nationalist, protectionist rhetoric as well as actions.  This is a situation that should concern all of us.

Anti-globalization sentiments and actions pose a challenge, and indeed in many instances, pose a threat to international security.  A withdrawal from a global worldview leads to a "if you win, I lose" mentality, instead of a searching for win-win solutions.  History shows that economic nationalism leads to a race to the bottom.  History also shows that strategic ultra-nationalism always ends up in war.  
How can we prevent the negative impacts that a trend towards anti-globalization can have on international security?  How can we reshape the globalization process to address legitimate popular concerns?  How can we sustain an open world?

First, we must tackle head-on, and in a proactive manner, some of the key concerns about globalization. 

The dividends of economic globalization have not always trickled down equally. Income inequality continues to rise; already it is at the highest rate in over a generation, and concerningly, the gap between rich and poor is growing most quickly in developing countries.
According to a Credit Suisse report, more than half the world’s wealth is now owned by the top 1% alone. We have to try to keep making the case about the great benefits of globalization, but we have to be more sensitive to the fact that we have a responsibility to ensure prosperity to the other 99% as well.
In ASEAN especially, we are hyper-aware of the dangers that inequality can bring, and we are trying to undo the deepening gaps between rich and poor in and between our member countries.

All our societies everywhere need to make sure that individuals, elites and businesses all pay their fair, honest share in a progressive tax system. We also need to make sure that the money is spent well, that it is redistributed back into where communities and families need it most – quality education and healthcare, social services and welfare, infrastructure and good governance.
Since assuming office, President Xi Jinping has made it a primary goal to try to make sure government spending is not diverted by corruption away from areas that need it most. He has said that he wants to eliminate both “tigers and flies — corrupt officials — irrespective of ranking”.  Pervasive corruption perpetuates the gaps in power, opportunity, ingenuity and wealth between the rich and poor.  It contributes to giving globalization a bad name. Eliminating corruption is an important element in making marginalized and disaffected people feel they are getting a fair chance in the system.

Contented people make for stable societies, which in turn make for a more secure international community.   

Second, we cannot allow vacuums to develop.  Vacuums in international affairs are as dangerous as Black Holes in outer space.  

Vacuums can develop when a great power withdraws from its commitments. Vacuums can develop when international organizations can no longer perform their functions. Vacuums can develop when new structures are not in place to take over from decaying ones.  
We are in the midst of an once-in-a-century power transition, which is being hastened by China’s growing leadership and responsibility, and by uncertainty surrounding the US commitments to internationalism. 

But we should not think merely in terms of one great power replacing another.  We must take this opportunity to move away from a hierarchical world order.  We should not begin to look for a new World Policeman. We must forge a modified set of principles and practices for a new Globalism.   

After 150 years, Asia today has finally escaped the traps of colonialism and superpower hegemony.  We have an opportunity to build a multilateral regional architecture which has Asian values at its core, and which can form the basis for a more stable and secure international order. 

I find inspiration in the positive sides of the Chinese tradition of guanxi. I realize that there are negative aspects to guanxi, but if we have a strong programme to tackle corruption and inequalities, then we could draw upon some of the positive qualities of guanxi to help meet present and future challenges.  The positive qualities I refer to are the core values of carefully cultivating and nurturing relationships. If we imagine ourselves as dots in an interconnected web, the fine silk threads of guanxi -- kinship, mutual interest, loyalty, trust, reciprocity -- connect us in an interdependent network that weaves across our region. 

Such a network of connections,  based on the traditions of guanxi,  by its very nature would be non-ideological and secular.  I believe that this is the type of connectivity that we must build in a new Globalism. Rather than asking it to be a new Global Policeman, a new Hegemon, the new Arbiter, or the new Rule-maker, we should look to China to be the Great Connector, the country that can connect all the dots.

Drawing on the positive elements in the traditions of guanxi, we can envisage a future with plural leadership and shared burdens, shared global rights and regional responsibilities, with an emphasis on cultivating peaceful and trusting relationships.

Third, since Asia is the engine of world growth, we must ensure that the drive towards a more open regional economy and 
interconnectedness in the  Asia-Pacific is not reversed.

The progress made in two short years by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank or AIIB can serve as a model for future international organizations.  Despite doubts from certain quarters, it has maintained its openness to new members, not competed aggressively with existing multilateral institutions in a race to the bottom, has emphasized partnering, complementarity and co-financing with other multilaterallenders, has kept its infrastructure focus, and most importantly, has maintained high standards of corporate governance.

With the credibility that it has acquired, the AIIB is thus in a position to back up the Belt and Road Initiative -- the BRI -- which has the potential to change the economic landscape of the Asia-Pacific and far beyond, and bring significant opportunities and dividends to our businesses, governments and citizens. Already nearly 80 countries have signed up for the AIIB, more than 40 have signed cooperation agreements under the BRI, undoubtedly buoyed by the great romanticism, not to mention tremendous opportunity, in reconnecting ancient land and sea routes between the great cities of Eurasia and the rest of the world through much needed road, rail, maritime, telecommunications, energy and digital links. 

The BRI, in concert with existing schemes like the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, promises to deliver significantGDP gains, open-up a network of commercial activities and unimpeded trade covering two-thirds of the world population. 
It offers a glimmer of hope of development in countries for whom infrastructure funding has been so hard to come by, even at the height of globalization.

Successful conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP by the ASEAN+6 countries, which includes China, and President Xi’s suggestion to revive the Free Trade Agreement of Asia –Pacific (FTAAP) can help ensure the sustainability of the physical projects, and the economic networks and relationships in the Asia Pacific, which in turn will help to sustain open global and regional trade and economic systems that are the key underpinnings for a secure world.

For many, the idea of globalization evokes fear, competition, uncertainty.  

But we can push back, and we must.  We can proactively address the negative aspects of globalization, especially through a commitment to reducing inequality within and between countries.   We can cultivate relationships based on long-term trust, mutual respect and reciprocity; we can strengthen cooperative regional networks, institutions and structures that would be conducive to a new kind of proactive, open and plural globalism for the 21st century.

If we allow anti-globalization in the economic sphere to expand not only into trade and investment protectionism and discrimination, but to also spill over into discrimination against migrants and asylum-seekers, into restrictive immigrationpolicies, indeed into religious hatred, misunderstanding and extremism, then international security will  be severely undermined.

We are indeed living in times of uncertainty and unpredictable change.  But I am confident that we can, together, face the challenges of  the  future and succeed.   The present-day world now actually has the collective means and resources to ensure well-being for everyone. The present-day world now has the accumulated ancient and modern wisdom to sustain peace.  
But we must turn negativity into positivity; we must make the best use of the present-day window of opportunity by properly connecting all the dots.  For this, we perhaps could look to China, as the Great Connector, to assume the heavy mantle of responsibility.

(24 June 2017, Beijing)