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Commitment is renewed to the ideals of Bandung

By Adriel Kasonta | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-05-12 08:57
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Participants walk around the Boao Forum for Asia International Conference Center in Boao, South China's Hainan province, April 18, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

In April, the Boao Forum for Asia successfully held its annual conference in Hainan province after last year's conference was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

With the theme "A World in Change: Join Hands to Strengthen Global Governance and Advance Belt and Road Initiative Cooperation", this year's conference emphasized the formation of Hainan's free trade port, the reform of the World Trade Organization, measures to ensure global food security, and strategies to boost the development of small businesses and strengthen trade ties amid the pandemic.

The 20th edition of the forum, which has been dubbed the "Asian Davos", was delivered in a hybrid format. The offline part was attended by over 4,000 participants from around the globe.

The forum proved to be a high-profile platform for top politicians, businesspeople and academics from around the world, serving as a bridge for the mutual exchange of ideas and opinions between Asia and the West.

Thomas Leung, managing partner of markets at PwC China, rightly observed that the forum has "made positive contributions to the promotion of regional economic integration, common development and the building of a more prosperous and harmonious Asia".

According to the forum report "Asian Economic Outlook and Integration Process", the performance of the Asian economy has been significantly better than that of the rest of the world, and it is expected to experience growth of more than 6.5 percent in 2021. This follows a 1.7 percent contraction in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, it was China that led the region with GDP growth of 2.3 percent in 2020 and 18.3 percent year-on-year growth in the first quarter of this year.

Research also suggests that the economic integration of the region is further accelerating, pointing to the fact that by February 2021 there had been 186 regional trade agreements in force inside and outside Asia - accounting for 54 percent of total regional agreements in the world.

In particular, the signing in November of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, a 15-country Asia-Pacific trade pact that includes China and Japan, has been injecting strong momentum into regional and global economic growth and further accelerating the negotiation of other trade agreements in the region.

Despite the obstacles created by the pandemic, it is said that Belt and Road Initiative construction has shown strong tenacity and vitality. According to data from the Ministry of Commerce, the value of trade in goods between China and other Belt and Road countries in 2020 was $1.35 trillion, up 0.7 percent from the previous year. In addition, nonfinancial direct investment in 58 BRI countries by Chinese enterprises reached $17.79 billion, up 18.3 percent year-on-year.

On another note, as economist Jeffrey Sachs argued, China serves as a significant role model for the African continent, since Beijing's achievements are "directly applicable to Africa's development needs and strategies".

Siddharth Chatterjee, the United Nations resident coordinator in China, expressed the organization's commitment to cooperate with Africa by sharing China's best practices in the area of rural revitalization - something that Africa needs to study very carefully in order to effectively lift itself up after the inglorious years of colonial underdevelopment.

Interestingly, the dates of the Boao Forum coincided with those of the historic Asian-African Conference that took place in Bandung, Indonesia, from April 18 to 24, 1955.

The conference, which "recognized the urgency of promoting economic development in the Asia-African region", as the final communique put it, was the expression of the "general desire for economic cooperation among the participating countries on the basis of mutual interest and respect for national sovereignty".

Equally important, the Bandung Conference also sought to outline a vision of sovereignty that aimed at protecting the raison d'etat of the Asian and African countries and securing a more active role for them in the management of international affairs - partially by contributing to international peace and security amid the Cold War, which they perceived as a new stage of imperialism.

President Xi Jinping's opening speech at the Boao Forum should come as a welcome surprise. He asserted that "the COVID-19 pandemic has made it all the more clear to people around the world that we must reject the Cold War and zero-sum mentality and oppose a new 'Cold War' and ideological confrontation in whatever forms".

In addition, he said, "Global governance should reflect the evolving political and economic landscape in the world, conform to the historical trend of peace, development and win-win cooperation, and meet the practical needs in addressing global challenges."

The Chinese leader also rightly added that what "we need in today's world is justice, not hegemony".

With the announcement of the second Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations to be held "as soon as the epidemic is brought under control", Xi not only reaffirmed China's commitment to upholding the Bandung Spirit, but most probably established himself as a leader of the emerging and peaceful world.

The author is former chairman of the international affairs committee at The Bow Group think tank in the United Kingdom.

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