Politicians rally round globalist standard as US shuns multilateral legacy
Policymakers from across the globe have striven to present a consensus in favour of multilateralism this week while they fret about the impact on the world’s economic order if America’s withdrawal from the global stage
Political leaders and development bank chiefs are urging each other not to fall out of love with globalism and multilateralism, even as the US under president Donald Trump steps back from world affairs.
Since his election last year, Trump has rebuffed World Bank requests for extra funding, removed the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral trade deal and questioned its commitment to Nafta.
Senior politicians and development bank officials fretted loudly at this week’s meetings — in public and private — that the US can no longer be relied to act as the world’s policeman and funder of last resort. “There is some kind of tiredness about having to support other countries,” said Takehiko Nakao, president of the Asian Development Bank. “America seems be fatigued about playing such an important role.”
“It is a concern,” said Philippines finance minister Carlos Dominguez. “The Trump administration talks about looking inward not outward. It should be ‘everyone together’, not a combative ‘them-and-us’, but the US seems more interested in their own interests now.”
America-philes still hope that the US under Trump will keep some ties with the outside world. European Investment Bank president Werner Hoyer said he “still believed in the wonderful heritage of the US”, and in particular of America’s ability to coin phrases such as “win-win” that conjured up a sense of co-operation in a troubled world.
Hoyer fretted that without the US, the concept of the West was doomed “to die”. But he and others cling to the belief the US will return to the world stage, and that in the interim, other sovereign voices can fill the void.
“Our political leaders in Europe will do everything to ensure that co-operative structures and the basics of multilateralism are preserved,” he said. “Europe must be at the vanguard when it comes to multilateralism. Multinational development banks must co-operate better, develop more projects together, create win-win synergies.”
China's clarion call
The other voice calling for a fresh approach to international development in a multipolar world is China. It sent a small army of development bank officials, politicians and civil servants to this year’s meeting.
Shi Yaobin, China’s deputy finance minister, urged nation states to “strengthen international co-operation”, noting that “no one country alone can solve all the problems we are facing now”.
Jin Liqun, chairman of the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, said it was inevitable countries like his contributed more to global trade. “Over the past 70 years, the world has benefited from valued US support,” he told GlobalMarkets. “But as time moves on you need more help from donors, supporters and contributors to benefit the whole world. China needs to play a bigger role in international and financial areas.”
And many hope this is just a blip — that the US’s relative withdrawal from the world will prove temporary. “Is it really responsible for America to truly withdraw from multilateralism?” asked Jin. “Given the scale of the US economy, I wonder if it is possible for the US to truly remove itself from multilateral co-operation.”