By Wang Wen Source: Global Times Published: 2019-11-12
It is hard to imagine that Azerbaijan, a country that ranks above 90 in terms of area and population, has such a global appeal, if you haven't taken part in Global Baku Forum. I almost thought President Ilham Aliyev was the leader of a superpower, when he stood in the center of more than 40 former presidents and prime ministers from more than 30 countries and posed with them for pictures at the opening ceremony.
Aliyev got elected to office for the first time in 2003. Within the next 10 years, Azerbaijan had thoroughly developed its oil economy with a 7-fold increase in citizens' income, and planned to build the world's tallest building that would be 1050-meter tall. When you roam Pedestrian Street in the center of Baku, you will find similarities with Paris and the view along the Caspian Sea will remind you of the Shanghai Bund in China's financial capital. Baku organized the European Games a few years ago. In 2016, it held Formula One, the world's top racing event, and made this city with a population of only 3 million more cosmopolitan.
The Baku Forum was launched in 2013 during Aliyev's third term. The forum invited dozens of political leaders to the conference every year. During the forum, the dialogues of civilizations brought together leaders of major world religions. The strategy of "Reviving the Silk Road" was proposed to build a trade, energy, finance and logistics center between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea to link Eastern Europe and West Asia which would create a strategic fulcrum for the development of Azerbaijan. This is in line with the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative in the Central Asian western corridor.
It is not common for small developing countries to have such a broad strategic vision. Other countries which were not frequently reported by Western media - Bahrain, Uzbekistan, Hungary and Latvia - had similar big ideas. What's more, some international companies, foundations and social scientists also had similar vision.
Don't underestimate any small country or non-state entity. In the post-G7 era, they're coming. The world won't be the one of G2 led by China and the US in the future, and the G20 may not be able to do as well. A few years ago, a pessimistic "G0" had been put forward and people believed that there would be no country that can dominate the future world.
It has been argued that globalization is faced with unprecedented difficulties and local or regional forces are growing. It might be more appropriate to use "Glocalization" or "Glo-regionalization" to indicate that "Globalization," "Localization" and "Regionalization" have mixed influences on everyone and every place.
I would prefer calling it "Gn" which means neither China nor the US nor G20, but N kinds of forces instead of a single force that will influence or dominate different global events at various levels. These kinds of forces are not only traditional powers, but also regional ones (such as Azerbaijan), international organizations, non-governmental institutions, financial institutions, transnational corporations, opinion leaders, think tanks and media, etc. All of them form a cross overlapping international power network, blur the ownership of global authority, breach sovereign rights and interests, and weaken the traditional political structure.
Jorg Friedrich, a professor at the University of Munich in Germany, used the term "New Medievalism" to describe the situation, likening the current era to the Middle Ages with the coexistence of empire, kingdom, tribe, duke and church that guided international governance. But perhaps "Gn" is easier to understand.
"Gn" is like the operating system and apps in a smartphone. Although the world order (operating system) is still dominated by the nations of the Westphalia system, there are different areas and regional affairs dominated by different actors (apps).
In the Caucasus, Azerbaijan is very important; global wealth management is hugely influenced by Buffett's thinking; in response to resolving climate change, a 16-year-old Swedish girl called Greta Thunberg seems to be a hero, and so on. Without the "operating system," nothing will work. However, there are forces that constantly discover new "apps" or dominate new things in the old "apps."
In the era of Gn, global governance has entered the "deep water" area. China is willing to contribute, but it can't be as arrogant as the US. And Beijing doesn't have the willingness or ability to become a new world leader or fill the leadership vacuum left by Washington. For China, the best way is to pursue win-win results and cooperation, not to become enemy to any forces, and to make efforts within its capabilities.
It is a period during which any power or anyone can play a leading role at any time. To be kind to others, not to bully others, and to pursue win-win results is a strategic choice to maximize the interests of all parties. So far, China has done a good job.
The author is professor and executive dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, at Renmin University of China and executive director of China-US People-to-People Exchange Research Center. His new book Great Power's Long March Road was launched recently.