China’s Global Development Initiative (GDI): A New Platform for Global Development Management and Cooperation?

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The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, proposed a Global Development Initiative (GDI) at the general meeting of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, calling on the international community to place development high on the global macro-policy agenda, accelerate the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda and work together to steer global development towards a more balanced inclusive phase.

Following President Xi’s announcement, Chinese high-level officials and analysts have elucidated the details of the Initiative, adding more clarity to the proposal. The GDI, according to official briefs and documents, aims at responding to global development deficits by focusing on a people-centered and innovation-driven approach, practical cooperation, a harmonious relation between mankind and nature, inclusiveness and multilateralism, thereby building global community through development with a shared future. The GDI’s overarching goal is to promote common development through increased connectivity and to establish a global community of development with a shared future. Although it is described as “improving the process of global development,” the two stated and most important goals of the GDI are to assist the United Nations to attain its 2030 agenda for sustainable development and to support all nations, particularly developing countries, to properly respond to the crisis caused by COVID-19 with a focus on “greener and healthier global development.” To that end, it emphasizes the importance of global development governance guided by the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, safeguarding the UN-centered international system, fully utilizing the UN’s coordinating role in promoting sustainable development, prioritizing development in global macro-policy coordination, stepping up North-South cooperation, and deepening South-South cooperation.

China advocates fairer and more equitable international relations and unwaveringly supports global development. China’s global and regional development partnerships signify China’s role and contribution to the economic growth and developments achieved globally. China aims to make the cake of prosperity bigger, and is keen to share its successful experience without reservation in order to enhance development in other places and benefit more countries and peoples.

Why the GDI?

China believes development should be ranked high on the list of human rights, and partnerships towards such an end should not be politicized, denying people’s right to it. Development partnerships which prioritize political gains and compromise the development ambitions of developing world countries seem to stand against China’s proposal of more inclusive and balanced economic growth and overall development. China’s Global Development Initiative has been proposed with the intent to address two major setbacks currently believed to challenge global development and the realization of the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development. First, the COVID-19 pandemic induced a global economic downturn, and this combined with the existing global development deficit and the need for well-coordinated global governance are believed to have inspired the initiative. Equally, there is concern that the global economy is struggling to recover and developing countries face daunting challenges in meeting the 2030 SDGs. With regard to this, at the 77th UN General Assembly meeting, Secretary-General Guterres said that the perils facing the world are pushing the SDGs further out of reach, and that we have a long “to do” list.

The international community is still burdened by the pressure that the pandemic has exerted on the global economy in general and developing countries’ economies in particular. The significant achievements made in poverty reduction globally over the past two decades have been undone due to the pandemic, i.e., low productivity and reduced flow of goods and services and more expenditures to cover health-related expenses and relief funds, as well as tax breaks, have slowed economies, leading to stagnation. As a result, millions have been dragged back to extreme poverty. Although the World Bank has predicted that most developed economies will bounce back to their pre-COVID economic status and recover from the economic sluggishness they have suffered by the end of 2023, developing world economies are predicted to remain in an economic downturn for a while. It is clear that the global economy has not yet fully recovered from the impacts of COVID-19. As per the 2022 African Economic Outlook report delivered by the African Development Bank in May, Africa will require about $432 billion to address the impacts of COVID-19 on its economies and on the lives of Africans. Moreover, a few million Africans could be driven into crushing poverty due to the Russia-Ukraine war.

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As tackling the various impacts of the pandemic is essential to the quick recovery of the global as well as developing world economies, China’s GDI aims at making vaccines a global public good and increasing developing countries’ access to vaccination. Unless such a shield is built against the pandemic, China argues, the quick revival of economies may remain in jeopardy. In this regard, China has provided over 2 billion doses of vaccines to the world and has promised to contribute to global immunization. In this regard, the Chinese government states that it conducted the largest humanitarian operation since the establishment of the PRC in 1949.

Having underscored the need for a continued global effort to address the economic and health impacts of the pandemic, the Initiative also emphasizes that global development requires revitalization and should contribute to the realization of the SDGs. The Global Development Initiative aims to strengthen efficient action on all 17 SDGs by collaborating with existing multilateral mechanisms and platforms. This includes creating synergies with multilateral, regional and subregional mechanisms like the United Nations, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the G20, the BRICS, the SCO and “10+1,” as well as encouraging international organizations, governments, businesses, academia and civil society organizations to engage in putting the 2030 Agenda into action. To that end, the GDI stipulates certain core principles believed to serve as foundations of global development governance and propel global development toward a better future.

The GDI and Global Development

China’s Global Development Initiative emphasizes the pertinence of a people-centered approach to global development governance. The GDI embraces a principle that takes the betterment of people’s well-being and realization of their well-rounded development as both the initial point and end goal. It endeavors to meet the aspirations of all peoples for a better life. Such an approach may gain the Initiative more support and also connects with the goals set to be achieved by the SDGs. According to some analysts, the priority the Initiative has assigned to the well-being of people could be a solid foundation to ensure more inclusive and balanced development. The people-centered approach to development aligns with a bottom-up approach where development serves as a means for people’s well-being and betterment of their lives. In that sense, the GDI strives to leave no country and no person behind.

The realization of global development goals—be they the SDGs or other targets—demands the concerted effort of all concerned. China believes that the complexity of global development challenges requires a multilateral and inclusive approach that draws on the pool of wisdom of best development practices and experiences. The initiative clearly states that global development challenges can be addressed with the combined efforts of all and proper mobilization of resources from across the globe. The emphasis here is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to development, and the development approaches of countries should align with their respective realities. As the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated in his speech concerning the GDI, countries should be at liberty to pursue a model of development of their choice. The GDI attempts to respect countries’ autonomy and pursues a more cooperative approach towards development, substantially driven by a win-win orientation. The Initiative simply highlights the benefit of knowledge-sharing and connectivity in the realization of global development goals.

China portrays its initiative as an important public good and cooperation platform for the international community. It is open to the entire world and welcomes participation from all countries. It will work in conjunction with other initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative, the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). It will build consensus and pool the strengths of multilateral cooperation mechanisms such as the UN, the G20, and BRICS, as well as various sub-regional and regional platforms.

As a condition to this expanding partnership, China advances the idea that differences and problems among countries need to be handled through dialogue and cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual respect. One country’s success does not have to mean another country’s failure, and the world is big enough to accommodate common development and the progress of all countries. Intending to produce such a result, Chinese officials emphasized the need to pursue dialogue and inclusiveness over confrontation and exclusion.

If China remains committed to the GDI’s win-win doctrine, it is likely that the Initiative will gain supporters and momentum. But concrete plans that correspond to the SDGs will be vital to its acceptance and success. In addition to the surveys conducted by the UN and the World Bank, countries should also conduct their own surveys to identify the areas where they need most action. This would make it easier for China and other external actors to contribute towards the realization of the SDGs. Since the progress made by African countries in realizing the SDGs shows tremendous differences, it would be relevant to have country-specific interventions as well as regional or continental programs. This can be conducted with existing political and economic partnerships such as FOCAC.

Although recently introduced, the GDI has gained momentum and the support of more than 100 countries, and more than 60 countries have organized into what is known as Friends of the GDI. With a proper role in the Initiative, Africans’ participation in the GDI could deepen even further. The secretary of external relations of Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF party Simbarashe Mumbengegwi states that the Zimbabwean government views the GDI in positive terms. And at a recent Ministerial Meeting of the Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Ethiopia Demeke Mekonnen said that the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical tensions, and the food and fuel crisis have all made collaboration in accordance with the GDI an imperative need. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also said, “The holistic Global Development Initiative is a valued contribution to addressing common challenges and accelerating the transition to a more sustainable and inclusive future.”

The GDI and Africa: A good fit?

Africa’s active and considered plan to integrate its needs with the goals set by the GDI may help to address Africa’s development needs in the areas of development financing, development resource and knowledge sharing, industrialization and energy production, environmental protection, agricultural modernization and food security, increased connectivity, and technology transfer.

Africa’s development has been enormously challenged by the absence of what economists call “the big push.” Africa’s low energy production and supply and deficits in technology and infrastructure partly relate to a lack of financing that matches Africa’s development demands in these areas. The GDI’s commitment to better coordinate and avail development financing to developing countries aligns with Africa’s strategic advantage and practical needs. In this regard, many agree that the Initiative is a welcome opportunity for Africa to increase its access of development finance. Africa’s productivity and global competitiveness rely on its ability to utilize its resources, which without infrastructure connectivity and supply of energy remain latent.

What’s more, Africa is in a position to benefit from its late-comer status and can look forward to clean and green energy while responding to its infrastructure and energy needs. That being in the best interest of the continent as well as the world at large, Africa has to determine how best to utilize the GDI’s commitment to clean and green energy. The GDI’s emphasis on this sort of energy corresponds to Africa’s potential energy sources and would mitigate the impacts of climate change. Moreover, the GDI could be a platform for Africa to make its voice heard and steer environmental governance in a way that responds to its concerns. Since the GDI is committed to pushing the international community to fully and effectively implement the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement, improving global climate and environmental governance, Africa should focus on the transfer of clean energy technology and increase its access to financing for such infrastructure, as it will play into the continent’s goals to coordinate economic growth and environmental protection.

The GDI has the potential to be a good fit for Africa in boosting the continent’s food production and food security. The Initiative intends to build a global platform of cooperation that ensures food security. Endowed with vast arable and irrigable land and water resources, Africa can transform its agricultural productivity and eradicate hunger from the continent once and for all. Besides lessening the agony of its own people, in achieving self-sufficiency the continent will also be able to spare itself from unnecessary external pressure that instrumentalizes food aid towards a political end. Increased agricultural productivity could also create more jobs, with domestic and international markets for the continent leading to more growth at home and elsewhere.

China’s proposed Initiative aims to build a global community of development with a shared future. To that end, it intends to build a digital economy and scale up connectivity, aiming to positively influence the global economy. As a continent with significant gaps pertaining to connectivity, Africa needs to devise precise mechanisms that would enable it to integrate its development needs with the direction set by the Initiative.

Conclusion

The GDI has great potential to positively influence global development and respond to the current challenges in this regard. Its proposal to predicate global development on a pool of best practices and experiences and collective wisdom could be of enormous significance to the world at large, and the developing world in particular. The Initiative’s pillars focus on enhancing access to and better coordination of development financing, and macro-policy coordination to respond to the needs of developing world countries. These could play a pivotal role in addressing the widening North-South development gap and enhancing South-South cooperation. Its commitment to a multilateral approach to overcome prior and existing barriers to create more balanced and fair global development could transform global development partnerships and their trajectory.

The prominence the Initiative assigns to improving connectivity and sharing of development resources and knowledge will add significant momentum to developing countries’ development journeys. Of course, the developing world in general and Africa in particular need to contextualize and find the proper ways to utilize the Chinese experience through the GDI and other existing bilateral and multilateral platforms. But with proper engagement and crafting of the right policies and identification of areas where it can make the best of the GDI, Africa can greatly benefit from this Initiative. With that possibility ahead, Africa needs to enhance its capability in development management in order to respond to its short-term as well as long-term development needs and poverty reduction initiatives.