– An Interview with Former WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy
By staff reporter ZHANG HUI
While China celebrates the 40th anniversary of its reform and opening-up, some of the international community applaud its decades-long great transformation and marvel at the incredible achievements it has made, but some still have misgivings about the country’s development path and its role in the international community.
On December 16, the 3rd Understanding China Conference sponsored by China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy commenced. Participants at the conference included dozens of former heads of state and government, and leading figures in academic and business fields. Themed “China’s New Growth Drivers and New Opportunities for Global Cooperation”, the conference tried to parse the country’s new development concepts, guiding principles, and resolve to advance its reform and opening-up in the new era. At the same time, it also serves as a good platform for the international community to know more about China, and get the key to understanding China. An attendee of the conference, former director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Pascal Lamy sat down with China Today on the sideline, and shared his understanding of China.
Former WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy in an interview with China Today. Photo by Yu Jie
China Today: This year marks the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening-up. The world has witnessed China’s tremendous changes and incredible development. What do you think about China’s contribution to the world development? What has impressed you most about China’s reform and opening-up?
Pascal Lamy: I think since Deng Xiaoping started this era of reform and opening-up, it has worked overall extremely well, both for China and for the world. Although as we know, there have been moments when China's reform and opening-up accelerated and moments when it slowed down. It's a very good story overall, although there are issues which now need to be addressed.
The major success of China during these 40 years, thanks to its reform and opening-up, is the growth performance. China is the only country on this planet that has succeeded in growing its economy so big so fast. There is no other precedent, and there is no other comparable success like it in modern history. So this is the big asset of China's reputation, both domestically, because it has formidably reduced poverty in the country and internationally because this is seen as a successful growth performance.
China Today: The conference you’re attending is about understanding China. In your opinion what’s the key to understanding China?
Pascal Lamy: I think the key is to know more about the way China has succeeded in growing its economy, know more about the relationship between its economic system and its political system, and know more about the Chinese civilization and Chinese values. The way Chinese think is not the way Europeans or Africans or Americans think. So understanding the difference is a major step forward in improving cooperation.
China Today: China has been advocating and following a policy of peaceful development. However, some parts of the Western world always tend to misinterpret China’s strategic intention. Some people believe that the Thucydides’ trap is inevitable, which has consequently led to the introduction of the containment policy towards China. What’s your take about the issue?
Pascal Lamy: Well, I think you're right about the perception, notably in the U.S. They take China’s development as a threat, which is why Donald Trump changed the U.S. policy from containing China to pushing back China. They intend to reduce the growth of China, being afraid that China’s rise may harm the U.S. interests. I don't think that's the right thing to do because it will harden China. While recognizing that in recent times China has become more assertive, it does not justify the U.S. stand, which I believe is too aggressive. But there are others in the West who also have changed their minds; they previously thought that the growth of China would make it converge with the Western model but now realize it has not happened as they expected.
China Today: China has played a more active role in global governance, evidenced by its proposal of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and plans for some issues of global concern. What do you think about the BRI and China’s role in global governance?
Pascal Lamy: I think the BRI is a very good and innovative concept. It was warmly received because it was seen as a move to enable more cooperation in building infrastructure, which can be used by everybody. However, I think for the moment, there are some doubts rising about the initiative in some countries as they see it as a China-only-driven process. While I agree that the BRI makes sense in expanding connectivity via infrastructures that allow China to breathe together with the rest of the world, I believe that if we want the initiative to progress, it should be demonstrated that the initiative is a two-or-three-way project.
In terms of global governance, China is doing great on environment. I think the world expects China to do more in other areas like security, finance, and trade. So the growth of China is a great thing for the world, provided China upgrades its work, its responsibilities, and its interaction with the rest of the world. This is why China’s opening remains a key to a better international system.
China Today: Since China’s accession to the WTO, China’s business environment has improved remarkably with more market access available for foreign companies and its intellectual property right protection system has developed greatly. What do you think about China’s changes and China’s role in safeguarding the world multilateral trading system?
Pascal Lamy: I think China has fulfilled the commitments it took when it joined the WTO a long time ago. And I've always said those who believe that China cheats with the rules are wrong. However, even though the rules of the game have not changed since 1994, the game has changed. China has become a much bigger player and this changes the game. Hence there is a need to improve the rules of the game, such as disciplines on subsidies in the WTO in order to relevel the playing field.