Co-operation and collaboration key to sustaining the global order

The political events of 2016 have led to numerous upheavals in the global order. A panel of experts underpinned the need for stronger co-operation among governments in order to maintain a cohesive global order and reduce the divisive impact of nationalism, xenophobia and angry voters.

Recent election outcomes and economic policies have threatened geopolitical stability and disrupted trade and investment flows.

Trump’s victory is not an isolated phenomenon. The rejection of the establishment by voters around the world reinforces how events in one country correlate with the events in another.

This is the recurring view around the world today. Brexit, the disintegration of European co-operation, the tussle between Russia and China for the U.S.’s endorsement, China’s growing influence on international affairs – these incidents are all related, according to Jonathan Tepperman, Managing Editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, who spoke at a panel session at the APSIA-Foreign Affairs conference hosted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

Beyond the U.S., events occurring in Poland, the Philippines, Colombia and India have cemented the fact that the political climate is uncertain all over the world, as voters are frustrated about economic prospects and lash out at outcomes of immigration and threatened identities.

If countries remain isolated in their own world view and allow division to alienate them, the global outlook will stay murky. According to the World Economic Forum’s latest report on global risks, rising inequality and social polarisation look set to shape international developments for the coming decade.

As moderator of the panel session, Tepperman outlined that a reinvigoration of the political centre is needed. He added that closer co-operation and solid partnerships between nations are important to reconcile the liberal elites and the populists, as well as unify the people.

Europe should present a more united front

The populist backlash in Europe is largely a result of confusion and liberation, according to Enrico Letta, former Prime Minister of Italy and the Dean of the Paris School of International Affairs.

As a long-time upholder of values-based diplomacy, the European Union (EU) has often managed relationships with Turkey, Afghanistan and African states to control the influx of refugees and migrants without detriment.

However, the recent events of Syria and Libya, Letta pointed out, brought the U.K. out of the EU. Going forward, an extensive change is required to prevent the people of Europe from becoming disillusioned and to prevent the dissolution of the EU.

According to the Financial Times, European integration will also be crucial to foster trade and encourage stronger protection of data and intellectual property, which are drivers of the European economy.

Offering an optimistic and insightful take, Letta said that the debate about the U.K.’s membership of the EU should be seen as a Europe made up of two circles: the euro circle, which is a move towards greater integration, and in the longer term a full economic union accompanied by the looser circle of countries like the U.K. with different goals.

“Today the key point for the EU is to be more integrated, united and have the ability to stand alone in their views,” Letta said. “As leaders of the EU, we have to say more pointedly what we think about topics such as security, economics and finance.”

Tightening the lock with Russia and China

Greater integration is also required in managing relations with other nation-states. The U.S. will need to find a stronger, more resolute structure to address the rejection of fact-based arguments, such as how voters disregarded facts or logical arguments in Trump’s and Clinton’s campaigns. It will also need to re-examine its partnership with China and Russia as the global world order pivots.

Calling the relationship between Trump and Putin as “dispiriting”, Letta pointed out that the U.S.-Russian dynamic is not an end to itself but a means to an end for both countries to achieve their respective interests.

He also described a consistent pattern in the souring of relations with Russia over the past three presidential administrations, both Democratic and Republican.

Evaluating the various challenges that the U.S. faces and then finding how Russia can work with the U.S. to tackle them will be a critical step. According to Foreign Policy, Trump’s priority ought to be developing his foreign policy objectives and capitalising on the deepened relationship with Putin to achieve these outcomes. To do so, Trump must be a cap to contain Putin’s loose cannon, knowing which of Russia’s intentions to disregard, and limiting Russia’s involvement on the global stage when such policies may harm international interests.

How to play one’s cards discreetly is perhaps best demonstrated by China, according to James Goldgeier, Dean of the School of International Service at American University.

The Chinese seat at the G20 was a telling example, demonstrating the possibility of a constructive Chinese leadership, when China chose not to veto Antonio Guterres as the choice for UN Secretary-General.

Goldgeier said that the Chinese had done a remarkable job at cultivating their neighbours and succeeded in alienating every one of them.

China’s image as a responsible superpower in a volatile period has been carefully planned. According to The Nation, it has chosen a more inclusive stance and made a substantial contribution to the World Trade Organisation’s multilateral trading system.

Tepperman highlighted that the U.S. will need to be a more watchful and ardent supporter of China’s economic interests, and the two countries must work closely to address the collective challenges being faced globally.

He explained that the emerging markets are much too fragmented to form strategic alliances. The issues that divide Brazil, Russia, Turkey, South Korea and India from China are greater than the issues on which they can find common ground. Hence, the U.S. must recognise this gap and seize the opportunity to collaborate with China for new economic thinking and new approaches to geopolitical solutions.

Overcoming differences and collaborating on challenges

In an interview with The Guardian, Margareta Drzeniek-Hanouz, Head of Global Competitiveness and Risks at the World Economic Forum, said: “Urgent action is needed … to overcome political or ideological differences and work together to solve critical challenges.”

This action is perhaps best described by an African proverb paraphrased by Susan Collins, Dean of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, during the panel session: “If you want to go fast you can go alone, but if you wish to go far you have to go together.”

For a more robust, balanced and sustained global recovery, nations – both global emerging markets and those in Europe – need to explore new ways of working together in order to identify solutions. Countries will also need to find ways to unite their people by giving them common aspirations.

Letta stressed the importance of dedicated listening among leaders. “The resilience of the global institutional system and importance of the global political problems will oblige Trump and all leaders to be humble, listen to each other and take shared decisions,” he said.

It is this willingness to listen and co-operate that will be needed to prevent deglobalisation and conflict, and allow non-Western powers to play a bigger role in sustaining a co-operative global order.


This is an event coverage piece for APSIA-Foreign Affairs-LKYSPP Conference: Has the Game Changed?Foreign Affairs Live: The New American Presidency and Its Global Impact which was held at the LKY School on 7 January 2017.

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