We have entered a time of unprecedented change in the world. Countries and international organisations are looking to the world stage and re-examining the role they want to play in its future. In the face of such a situation, a question arises: If globalisation defined the 20th century, what will define the 21st?
In Asia, the past few decades have seen sustained high growth. Most Asian countries are very open, with vibrant regional cooperation in trade and cross-border investments. And though Asian countries still trail their European counterparts in terms of financial integration, recent years have seen growing investments to improve connectivity across Asia.
But the reality is that trade and world economic integration have suffered setbacks for one big reason: a lack of shared benefits and obvious polarisation between high-income and lower-income countries. And even within high-income countries, there are extreme divides between the haves and the have-nots.
The question then becomes – What do we do about it?
Better global governance is the key to addressing this imbalance. This is particularly important within nation states. Promoting regional connectivity requires governments of developing countries to adopt better domestic policies that will lower entry barriers for private investment. Unless these obstacles are addressed, they will limit the participation of private capital, thereby adversely affecting economic and social outcomes in those countries.
We need to stress the narrative of regional cooperation and cross-border connectivity where the economic opportunities should be clear and fair for all involved. It seems that what defines the 21st century should be shared benefits under improved global governance. What is crucial is a 21st-century version of globalisation – an updated form of internationalism.
The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was established to address, to a certain extent, the challenges faced by its members against such a backdrop.
The bank has the mandate to foster sustainable economic growth and development, as well as promote regional connectivity and cooperation, through investment in infrastructure and other productive sectors.
I believe that multilateral development banks, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, must promote a holistic approach to development that recognises the importance of looking across sub-sectors and across borders.
And from this vantage point, we must improve economic outcomes, balanced with environmental protection, in all our projects whether we are investing in power, transport or urban infrastructure. This is a topic I will be championing as a co-chair at the World Economic Forum Asean in Cambodia this year.
However, as we push forward with our mandates to invest in new infrastructure and other sectors, it is imperative that these projects are prepared and implemented with a critical eye. A sustainability lens must be applied to all our investments if internationalism is to succeed.
Shared value can take many forms. Addressing climate change by protecting the habitats and biodiversity where we implement infrastructure projects in our client countries speaks to our common goals. Striking the right balance between development for all and environmental protection is at the heart of our envisioned new form of internationalism, which aims for no country to be left behind.
Jin Liqun is president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.