Headlining a CEIBS Executive Forum for an intimate gathering of academics, diplomats, students and alumni, former Prime Minister of France Jean-Pierre Raffarin expressed concern that the world has become less safe.
“In all my 40 years in politics I’ve never seen the world this dangerous. Unlike my parents and grandparents who had seen war, I was born in a generation that trusted the world. We saw French and Germans talking together and we saw growth and we thought – if these two peoples could talk – wars would be impossible,” he said. “But look at what’s happening today. Can I really tell my grandchildren war will not happen? When I hear [US President Donald Trump’s comments on North Korea at the UN], when I hear religious fanatics, can I really say war is no longer possible? War will only become impossible if we make concerted choices to make it so.”
In his impassioned defence of multilateralism Raffarin hailed the China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a landmark project that will provide stability in an unstable world. And he urged France and other countries in Europe to “get on board”. He concluded that “peace is when we are all working together around the table; it’s about real multilateralism. That’s what’s good about the BRI.”
The BRI, Raffarin said, it would be naïve to believe China does not stand to gain from the project it conceptualised (to find a solution to its overcapacity issue, pave the way for internationalisation of the RMB, strengthen its position in Asia while building relationships in Europe and Africa).
But he also stressed that China’s gain does not mean others will lose. “Xi Jinping is not building a project for France, Ireland, Kazakhstan; he is launching an initiative that’s good for China and will serve to nurture China’s ambitions,” said Raffarin, who represented France at May’s historic BRI talks in Beijing. “But the BRI is about cooperation. It’s not built by one country for another, in isolation. It’s all about cooperation.”
He was critical of Europe for being slow to embrace the initiative, which he sees as a “genuine opportunity for the region to position itself as a mediating point between Asia and Africa”. Building on common goals, such as those outlined in the Paris climate change accord, he said, and Europe’s experience in building smart cities, they could work with China on creating smart towns. This would move both sides forward in terms of productivity, the fight against pollution, mobility, more effective energy management, green tech, etc., he said. He urged France, in particular, to act now. “The BRI is fundamentally important for France. What are we waiting for? Let’s sit down with the various partners to make this a reality,” he said.
(Read an extended version of this post on ceibs.edu)