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Friday, November 10, 2017

Raffarin at CEIBS Forum: BRI Provides Stability in Unstable World

November 10, 2017. Shanghai – In an impassioned defence of multilateralism former Prime Minister of France Jean-Pierre Raffarin this evening 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”.

Headlining a CEIBS Executive Forum for an intimate gathering of academics, diplomats, students and alumni, 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.”

These choices, he explained, include multilateralism, with everyone “around the table, engaged in dialogue”, collaborating on projects that will shape our collective future growth and development.  “Peace is when we are all working together around the table; it’s about real multilateralism. That’s what’s good about the BRI,” he said.

Raffarin’s often-witty evening talk came after he joined the rest of the CEIBS Board for its annual meeting. Commenting on the board’s “complex” structure – vital to ensure that the school’s Chinese and European voices are both heard – Raffarin noted nonetheless that the end result was a positive one. “I would like to thank both chairmen for this beautiful joint-venture that helps us understand the future of management, business, and companies,” he said. His speech also came hours after US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered starkly different messages at the APEC Summit in Vietnam: Trump continued to push his ‘America First’ line while Xi once again spoke of the need for collaboration.

The BRI, Raffarin said, is “major multilateral initiative” that has the tools in place (the AIIB, the various Silk Road Funds in and outside of China) to ensure that it moves from conceptualisation to implementation. Saying 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) he 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.

Since President Xi announced the BRI in Kazakhstan in 2013, it has been widely embraced within China and many countries around the world. For its part, CEIBS has been playing a major role in facilitating the project’s five key development areas: policy coordination, facilities connectivity, trade and investment, financial integration, and cultural exchange. This evening’s discussions on the BRI, said CEIBS President Professor Li Mingjun in his welcome address, was an important one for CEIBS which has campuses in China, Europe & Africa – all integral locations for the ambitious project.

“CEIBS has been at the forefront of this initiative,” said Vice President and Dean Professor Ding Yuan. “As a leading business school we develop talents for globalisation, are devoted to dissemination of knowledge, drive high-impact knowledge creation, and we accompany our alumni companies going global.” One of the most well-known CEIBS’ alumni companies in France is Cathay Capital Private Equity, born out of President Cai Mingpo’s idea that took shape in the CEIBS cafeteria while he was doing his EMBA at the school’s Shanghai Campus. In 2014, Cathay Capital advanced Sino-French business ties by inking an MOU with China Development Bank (CDB) and the French Investment Bank. Today the company manages funds of roughly 2 billion euro. Raffarin referenced Cathay Capital in his speech, citing it as a CEIBS model of Sino-French collaboration that is paving the way for investments in the BRI. 

CEIBS students and alumni at this evening’s event were keen to hear Raffarin’s views, during the Q&A, on issues such as how an uncertain (Brexit) and unsafe (terrorism, rising nationalism) Europe will impact Chinese companies going global and how France can regain the confidence of Chinese tourists and business executives.

The discussions continued over dinner. 

Charmaine N. Clarke