He Yafei: What's missing in the TPP is dialog with China  

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  • He Yafei. Photo: Chinese Embassy

    He Yafei. Photo: Chinese Embassy

    TEMPO.CO, JakartaHe Yafei has been a lifelong diplomat with China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He served as a deputy foreign minister before being transferred to Geneva in 2010 as ambassador to the United Nations. He is now the deputy director of the overseas Chinese affairs office and has been advocating for China's economic integration initiative: One Belt One Road (OBOR).

    The initiative was first unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013. OBOR itself consists of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. It focuses primarily on connectivity and cooperation between Asia and Europe.

    "It's essentially a developmental strategy to have regional economic growth and regional integration, expanded to cover as much area as possible," said He, at a briefing on OBOR in Jakarta on December 5. He spoke to Tempo English reporter Amanda Siddharta on the economic initiative. Excerpts:

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    What is the background behind OBOR?

    Because of the financial crisis, which was followed by economic recession, many fell into debt. We're not out of the shadows yet, we're still struggling for a future. After we were hit by a crisis of such magnitude, people all over the world wondered, what next? What will we do, will we stand still or move forward? What will be the new growth engines? These are all big issues relating to global governance.

    Why is Indonesia critical in this economic initiative?

    Indonesia has everything: a young labor force, rich in natural resources. You are the leader of ASEAN. It's the gateway for China to ASEAN and the Islamic world because of your predominantly Muslim population. Given the importance in a strategic sense, Indonesia will be a critical country along this road and in the 21st new maritime silk road. When I say critical, I mean it. We are now riding the waves of growing friendly relations between the two countries.

    Some ASEAN countries and China have had geopolitical issues. How will this affect the OBOR?

    It will be in the interest of all of us to remove geopolitical impediments, or we can try to start a process of negotiations to address those issues. If we can solve them, so much the better. For the time being, if there's no satisfactory solution to this, put it aside. Don't let political thinking affect our bilateral or regional economic integration. It's up to the statesmen and diplomats to work them out, we need to support a policy of reconciliation, not to resort to confrontation.

    You said OBOR is different from TPP because it's more than just a free-trade agreement (FTA). How will the TPP impact OBOR?

    It will be dependent on countries in the TPP, how they react and interact with China. China does not oppose the TPP as such. It's an arrangement for economic growth or integration, in trade and investment. It's all good. What's missing in the TPP is dialog with China. China is the largest trading partner of TPP members. Why should the TPP exclude China? It's illogical. I don't want to confer strategic motives to the TPP; I want to believe the TPP is for the good of its members. But when we talk about common economic growth, the TPP is not enough.We need to expand it.

    How can we achieve common economic growth when countries that will be along the belt are very different, politically and economically?

    That's the beauty of OBOR: because it stresses very much on political consultation to overcome political disagreements, seeking commonality from a group of different economic strategies. We seek common elements and try to adapt to the countries' economic growth, adapt to each other, to overcome issues. It's not a linear-thinking FTA. It's more: we help you and you help us and we grow together. (*)