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Content is courtesy of Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management

A cross-sectoral panel of experts from the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University met virtually on Aug. 27 to discuss how a period of geopolitical shake-ups have affected China’s position in global business, politics, and foreign policy. In the excerpt that follows, Sanjeev Khagram, Thurderbird’s dean and director-general, asks the questions in italics.

What’s your view on the role of ascendancy of China for a globalization 4.0, particularly given what’s happened with their ambitions with the Belt and Road initiative (BRI)?

Doug Guthrie, Professor of Global Leadership, Director of China Initiatives

I’ve been in my career one of the biggest advocates of what China’s economic reforms were doing in the ‘90s and 2000s. But things have, of course, gotten more tense. And we need to really think carefully about that. I like to refer to the BRI as China’s Marshall Plan. So, this goes back to a playbook that the United States developed in the post-World War II era, like: How do you actually build a business in order to build connections and break down borders? A lot of people who observed BRI think it’s just, you know, China aggressively kind of building in places like Southeast Asia and Africa.

But what China is actually doing is building allies and markets. And they’re doing it aggressively, and companies like Huawei, Tencent, Alibaba, all of those companies that you would think of as being part of the fourth industrial revolution, 5G, Alipay, games–like all of these things are very, very closely tied to what China’s plans are in terms of building up the world and what in China they call south-south relations. So today, China is really seeing it not as much of a leader of the developed world, but as a leader of the global south. And so, I just think it’s a really interesting moment because you see this really aggressive movement on AI and high tech and everything that’s going on, but you also see the dividing of the world into and that concerns me a little bit.

What can the United States do in terms of ensuring its leadership in the world?

Anne-Marie Slaughter, Distinguished Professor of Practice

Well, a lot because … things are not all rosy for China. But the United States has to want to be a global leader. And that is not what the current administration wants in the sense of reaching out to other countries, building alliances, building relationships. If BRI is China’s Marshall Plan, the United States is rejecting the whole idea of a Marshall Plan. The United States is America first, which often means America alone, and it definitely means bare knuckles, zero-sum politics with other great powers. What we should be doing is marshaling–no pun intended–but marshaling the resources and the allies of not only other countries around the world but of our own corporations which are not married to the state in the same way, of our civic groups, of our universities, of all the wealth of open society to focus on global problems.

How is Africa dealing with this new reality of China and the United States in this world of the fourth industrial revolution?

Landry Signe, Professor

When a question is asked to Africa—which continent do you believe has the right development model?—we first have the United States, and then we have China. So, despite the fact that the United States is losing ground, the United States remains an important and key player. Now turning to the question related to the improvement in Africa and the relation between Africa and the rest of the world, competition between China, the United States, European countries: First, we have the combined consumer and business spending in Africa by 2030 will be about $6.7 trillion [U.S.]. You can clearly see that Africa was initially perceived as a hopeless continent, but it’s now considered as the rising one with many of the biggest opportunities and offering also one of the highest returns on investment. Many of the world’s fastest-growing economies are located in Africa.

Chinese exports to Africa went from almost nothing three decades ago to over $10 billion. China is heavily present on the continent, one. It’s the first partner of most African countries. I was engaging with a few African presidents, and many of them say, as long as they’re providing resources, it is fine for us whether it’s the United States or China, and the ability to disburse for China is encourage-ably fast compared to what the U.S. corporations can definitively do. Of course, we also have some challenges related to quality, related to the ability to really partner locally among others, but definitely many Africans consider China as a strong partner.

What’s happening that’s driving this move forward in terms of free trade in Africa?

Landry Signe: Africa is [breaking] the isolationist trend with the African continental free trade area signed in 2018, ratified by a sufficient number of countries in 2019, and will be launched in 2021. This is an incredible speed of negotiation, of collaboration, and it is the largest free trade area since the creation of the world trade organization—so the largest new free trade area.

What’s happening in terms of entrepreneurship and innovation in the world today, particularly with respect to the United States and China?

Rebeca Hwang, Professor of Practice

Silicon Valley has been the Mecca for many years. All roads go to Rome and all roads in entrepreneurship go to Silicon Valley, and the reason is that we still have a very important presence when it comes to who are the agents, who are the gatekeepers for providing the capital for many of the startups. But I have to say that in the last half a decade, there has been an increasing level of exodus of the most talented people out of Silicon Valley. First LA, Colorado, Texas, Austin, but then increasingly so outside of the U.S., going to Latin America; there are really strong centers just in Mexico.

A lot of engineers are moving to Santiago. In Europe, you have places like Copenhagen. And then in Asia, we have, for example, South Korea is absolutely in a moment of growth when it comes to technology and startups.

Right now, there is a huge problem of talent that we have in the U.S. Some of it is amplified by the fact that getting into the country right now is very difficult. Even if you have the proper visas, a lot of international talent is no longer able to come to work [in] the U.S., even with the right paperwork. So, they’re starting their hubs in their home countries or home towns. Now, people realize you don’t have to be in Silicon Valley to work and create great technology. So, there’s a shift in thinking that you could be working out of Africa or Southeast Asia and still create really great quality work.

The second thing that’s happening is the transfer of know-how. Traditionally when you had offices that were satellites, they’re doing maybe low-tech work, quality control, and assurance, customer service. Now it’s development work at the very senior level. And those people are hiring locals and those locals are learning that trade. And they are starting their own companies, which now means that there will be a lot more deal flow coming out of places outside of the U.S., and especially in Asia, where places like China already have had their very strong share of talent and unicorns in the past. So, you know, if I had to predict the future, I think the future is going to look a lot more global when it comes to entrepreneurship.

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