Colin Bradford

“The China-West dialogue: Consequences for Changing the World Order”- OECD Alumni Association – September 27, 2023 and Yale Class of 1961 Webinar, September 20, 2023
Colin Bradford Y’61
Non-Resident Senior Fellow
Global Economy & Development, Brookings Institution

The China-West Dialogue, of which Colin is the Lead C0-Chair, is an inclusive project which draws together thought-leaders from China, Canada, Chile, Europe, the UK, Japan, Korea and the United States. The CWD seeks to define an “alternative framework” for China-West relations at a moment when the toxic U.S.-China bilateral relationship dominates geopolitics. The CWD’s fundamental goal is to help reshape the narratives and behaviors of U.S.-China relations from friction to function by engaging other middle and major powers, as well as emerging powers, in a reframed China-West relationship. Through trust building and generating open dialogue, the CWD aims to increase the effectiveness of the G20 in mobilizing policy responses to systemic crises and in managing geopolitical tensions. It seeks to model more productive dialogues by including a fresh set of “key concepts”, themes, and proposals. The ultimate aim is to identify new political dynamics that yield more productive international relationships.


Colin Bradford: “The China-West Dialogue: Consequences for Changing the World Order”
OECD Alumni Association —September 27, 2023
And Yale Class of 1961 Webinar, September 20, 2023

***The central mission of the China-West Dialogue is to preserve the singularity of the international community and avoid bifurcation into two blocs and a new and different cold war. ***

“…Putting an end to the diversity of societies and cultures, (would) put an end to history itself. It is the amazing variety of societies that produces history: the clashes and encounters between different groups and cultures…..The great civilizations have been syntheses of different and contradictory cultures. Where a civilization has not been forced to confront the threat and undergo the stimulation of another civilization…, its destiny is to mark time and go in circles.”

Octavio Paz, 1973
“The problem with nationalism is….the illusion that you can be at home, you can be understood, only among people like yourself. What is wrong with nationalism is not the desire to be master in your own house, but the conviction that only people like yourself deserve to be in the house.”

Toni Morrison, 1998
****For what reasons the current world order is likely to change? What are the key concepts generated by the China-West Dialogue (CWD) after more than thirty sessions involving 60 thought-leaders from 17 countries over three years?

Pluralism in geopolitics and international relation is now the predominant political dynamic today, as all countries wish to determine their positions based on national interests, cultural drive and strategic vision, not choose sides.

Cultural differentiation is the dominant drive to define national identity not economic efficiency, nor universal values and paradigms. Societal cultural differentiation is more powerful than a single model for economic development or a universal idea of modernization. All economies are mixed economies; the Washington Consensus is dead. “Democracy versus autocracy” polarizes geopolitics, polemicizes international relations and divides the world when “together stronger” must prevail.

Shifting coalitions of consensus, in which different coalitions form on different issues rather than blocs and fixed alliances driving global outcomes, is a force in global governance today.

Complexity is the result of these three new drivers of international relations and new dynamics of the “new world order”.

Pragmatism and professionalism in global relations are the results, overcoming polemics and reducing geopolitical confrontation, changing the world order.

****Who will be the main players in these changes?
Europe is the key to sustain pluralism in geopolitics because only Europe as a whole can represent an equivalent force in global relations to China and the United States. Whereas pluralism is a “positive”, not a normative, construct—it exists in practice–, despite widespread pluralism, non-alignment and independence in foreign policies in every region of the world, that pluralism alone , without Europe , will not enable pluralism to play the role it is currently playing in defining the new world order. Europe’s continuing adherence to “strategic autonomy” in its relations with China, is crucial. France and Germany are the pillars of that strategic positioning, but the European Union as a whole has adopted it, and not (yet) backed away from it. India, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey, South Africa, the African Union, the UK, Australia, Canada, Japan and South Korea are middle powers who contribute to the dynamic of pluralism in today’s geopolitics but without the crucial role of Europe as an independent force pluralism could not prevail as the new global political dynamic.

****What could be the main consequences of the new world order for world peace, prosperity, multilateralism, inequality, immigration and global warming?
The main consequences of these five complementary dynamics defining the world order would be to strengthen global governance to address the systemic challenges facing the world today. While not the only platform where these new forces are playing out, the G20 year-long set of ministerials, task forces, working groups, sherpas meetings and engagement group exchanges does constitute a promising site for strengthening global governance, asserting human agency and public responsibility over the forces defining the destiny of humanity and the planet.

****What could be the consequences for the future of international organisations, notably the OECD?
What the China-West Dialogue has demonstrated through thirty zoom meetings over three years involving sixty participants from seventeen countries is that pluralism works in diffusing polarization, that professionalism prevails over polemics, that dialogue can lead to convergence, and that understanding, respect and trust can be the result.

The CWD concluded that the year-long G20 process of weekly meetings of G20 ministerials, working groups, task forces and engagement groups is a “site” for pluralistic dialogues among G20 countries that work toward action-oriented proposals for people-centered sustainable futures for all societies.

Also, given the fact that China is “key partner” of the OECD, the OECD member governments could chose to engage dialogues with Chinese officials on a range of key issues with staff support from the OECD secretariat. These dialogues could be off-the-record in content and selective in reporting on results, so as to provide a setting for exchange and for deepening understanding rather than trying to pressure participants to reach concrete conclusions. Given the OECD role as a think tank for the G20, policy ideas from these dialogues could feed into G20 processes.