The 21st century is the century of Asia, and the Silk Road.....
Can you briefly summarize the secret of China’s rapid economic rise?
“The vision of greatness” is China’s most important strategy. This country wants to connect Asia’s easternmost points to Europe’s westernmost points with investments and infrastructure developments. The One Belt, One Road Initiative was announced by China in 2013, with the aim of peaceful construction and determining 6 economic corridors and paths. Of these, the 16 + 1 countries of Central and Eastern Europe are of key importance, so the region has risen from the earlier “bumper zone” to a bridgehead region. China is the most populous country in the world; in a few years’ time it will become the world’s leading economic power, taking the lead from the United States. 40 years ago China established its first special economic zone and has continued with several more. A growing number of enterprises have launched investments there, manufactured more and more products, and finally, they started to export goods instead of importing everything. In the 1990s China became the largest factory of the world and produced a trade surplus every year. The accumulated foreign exchange reserves are being exported, and motorways, railways, “silk roads” are being constructed to stimulate the economy.
Many people say that the Chinese manufacture technologies with low added value. Is it true today, too?
No, it isn’t. Although China started with low technology (toys and mechanical objects), today it manufactures semi-conductors, solar cells, high-speed railways, airplanes and the fastest computers in the world. The Chinese are gradually passing on their low-technology facilities to Bangladesh, Indonesia and Africa and try to maintain their advanced technological equipment. China has a vision, plans and a long-term strategy.
Is Asia the definite winner of the 21st century? What signs can already be seen?
It is certainly true that the 21st century is Asia’s century. Today the front-line fighters of the most developed countries are the United States of America, China, Japan, Germany and France. In ten years’ time the top five countries will be China, the USA, India, Indonesia, Japan and Germany. Today nearly half of the 2,000 largest companies in the world are Asian. 564 firms of the 2,000 TOP firms have their seats in the United States of America, 254 in China, 225 in Japan, 52 in Germany, 54 in India and 61 in South Korea. The innovation maps of the world show that the significance of Southeast Asia is huge; most inventions and patents are born here. And if we say that the power centers of the 21st century are cities, we know that while New York, London and Tokyo used to be the most important ones, by today the order has changed and New York and London are preceded by Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Tokyo.
To what extent does Asia influence the West, America and Europe in technology and lifestyle? Do they copy or develop on their own right?
As much as the West copies the East. In the fusion world order, the most important thing is connectiveness. In San Francisco and other large cities in the US, or even in Hungary Asian places, restaurants, bars, Eastern tea houses and Eastern lifestyles are gaining importance, from yoga to tai chi, and from the Zen philosophy to the Buddha bars. Eastern people are enthusiastic about methodology: they want to see how something works and create their own system, which is used by the westerners, too. And the opposite is also true.
We can see that China is developing at an amazing pace, but what about Japan?
Researchers of world-leading Harvard University and MIT (Massachusetts of Institute Technology) drafted the Atlas of Economic Complexity and the Competitiveness Ranking. The rate of growth is mostly affected by two factors: the accumulation of knowledge, i.e. the knowhow, and the place the production technologies take in the global space, i.e. to what extent the products are connected. This means that if a given country exports products in which engineering expertise with high added values dominates, such country is more competitive and prospering in terms of economic growth. Researchers have been examining the product structure of the export of countries year by year since 1971, and on this basis Japan has been number one in the world for decades. However, what is most important in the new competitiveness of Economic Complexity is that in 2015 Hungary took the prominent 8th place in the world. Despite its high level of government debt, Japan is a country of predictable and steady economy, focusing on innovation and knowledge. The manpower shortage resulting from the population decrease is simply remedied with robots and robotics.
Who are the real winners of building the Silk Road and where is Hungary’s place?
The regional relevance of the Silk Road is the construction of the Budapest-Belgrade railway. To understand the importance of the Budapest-Belgrade railway, let us zoom out of the map a little and see the Port of Piraeus in Chinese property near Athene and the Port of Hamburg, which is responsible for 40 per cent of Chinese trade. Among other things, the Silk Road development program includes that Hamburg should be connected to Piraeus with a railway line on mainland, passing through Hungary. A part of this path is the Belgrade-Budapest railway. The relevant agreement was already signed, and the planning has started. The first trains have left Central Europe for China, which is a historical milestone. In addition to that, last year Budapest has the opportunity to host the summit of the 16+1 countries. We have to highlight that the Silk Road means both infrastructure investment and direct accessibility, air bridge, cultural cooperation, educational relations, tourism and innovation cooperation. Hungary is a key country in the Silk Road Program. We are the European center of the Bank of China; the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences started its activity in Hungary; and our country is the first in the region where Fudan University launches its Executive Business Program. In Hungary PAGEO was the first research institute to get the Economic Research Award from the Chinese party. Last year our professional geopolitical magazine, the HUG (Hungarian Geopolitics) was published in the Chinese language, too.
Where is Hungary’s place in the geopolitical changes?
Former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England Paul Tucker says that the winners of the 21st century will be those who are able to harmonize their economic policy, monetary policy and geopolitics. Hungary has done so in recent years. Meanwhile the world has changed: a new world order and a great paradigm shift commenced in the world in 2010. Undoubtedly, we can talk about the rise of the East: the rise of Asia globally, and the rise of Central and Eastern Europe in the European context. These countries have the highest growth and employment rate, the lowest government debt and unemployment rates, and they are also considered the safest countries. The region has been transformed from a buffer zone into a bridge-head region, mainly due to the One Belt, One Road initiative. It is very important that regional cooperation become more and more important all around the world – this is one of the reasons why the cooperation of the Visegrád countries is essential. Hungary is on the geopolitical world map and treated as a steady, protected and safe place that has a vision. In my book entitled Geofusion I compiled a 12-point list about the ideas, advice and values that the explorers of the 21st century should follow. One of these important statements is that we must spread positive models, respect and seek fusion opportunities and initiatives, because they make us richer and more experienced.
Norbert Csizmadia 43 years old,
Positions: 2012-13 Secretary of State for Planning Coordination, Ministry for National Economy, 2013-2016 Executive Director, Central Bank of Hungary. President of Pallas Athéne Innovation and Geopolitical Foundation, Master Instructor at Corvinus University.