Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao shakes hands with People's Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan (L) as International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde (R) looks on during the IMF/World Bank annual meetings in Washington on Oct 12. Photo: Reuters

According to the laws of physics and nature, empty spaces are unnatural. Wherever there is a void, the universe seeks to fill it.

Nowhere was this more on display than at the meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank last week in Washington.

The minimal presence of the United States, which is a primary stakeholder in both these major global bodies, at the dozens of public and private events was remarkable. Remarkable because the world’s largest economic superpower has for decades been at the forefront of such gatherings, sending its top political, economic and business representatives to showcase America and lobby for its interests.

However, although certainly unusual, it was perhaps not surprising due to the current US president’s seeming dislike of multilateral institutions.  Recently, for example, Donald Trump has confirmed America will be pulling out of Unesco, the UN agency dedicated to education and culture; it has dropped the Trans-Pacific Partnership; withdrawn from the Paris climate accord; and has described Nato as “obsolete.”

Trump is, politically at least – but perhaps not in a professional capacity – openly and robustly anti-globalization.  Indeed, even before he was elected as the 45th president, he was flagging up protectionist policies and threatening to impose tariffs on China, Asia’s most influential powerhouse economy.

Filling the void left by the US at these events was China, which appears keen to replace America as the flag-flier for economic and international relationships

But filling the void left by the US at these events was China, which appears keen to replace America as the flag-flier for economic and international relationships. The Chinese representatives have been out in force and with a clear message, which was best summarised by the country’s vice finance minister, Shi Yaobin.  He said: “No one country alone can solve all the problems we are facing now. So we have to strengthen our international co-operation. This is the only way out to solve the problems we are facing.”

This is consistent with a speech made by Chinese President Xi Jinping on globalization at the end of last year. “Sealing off and excluding others is not the correct choice… China will not shut the door to the outside world but open more… We’re going to ensure the fruits of development are shared,” he affirmed.

The current Chinese and American approaches could not be more diametrically opposed. But it is China’s stance which, I believe, history will prove is the right way.

Indeed, last November, soon after he was given the keys to the Oval Office and became the CEO of the world’s largest economy, I wrote a piece for Asia Times in which I said, “Globalization in the world of trade and commerce is here to stay and will, if anything, only gain momentum.”

I remain confident of this. And judging by the IMF and World Bank events in Washington this week, where America’s inward-looking perspective was palpable due to its diminished presence, and China’s eagerness to build alliances within the international community, it will be China which is going to be leading the way in this regard.

It seems Aristotle was right when he said: “Nature abhors a vacuum.”

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Nigel Green

Nigel Green founded deVere Group in 2002 from a single office in Hong Kong after discovering a niche market for expatriates in the financial services sector. Since then, it has grown to become one of the largest independent financial advisory organizations in the world with offices and clients across the globe.