Global Governance with Chinese Characteristics?

Niall Duggan, Wei Shen, and Jorn-Carsten Gottwald


Many of the bodies and organizations that compose the current system of global governance—such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the G8—were developed between 1945 and 1980 and have been dominated by Western actors. 'The global governance agenda exhibits a strong Western liberal cast', as one leading China-watcher accurately observed (Shambaugh 2013, p. 124). After the Second World War, the Republic of China (ROC) had been a founding member of the most important institutions of global governance. Despite losing the Chinese civil war, the ROC (Taiwan) kept its seats in these organizations, the Communist Party-led People's Republic of China (PRC) stayed more or less outside the framework of global governance until the early 1970s. This is due to the fact that 'the Western powers continued to recognise the KMT in Taiwan as China's only legitimate government, preventing mainland China from joining multilateral institutions' (Defraigne 2012, p. 16). Only when the PRC took over the ROC's seat in the UN in 1971 did China start to engage with global rule-making. Yet for most of the following decades, China's leadership emphasized economic interests and relegated global governance beneath the more pressing priority of domestic socio-economic modernization (Chen and Shen 2014). Most scholars agree that China's first explicit policy towards global governance was articulated by former Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2005/2006 (Chan etal. 2013, 2008) when he extended his concept of a 'harmonious society' (hexie shehui) to a 'harmonious world' (hexie shijie) (Chan et al. 2013, p. 28) and 'a new concept of global politics' (Callaghan 2013, p. 19). Others cite as the turning point State Councillor Dai Bingguo's speech at the L'Aquila Summit in 2009 in which he suggested that China is no longer satisfied with merely participating in international institutions in compliance with the existing rules, but seeks the possibility of reforming the existing institutions and rules (Pang 2013, pp. 4-5). Either way, China has been relatively late in formulating its role in global governance and has drawn on its domestic governance to delineate its contribution to, and view of, global governance.

China's WTO membership in 2001 and the changing global economic order after the 2008 financial crisis led many observers to expect the PRC to take a greater role in global affairs. This 'renaissance' of China on the world stage has led to an internal debate of the nature of global governance and China's role within that system. This debate draws from both Marxist and Confucian traditions in China and has resulted in a number of self-engineered concepts of 'Peaceful Development' and 'Harmonious World'. Foreign observers discussed the 'Beijing Consensus' and 'China Model', while President Xi Jinping coined the phrase 'China Dream' and 'New Major Power Relationship' to indicate the change in China's previous attitude toward global governance. Recently, some China-watchers have identified increased activity of the PRC in regional and global forums outside the traditional organizations of global (economic) governance (Huotari, Heilmann, Rudolf and Buckow 2014). These debates all serve to highlight China's growing willingness to provide alternative understandings of global governance and to transition from a passive player to an active one.

Chan, Lai and Chan (2008, 2013); Pang and Wang (2013); and Xu and Liu (2013), among others, have analysed the intensive debate on global governance within China. But how do these debates influence China's policy actions? Do empirical case studies indicate concrete effects on actual global governance reforms? In this chapter, China's changing foreign policy attitude, approach, and contributions to the reform of global governance are analysed. Participation in the G20 and the World Trade Organization (WTO) are taken to be examples of China's increasing involvement in and influence on global (economic) governance. The cultural and ideological 'Chinese' roots of proposals and critiques of G20 and two of their policies are compared with the underlying 'Western' principles of the current system of global governance. This chapter will identify a body of ideas and proposals within the G20 and WTO offering an alternative framework, a concept of global governance with Chinese characteristics.

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