Analysis & Opinions - METRO U.N.

China’s Role in World Affairs: How it Matters

| Feb. 06, 2019

China’s role in world affairs is bound to increase, given its growing weight and relevance due to its population size, its role as the globe’s second, eventually largest economy, its military capabilities, its technological advances as well as its status as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. Equally important, China’s own definition of its role has undergone momentous change under President Xi Jinping and no longer follows Deng Xiaoping’s maxim “hide your strength, bide your time, and never take a lead.” China sees itself as a leading world power that asserts its interests and shapes global affairs accordingly.

China’s growing impact therefore raises the central question whether it will uphold the very order that enabled it to rise to prosperity and eminence. Will it become a stakeholder producing global public goods in a “liberal order” once created under American leadership? Ironically it is now the America of the Trump Administration that is challenging central elements of that order: in the economic field by resorting to protectionism, in the area of global commons by withdrawing from the climate policy of the Paris Accord, in the field of security by withdrawing from the non-proliferation policy of the nuclear deal with Iran, indeed, by questioning multilateralism as a core principle.

Yet, despite these challenges the established international order still retains its basic characteristics because of the internal contradictions of President Trump’s policies and the posture of most other countries, among them China which upheld the principle of free trade, stayed in the nuclear agreement with Iran and continues to support the Paris Accord.

But in a number of areas China’s policies do not correspond to the norms that a stakeholder of the international order would be expected to follow. In the economic field China's opposition to reciprocity in the treatment of foreign investors, the forced transfer of technology, the theft of intellectual property, and the subsidization of exports are incompatible with the rules of a fair and open trading system and have motivated the Trump Administration to challenge China, as did other countries including the EU. In the field of security China’s challenge to the territorial status quo in the South China Sea and its rejection of the Law of the Sea ruling of the Hague Court do not correspond to the norms of a stakeholder who supports the stability of the existing order.

For a number of years the EU and China shared a strong adherence to the principle of free trade and investment relations that produced the extraordinary growth of economic interaction between them. While China continues to style itself a champion of free trade and defines its policy in contrast to the protectionism of the Trump Administration, the European Union is increasingly concerned about the same Chinese violations of open and fair trade relations as Washington and is beginning to prepare countermeasures such as screening of Chinese investments.

As China’s foreign policy becomes more global and assertive the EU has special reasons to be concerned. Increasingly China’s bilateral approach in dealing with EU members is perceived as undermining the group’s unity, in particular the so called 16+1 initiative, in which China organizes relations with Central and East European countries, most of them EU members. China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” has deepened these misgivings as it creates new bilateral dependencies inducing President Macron to the observation that “a new hegemony” must be avoided.

As for the ongoing debate whether the rise of China will lead to war with the US, EU members hope that their own example of having overcome age old rivalries proves that countries are not destined for war.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kaiser, Karl.“China’s Role in World Affairs: How it Matters.” METRO U.N., February 6, 2019.

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