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China: Playing by 'the Rules'

October 20, 2008

By Pang Zhongying
Spiegel, Germany
October 17, 2008

Part One: Is China a Partner or Ward?

International norms have influenced China's recent evolution, and the
country is ready to participate in a rules-based global order.
Political differences will persist, but they should not impede this
important process.

As China engages ever more actively in the world system, it is coming
under increasing pressure from a number of international actors who
see its growing profile as one of the world's biggest challenges.
Some in the West are wary of China's deepening cooperation with the
developing world and especially its relations with "problematic"
countries like North Korea, Myanmar, and Sudan. And then there is
China's demand for oil in the international market, as well as its
environmental issues. Concerns about China's policies toward its
ethnic minorities were voiced in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics
earlier this year.

Questions like "Is China playing by the rules?"1 and "What will
happen if political and economic power shifts to China?" are being
raised in the West. The first meeting of the Transatlantic Economic
Council in November 2007 focused specifically on the question: "How
do we react if and when we recognize that China does not fully
respect the rules?"2 As EU-US relations continue to improve, China
will undoubtedly face more concerted Western pressure. One of
America's current strategies is to treat China as a "responsible
stakeholder" in the world order. This does not mean that America
approves of China's current activities; rather, it reveals that many
in the United States continue to doubt China's intentions and
therefore need to encourage its good behavior. The US-China Economic
and Security Review Commission, which monitors for Congress the
national security implications of trade with China, has been highly
skeptical of China's commitment to "the rules." Europe too is wary of
China's rise. The European Union has forged a "strategic partnership"
with China, but there are many new developments that have offset the
momentum of Chinese-European relations. The intensification of
European trade protectionism and European interference in Chinese
domestic disputes in Taiwan and Tibet are just two examples.

China faces pressures from all directions: Domestically it is
challenged to protect its growing interests and citizens abroad. At
the same time, the West presses ever harder for China to take its
international obligations seriously. The West has not only interfered
in China's internal affairs but also hopes to persuade China to
abandon its policy of "nonintervention." Within this complex context,
China continues to advocate the principles of sovereignty and
"non-interference," while paradoxically it has become more and more
involved in international interventions.

China's International Intervention Policy

In the 1950s China together with other Asian and African countries
found itself on the defensive and as a result helped create a new
international principle called "noninterference." Before the
principle was fully institutionalized, China entered the Korean War
and then the conflicts in Indochina, which included the Vietnam War
and other regional battles involving the "international communist
movement." However, by the late 1970s and during most of the 1980s,
China again played a small role in international affairs. In 1982
China declared its "independent foreign policy for peace." After the
collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, China strictly pursued a
"low key" foreign policy.

But since the late 1990s China's attitude toward international
intervention has changed. While it still adheres to the principle of
"noninterference," China no longer opposes international intervention
organized by the West, as long as the intervention is legitimate and
justifiable. For example, in 2001 a new doctrine of "the
responsibility to protect" (R2P) was promoted by the West. Initially,
some Chinese analysts worried that this concept would be used to
justify unwarranted military intervention by the United States or
some European powers, but gradually they recognized that R2P could be
used to bridge the divide between supporters of "humanitarian
intervention" and supporters of state sovereignty and
nonintervention. They stressed that international intervention based
on R2P must be only carried out under certain conditions.
Particularly, they argued that a United Nations Security Council
mandate for military intervention -- humanitarian or not -- is a
necessary precondition.

In 2004 China signed on to the UN High-Level Panel on Threats,
Challenges, and Change that released an influential policy report
entitled A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, which
endorsed the R2P concept. China also agreed to the United Nations
2005 World Summit Outcome, which states: "The international
community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to
use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian, and other peaceful means,
in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help to
protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and
crimes against humanity."3 A year later, China supported the
similarly worded Security Council Resolution 1674, and UN Resolution
1679 to assist UN peacekeeping operations in Sudan.

Participation in UN peacekeeping operations further reflects this
major shift in China's foreign policy. Since the 1990s, under UN
mandates China has sent peacekeeping troops to conflict-stricken
areas across the globe, most often to Southeast Asia. In 1992 the
United Nations carried out a large-scale peacekeeping operation in
Cambodia, and around 800 Chinese engineers and more than 100 Chinese
military observers took part. In 2000 China was involved in
peacekeeping activities in East Timor. All in all, China has
contributed more than 7,000 peacekeepers to at least 21 missions
around the world, more than the rest of the UN Security Council's
permanent five members combined. In sum, China is the 13th largest
contributor of peacekeeping troops in the world.4

Beyond peacekeeping missions, China has also become involved in other
forms of international engagement. China provided civilian and
military relief in the aftermath of the 2005 tsunami in Southeast
Asia. And currently China is providing more than $10 million in aid
for cyclone-devastated Myanmar. As a member of the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty, China supports the global efforts to
control, reduce, and remove the danger that nuclear proliferation
poses to global security. China has cooperated with the international
community and major powers such as the United States and Germany to
negotiate nuclear issues with North Korea and Iran. As the chair of
the Six-Party Talks on North Korea's denuclearization, China has
played a key role in maintaining an effective multilateral process.
And as a member of the newly created UN advisory body, the
Peacebuilding Commission, China supports post-conflict peacebuilding
projects aimed at helping nations recover from war.

Broadly speaking, China's role in sponsoring, building, and
organizing regional institutions such as the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization and the East Asia Summit has gone significantly beyond
its traditional policy rhetoric of noninterference. More importantly,
China has participated in or sponsored regional and international
military exercises with a number of key countries and regions.

Nonetheless, China is and will only be a part of international joint
efforts mandated by the United Nations or another multilateral
regional organization. China cannot carelessly involve itself in
every offensive military intervention. Yet as it faces the strategic
challenges of globalization, there is already mounting pressure on
China to protect the growing number of Chinese citizens and interests
abroad. Following the examples of noninterference policies in the
African Union and ASEAN charters, China needs to carefully consider
its right to intervene in humanitarian crises and severe attacks on
China's interests or nationals.

Although some in the West have harshly criticized China's
noninterference policy when they talk about China's engagement in the
Third World (for example, China's no strings attached aid policy),
the West has also benefited from China's nonintervention policy. As a
result, China's increasing de facto intervention may create new
friction between China and the West, especially if Chinese
interventions are unilateral. China and the West need to coordinate
and even harmonize their actions when it comes to international intervention.

Part 2: Security Cooperation Between China and the West

Since the end of the Cold War, a number of new security challenges
have come into sharper focus, such as energy and climate change. The
unequal distribution of wealth, power, and opportunity also threatens
global security. China has played a pivotal role in addressing these
challenges. Domestically, China's efforts over the past three decades
in ameliorating mass poverty and in stabilizing a hugely diverse
society have contributed greatly to global security. Internationally,
China also supports dialogue between the South and the North and
dialogue among the civilizations to prevent a "clash of civilizations."

There are key interests and challenges shared by China and the West.
Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a great example of the
need for cooperation. Indeed, it is increasingly clear that the input
of China and other rising actors such as Russia, India, and Brazil is
required to tackle global security challenges. For various reasons,
America's willingness and its capacities for dealing with global
security issues are declining.5 As a result, the importance of
China's constructive role is increasing.

Effective Sino-West cooperation on global security needs not only
China's continued willingness but improved treatment of China by the
West. Currently, the West's China policies are riddled with
contradictions and anachronisms. For example, the West presses China
to accommodate Western-centric international norms without
considering China's aspirations, concerns, and interests. There is
still a distinct difference between the reality of the
"Western-dominated" or US-led international society and a truly
universal international society. Many thinkers in the West feel that
China should simply join the former rather than try to jointly build
the latter. As one American scholar writes, the "Western-centered" or
the "US-led international order can remain dominant even while
integrating a more powerful China."6 There has been an "expansion" of
the West-dominated "international society." The question is: When
this international society has expanded to include countries like a
changed China, does the society of states need to be reformed?

The Climate Change Challenge

Since the late 1970s China has been a major factor in globalization,
and China's sustained modernization has sped up global environmental
changes. China has paid huge environmental costs in the name of
developmental progress and now faces an unprecedented ecological
crisis. Climate change will continue to have an adverse impact on
China's natural ecosystem and socio-economic system.7 This said, it
is a legitimate right of the Chinese people to modernize their
country. Given its size and economic growth rate, China cannot help
but be one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases.
International pressure over global warming has put China under unfair scrutiny.

China clearly recognizes the serious consequences of ecological
degradation and it has taken measures to curb its pace. As Johanna
Lewis, a senior fellow at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change,
explains, "increased international attention to the issue is
reflected in China's domestic policy circles... primarily through
institutional restructuring aimed at better government coordination
on climate-related policy activities. China released its first
national climate change plan in 2007."8 China's plan outlines six
guiding principles: (1) to address climate change within the
framework of sustainable development; (2) to place equal emphasis on
both mitigation and adaptation; (3) to integrate climate change
policy with other policies; (4) to rely on the advancement and
innovation of science and technology; (5) to follow the principles of
"common but differentiated responsibilities;" (6) to actively engage
in international cooperation.

The international community has taken notice of China's climate
policies. Though at times slow, China has moved to face the
ecological challenge head on. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon
writes: "Much is made of the fact that China is poised to surpass the
United States as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
Less well known, however, are its more recent efforts to confront
grave environmental problems. China is on track to invest $10 billion
in renewable energy this year, second only to Germany. It has become
a world leader in solar and wind power. At a recent summit of East
Asian leaders, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to reduce energy
consumption (per unit of gross domestic product) by 20 percent over
five years -- not far removed, in spirit, from Europe's commitment to
a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020."9

Protect or perish, China is at a crossroads: Should it continue to
allow economic growth to dominate or slow down its greenhouse gas
emissions? China wants "scientific development," and is also seeking
international cooperation to help tackle that challenge. At the 2007
APEC summit on climate change, Chinese president Hu Jintao said "only
cooperation can bring about progress in dealing with climate change."
If other countries, especially those in the West, want China to
develop sustainably, they must assist its effort to do so.

Steps for the Future

Regretfully, China has not fully defined its new role in
international society. China is still using its old foreign policy
principles and approaches. It has honored its commitments to
international society but has played a relatively small role in
shaping the system. Much of what China has done was driven not by
China itself but by international pressure. In this sense, China's
attitude can be described more as reactive than proactive. Its role
in global governance is not yet commensurate with its ambition to be
a "big power."

Inevitably, under the old principles and approaches, China and the
West will clash. They have common interests but few common values.
Because China is aware of its political disadvantages in a
Western-dominated world, China has carefully avoided mention of
political differences in its relations with others. As a consequence,
the base of China's shared norms with international society is
relatively weak and cooperation between China and the West always is
restricted or troubled by their political differences.

Since China's rise in the 1990s, "democracies" in the world have been
aligned against nondemocratic China. As Singapore's prime minister
Lee Kuan Yew points out, China's nondemocratic system is one of major
reasons why China comes under more international pressure than other
countries such as India: "India's navy has an aircraft-carrier force;
its air force has the latest Sukhoi and MiG aircraft; its army is
among the best trained and equipped in Asia. India can project power
across its borders farther and better than China can, yet there is no
fear that India has aggressive intentions." He also said that
Americans and Europeans "still have a phobia of the yellow peril...
[and] China will have to live with these hang-ups."10 A majority of
Americans view China's growing economic and military power as a
serious potential threat.

For a better world and a larger role in it, China needs to
restructure its current foreign policy. Along with its economic and
social transformation and ongoing political reform toward real
democracy, China must harmonize its policies and actions with the
mainstream of international society. But, at the same time, for
cooperation rather than confrontation with China, the West needs to
revise its failed and dysfunctional policies toward China.

1) "Is China Playing by the Rules? Free Trade, Fair Trade and WTO
Compliance," a statement by Yasheng Huang at the
Congressional-Executive Commission on China, September 24, 2003. See Quote from Yongjin
Zhang, "China Goes Global," the Foreign Policy Centre (2005) p. 8.

2) Agence France Presse, "US, EU team up to tell China to play by the
rules," November 9, 2007.

3) United Nations World Summit Outcome Document (September 15,

4) Rebecca Jackson, "There's method in China's peace push," available

5) Charles A. Kupchan and Peter L. Trubowitz, "Dead Center: The
Demise of Liberal Internationalism in the United States,"
International Security, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Fall 2007) pp. 7-44; and John
Shaw, "Barry R. Posen MIT Professor Sparks Debate By Advocating U.S.
Restraint," Washington Diplomat (January 2008).

6) G. John Ikenberry, "The Rise of China and the Future of the
West: Can the Liberal System Survive?" Foreign Affairs (January 2, 2008).

7) China's National Climate Change Program from 2007, see documents, page 109.

8) Joanna I. Lewis, "China's Strategic Priorities in International
Climate Change Negotiations," The Washington Quarterly (Winter 2007-08).

9) Ban Ki-moon, "A New Green Economics: The Test for the World in
Bali and Beyond," Washington Post, December 3, 2007.

10) Lee Kuan Yew, "India's Peaceful Rise," available at

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