Related Articles Commentary Paper SIIS Report
Nov 10 2010
China’s Perspective on Global Governance and G20

There is a lack of consensus within China concerning the role of the G20 as the new leading global governance institution. On the one hand, the G20 has been credited for coordinating an effective and collective response to the financial crisis. Moreover, since the G20 includes large emerging economies, like China, it is more reflective of shifts in the global distribution of power and the interests of developing countries as well.

Most Chinese believe the G20 is a step forward in terms of enhancing the legitimacy and efficacy of the current global governance architecture. However at the same time, there are disagreements among Chinese about the future of the G20. Currently, the G20 is at crossroads: moving from a crisis committee to a real steering committee on global economic issues. The Chinese are puzzled about the what kind of platform the G20 will become - whether the G-20 has the capacity of becoming a effective global governance mechanism without any teeth;  Or  whether it is only a forum for major powers as we find that the big powers’ influence has been on the rise and will determine the function of the G-20; or whether there is a role for developing countries. The second disagreement concerns the role of emerging BRIC countries to coordinate effectively within the G20.  Although many of the rising powers share a similar vision - institutionalize cooperation and reform the contemporary global order in reflecting power shifting at global level- this coalition of emerging powers is largely issue-based and specific interest oriented rather than like-minded coalitions among the western countries. This problem is compounded by the fact that the economies and trade interests among these emerging powers are more competitive than complimentary. Therefore whether the G20 is an effective body to coordinate issues among emerging powers is debated in China.

China’s reluctance to take on a leadership role in global governance can be understood by four major dilemmas. First there is a perception gap between how China views itself and how the rest of the world views China. The Chinese still view China as a low-income, developing country, - a large rapidly growing but still poor developing country - according to IMF, World Bank and human development indices. However because of its size and the aggregate and comprehensive national strength it has accumulated over the last 30 years since its ‘Reform and Opening’, China’s influence is global. China’s status is more complex and straddles between these multiple identities. Obviously, the eye-catching glamour of Beijing Olympic and Shanghai Expo as well as China’s impressive and robust recovery from global financial meltdown just render the perception gap even wider.

The second dilemma is that although China believes the G20 is legitimate and has the potential to be the primary institution for global economic issues it is also concerned about protecting its own independence over domestic economic policies. There is a tension between China’s desire for the G20 to be an effective body and its interest to preserve China’s independence over domestic affairs. This is the reason for China’s ambivalence, for example, over the mutual assessment mechanism that the G20 powers agreed the IMF would initiate after the Pittsburgh summit. China believes this mechanism should be consultative and instructive in nature, while others believe it should have more authority to intervene in order to help coordinate policies more effectively.

The third challenge concerns China’s role in managing inter- and intra- coordination - the former referring to coordination with G20 members and the latter referring to coordination with non-G20 members. For the interest of the efficacy, China should focus prior summit consultation and coordination with US, EU and Japan in agenda setting, forming a new G4 bloc within the G20. Meanwhile, China tries hard to not pay less heed to its ties with other members, particularly those new emerging economies. China would be pretty much concerned about the extent of impact of the new G4, if it is really set up, upon its relationship with other members, particularly those new emerging economies. Rather than acting as a bridge between new emerging economies and G4 countries, China find itself more often than not sandwiched between them. The question of coordination with non-G20 members is no less perplexing--What are the benchmarks of those non-G20 members to which China needs to pay special attention, geographic representation or economic weight? Whether China just focuses its attention on those 3G (Global Governance Group) countries or expands its reach- out? Which kind of platform of consultation is more efficient, bilateral or multilateral, informal or formal? If China commits itself as a leader (or one of the leaders) in G20 process, China needs to work out a more acceptable and sophisticated procedure to address coordination and agenda setting.   

The fourth challenge is that domestic policies are shaped by increasingly pluralized and diverse views. It is now more difficult for China to develop its own policies without taking account of international implications. For instance, China’s local innovation policies, strategic industrial policies have roused strong responses by the international community. It is increasingly more difficult for Chinese policymakers to separate China’s domestic politics from its global politics. Chinese central government, though has fully recognized the importance of combining and integrating both domestic and international aspects into its decision-making in a holistic way (the catch phrase of “Tong Chou Guo Nei Guo Ji Liang Ge Da Ju” validates Beijing’s awareness), the entanglement of vested interests, less sufficient institutional coordination and lack of implementation mechanism will make the “Tong Chou (integrating) Principle” easy to say but hard to do.

All those dilemmas or challenges are long-lasting, dynamic and accumulating in nature, which will go along with China in its learning to play leadership role on global governance. Against this backdrop, despite some high expectation both within and without China of its leadership role now, China would, at its best, be capable of playing “part time leader” in selected way.

Source of documents