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World
Championing Positive Change
China pushes for global governance reform in 2016
By An Gang | NO. 51 DECEMBER 22, 2016

 

A gardener tends to flower beds on August 25 along Jiangnan Avenue of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, where the 2016 G20 Summit took place (XINHUA)

The world in 2016 has seen plenty of dramatic political events, engendering a sense among the international community of the United States' receding lead in global affairs. Meanwhile, proactive diplomacy by China, now one of the world's major players, has come to the fore.

Chinese wisdom 

The 11th G20 Summit, hosted by China in Hangzhou in September, is one of the highlights of Chinese diplomacy in 2016. On the basis of China's agenda-setting efforts, the summit's success was cemented by the release of the Hangzhou Communiqué, in which G20 leaders stated their determination to foster an innovative, invigorated, interconnected and inclusive world economy to usher in a new era of global growth and sustainable development.

The summit reached consensus in five major areas: combining demand management with supply-side reforms and enhancing structural reform; refraining from competitive devaluations and not targeting exchange rates for competitive purposes; enhancing an open world economy by working toward trade and investment facilitation and liberalization; establishing effective and

efficient global economic and financial architecture; and endorsing the launch of the Global Infrastructure Connectivity Alliance.

These prescriptions offer an effective approach to augment worldwide economic recovery, reflecting the common interests of the international community and the effectiveness of multilateral coordination against the backdrop of globalization. As a major emerging economy, China contributed its wisdom and experience to their formulation. Equally important is China's active role, underlined by the Hangzhou Summit, in promoting fairness and justice in the global agenda and facilitating the accommodation of the interests of emerging markets and developing countries in world economic operations.

 

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin meet in Beijing on June 25 (XINHUA)

Summit diplomacy 

In 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping made five diplomatic tours, starting with a visit to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran in January, which was followed by a trip to the Czech Republic in March. He then attended the Fourth Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. on March 31 and April 1. In June, Xi went to Poland and Serbia before visiting Cambodia and Bangladesh. In October, he attended the BRICS Summit in Goa, India, and in November, he concluded this year's trips by visiting Ecuador, Peru and Chile while also attending the 24th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting in Lima, Peru.

Premier Li Keqiang also undertook multiple overseas trips. In July, he visited Mongolia and attended the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit. In September, Li went to Laos for the East Asia Summit and a commemorative summit marking the 25th anniversary of dialogue relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The same month, he also attended the 71st UN General Assembly in New York City and visited Canada and Cuba. In November, the premier visited Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Russia and also attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Heads of Government Council meeting.

In view of such extensive overseas interactions, it's clear that China's diplomacy emphasizes a "community with shared future" centering on cooperation. The foreign visits were guided by the aim of promoting the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (Belt and Road Initiative), which were proposed by China for developing extensive intercontinental trade and an infrastructure network with countries in Central, Western and Southeastern Asia and other regions.

Thanks to diplomatic efforts, the Belt and Road Initiative has accomplished more progress than anticipated. By August, more than 100 countries and international organizations had joined the scheme, while China and over 30 countries had signed cooperation agreements. China has also developed industrial cooperation with over 20 countries as well as financial cooperation through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund. Notably, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has the potential to be a model for cooperation among Belt and Road countries. In 2017, the Belt and Road summit and other cooperation mechanisms are expected to become more institutionalized.

 

Major-country relations 

In 2016, China and Russia have further lifted their relations. In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a state visit to China, his fifth since his third presidential term began in March 2012.

The two nations' presidents also met in Uzbekistan's Tashkent in June, Hangzhou in September, Goa in October and Lima in December.

During Putin's China visit, three joint declarations were issued and several cooperation agreements in a broad range of fields were signed. In terms of strengthening global strategic stability, China and Russia expressed strong opposition to U.S. deployment of anti-missile systems in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Additionally, both China and Russia appealed to other states to take a broader view of strategic stability.

During President Barack Obama's last year in office, China-U.S. relations have maintained steady progress. Xi and Obama met during the Washington Nuclear Security Summit in March, the G20 Hangzhou Summit and the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Peru, agreeing on continuing efforts to build a new model of major-country relations between China and the United States. During their meeting in Hangzhou, the leaders reached consensus on macro-economic coordination, global governance and other issues. In addition, the two governments held high-level consultations—the Eighth China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the China-U.S. Consultation on People-to-People Exchange—in Beijing in June.

In the wake of its recent presidential election, however, the United States may alter course and adopt new policies. With the potential to be affected by any such changes, China is concerned that the achievements to date, reached through great endeavor, will disappear. The China-U.S. relationship has grown to become arguably one of the most significant bilateral ties in the world today. As Xi pointed out in his congratulatory message to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on November 9, China and the United States should expand cooperation on the basis of the principles of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and cooperation.

Double trouble 

Two hot issues in Asia have severely challenged China's diplomacy this year.

On the South China Sea territorial disputes, China faced great external pressure due to the former Philippine administration unilaterally initiating an arbitration at a tribunal in The Hague, and the United States' so-called "freedom of navigation" operations. The scales began to tilt in China's favor from autumn onward after Rodrigo Duterte was elected as the new president of the Philippines and China's diplomatic efforts gradually broke the U.S.-led encirclement in the region.

Completing major construction projects on its islands and reefs in the South China Sea, China has consolidated its sovereignty over these territories and also permanently altered its regional strategic position. Since coming to power in June, Duterte has changed his country's foreign policy direction and sought dialogue with China. Accordingly, the two states' bilateral relations are now on the right track. Meanwhile, ASEAN as a bloc has also showed its willingness to focus on maritime cooperation with China for common development.

The disputes in the South China Sea reemerged for two reasons. On the one hand, a few South China Sea littoral countries fear China's development may shift the balance of military power in the region, so they took steps to consolidate control of the islands they had occupied illegally, infringing upon China's national sovereignty and forcing a response. On the other hand, the U.S. "pivot to Asia" strategy has played an inglorious role in the disputes. Using the South China Sea issue, the United States attempted to drum up support from other nations in order to contain China. In summary, if the mutual strategic distrust between China and the United States doesn't change, real peace in the South China Sea will not be achieved.

In 2016, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has conducted two nuclear tests, in January and September. Provoked by Pyongyang's activities, South Korean President Park Geun Hye had taken the opportunity to consolidate her nation's military readiness together with the United States, before she was suspended following a parliamentary impeachment vote in early December. In July, Seoul and Washington agreed to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, a move which constitutes a severe security challenge to countries including China and Russia. Japan has also showed a desire to deploy the THAAD system on its soil. As Obama's "strategic patience" toward Pyongyang diminished, the United States has begun to re-evaluate the threat from the DPRK, a process that will finish after Donald Trump takes office and which may well lead to a new U.S. policy toward the DPRK.

In facing the complex situation on the Korean Peninsula, China adheres firmly to resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue through peaceful means. It has constantly reiterated its opposition to chaos or war on the peninsula and has tried to persuade all parties to return to dialogue. China backs and has thoroughly implemented the UN Security Council's resolutions on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. At the same time, Beijing has tried to maintain exchanges with Pyongyang, considering humanitarianism and the overall interests of China-DPRK relations. China has solemnly protested South Korea's decision to deploy the THAAD system, urging Seoul to change its mind. China's impartial attitude has helped maintain strategic equilibrium on the peninsula, restricting conflict.

 

A Chinese warplane patrols above China’s islands and reefs in the South China Sea (XINHUA)

Uncertainties 

In 2016, world events have presented many surprises; from Britain's decision to leave the EU and political outsider Trump winning the U.S. presidential election to the failed coup attempt in Turkey and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment; and from the migrant crisis and terrorist attacks in Europe to the protracted fight against the "Islamic State" extremist group. Each occurrence feels like a black swan taking to the air in some corner of the world.

These events also remind Chinese leaders that the world is continuing to undergo profound changes. The current trend is underlined by a rightward shift in politics across much of the West and rising discontent with economic globalization and free trade in developed countries. The fundamental reason behind the phenomenon lies in the discrepancy between the desires of societal grassroots and the concentration of power in the hands of elites. The impact on ordinary peoples' livelihoods brought about by the migrant crisis is another factor.

For their part, Chinese leaders are most concerned by four issues relating to world order and China's development. First, to what extent will Trump implement the ideas he advocated on the campaign trail, and to what degree will this influence China and Sino-U.S.

relations? Second, if Trump's economic policies—including corporate tax reduction, renegotiating free trade agreements and imposing large tariffs on imports—become reality, how much will the current world economic order consequently change? Will protectionism become the mainstay of Western economic policy? Third, will U.S.-Russian relations improve significantly after Trump takes office? If so, how will that affect China-Russia strategic cooperation and the China-Russia-U.S. triangle? Fourth, will some European countries' upcoming elections consolidate the West's right-tilting trend and bring about the collapse of the EU?

If Western politics continues to show an inward-looking trend in the coming years—focusing more on domestic issues—China may gain an opportunity to play a larger role in world affairs and assume more international responsibility earlier than expected. In this sense, this year's wedge of black swans could be a blessing in disguise for China.

China's growing status and role on the world stage are a major aspect of current global developments. The country could potentially benefit by adapting in accordance with its changing role. However, as the nation itself still faces many complicated challenges, China needs to continue along its chosen development path. Since the launch of the reform and opening-up initiative in the late 1970s, the fundamental goal of China's foreign policy has been to create a favorable external environment for its economic development. While China's national strength has grown greatly, this basic objective has not changed. Notably, though, China's domestic and foreign policies now place much greater emphasis on safeguarding all aspects of the nation's security—sovereign, political, economic, information, social and cultural.

On July 1, the Communist Party of China (CPC) commemorated its 95th birth anniversary. At a commemorative event, Xi reiterated China's adherence to an independent foreign policy of peace, highlighted the building of a community of shared future for mankind and opposed the Cold War mentality and zero-sum political games. On September 27, shortly after the G20 Hangzhou Summit, the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee held a study session on the changing global governance environment. During the seminar, Xi stressed that change in global governance stems from change in the global balance of power, and he required the CPC to seize the opportunity to push the international order in a fairer and more just direction.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review and a member of Pangoal Institution

Copyedited by Dominic James Madar & Chris Surtees

Comments to liuyunyun@bjreview.com

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