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Growing Influence
China takes on greater global responsibilities
By Mei Xinyu | NO.5-6 FEBRUARY 2, 2017


Chinese consumers select commodities imported from Spain at the Yiwu international market in Yiwu, east China’s Zhejiang Province, on December 28, 2016 (XINHUA)

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2017 opened in Davos, Switzerland, on January 17. At a time when global governance faces multiple economic, political, military and other challenges, the foci of this meeting, whose theme is Responsive and Responsible Leadership, included China's responsibilities and how it will assume a larger international role in a sustainable way.

China's contributions

The major contribution China can make to global governance is to ensure its own success in achieving sound and stable economic growth and in setting an example of successful governance for other nations. Ensuring its own success is particularly important for China, whose population comprises roughly one sixth of the world's total.

As a Chinese saying goes, only when one is adequately fed and clothed, can one have a sense of honor and shame; when the granaries are full, people can learn rites and etiquette. Likewise, only when a nation has sufficiently ensured its people's livelihoods can it think about helping other nations and contributing to global governance.

Among countries worldwide, China has made obvious contributions to people's well-being and global governance through its economic development. "Made-in-China" played a crucial role in the economic growth of the United States without too much inflation since the 1990s, and has also made outstanding contributions to improving people's well-being in developing countries.

Industrialization and export-oriented growth have enabled China to become the world's largest manufacturing and goods exporting nation, and subsequently to generate the world's fastest growth in imports since the beginning of the 21st century. With import growth double the international average, China has fueled growth in many other countries and regions by importing goods and services. More and more countries, from emerging markets to large resource exporters and industrial economies, are benefiting from Chinese demand.

According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2011-15, China ranked first among all nations for its contribution to world economic growth of 30.5 percent (calculated in 2010 U.S. dollar terms), while the United States and the eurozone managed corresponding contributions of 17.8 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively. In 2016, China still contributed the most to world economic growth—33.2 percent in 2010 U.S. dollar terms—while the United States and Japan respectively contributed 16.3 percent and 1.4 percent.

In retrospect, the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 restored stability to the country, which facilitated East Asia's post-World War II industrialization and its subsequent rise to become the region with the most energetic economic growth among all developing countries and regions. Also, several states in East Asia were able to become world-leading industrial economies with high incomes.

While the world economy is full of uncertainties, and the United States' monetary policy changes are causing turmoil in global markets, ensuring China's sound and sustainable growth equates to ensuring the world economy's sound and sustainable growth.

Global governance is divided into economic governance and political and security governance. In political and security governance, China has already made many contributions. Since the beginning of this century, China has been the number-one provider of military personnel to UN peacekeeping missions in Africa among the permanent UN Security Council members. Through the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, meanwhile, it has also conducted fruitful international cooperation in combating extremism, terrorism and separatism.


Pu Yi (left), General Commander of the 15th Chinese peacekeeping force to Lebanon, works on a plan at a construction site near Nagula Town in south Lebanon on June 8, 2016 (XINHUA)

Free trade advocate

China's responsibilities in economic governance should first be reflected in upholding the principle of free trade. The United States used to be the standard bearer of free trade, but in line with the serious resurgence of trade protectionism in recent years, the bellicose trade team appointed by Donald Trump may further aggravate global trade frictions. Then, who else but China can take on the mantle of global free trade?

China finds itself in this unique position not only because it has become the world's second largest economy and a top trading nation, but also because, at the present time of rising uncertainty, China's political system is more conducive to the nation playing the role of free trade advocate.

The Western-style political system easily gives trade protectionist forces political power disproportionate to their economic power. The status of being the world's sole superpower also stimulates the growth of moral hazard in U.S. foreign policy, including that on foreign trade. We must remember it was major Western governments, led by the United States and the UK, who destroyed the idea of establishing a World Trade Organization (WTO) originally and established the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade as an alternative.

Today, because the United States, Europe and other developed nations have led the development of global trade rules for decades, they are better able to "play" the WTO rules and engage in trade protectionism without actually violating WTO rules on paper. For instance, in 2009, during the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the United States added a clause of "Buy American" to its economic stimulus bill, which the WTO director general had to acknowledge didn't violate WTO rules. Such capability encourages Western powers to resort to protectionist measures more frequently.

Different from other countries, China has a system of governance that enables its decision makers to eliminate interference, resist seduction by short-term interests, and work toward long-term objectives.

Looking ahead

China can make greater contributions to world political and security governance by extending the fight against extremism, terrorism and separatism to south Thailand and the south Philippines through China-ASEAN, China-Thailand and China-Philippines cooperation frameworks.

In collaboration with Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and other nations along the Strait of Malacca, China will also explore the establishment of a joint maritime patrol system in order to combat piracy in Southeast Asia and create a safer environment for this main artery of world trade.

For China to sustainably assume the foregoing global governance responsibilities, both it and its trading partners must be aware of the following:

First, China assuming larger global governance responsibilities doesn't mean it will confront the United States and initiate a new Cold War. Rather, it seeks improvement of current mechanisms. More clashes, especially over trade, may occur in 2017 between China and the United States, but this is still under control.

Second, China will assume greater international responsibilities within its capabilities; it is unable to assume excessive responsibilities, and its rights should be in line with those responsibilities. Only in this way can China sustainably assume world governance responsibilities.

Finally, China has created for its trading partners, especially emerging economies, opportunities to stabilize their economies, develop trade and attract investment. Whether these opportunities can be grasped and how they can be utilized, however, will be determined by the trading partners' efforts to improve their own business environments, as China has always emphasized that it will not interfere in the internal affairs of other nations.

The author is an op-ed contributor to Beijing Review and a researcher with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

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