How is global governance likely to change in the context of a rising China? Since the beginning of the 21st century, the country has deepened its involvement in existing structures while advocating for reforms and establishing its own position as a bridging actor. While there is hope that China may become a source of stability in a shifting, uncertain world, its long march towards a clear, established role in global governance has not yet ended.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, China has shown the greatest interest in global governance. In practice, China has increased its contribution both to the material provision of global public goods and to ideas and reflection on how best to provide them. China now exports its experience in economic development and in political/social governance to other countries in Asia, Africa and elsewhere – in particular, Africa has become a major destination for the “Chinese experience” in development.
The Chinese Communist Party now sees global governance as a top priority for China’s foreign policy. However, China’s role in global governance is complex.
First, China continues to deepen its relations with existing global institutions as part of existing global governance systems. After the lift of China’s voting power in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, China’s currency has joined the basket of currencies of the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). China has also become a leading contributor to the UN peacekeeping operations.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, the country has deepened its involvement in existing structures while advocating for reforms and establishing its own position as a bridging actor. While there is hope that China may become a source of stability in a shifting, uncertain world, its long march towards a clear, established role in global governance has not yet ended.
Second, China is no longer reluctant to acknowledge that it is a revisionist actor, and openly presents itself as a reformist player in the process of reforming existing global governance institutions – a process that China even presses to accelerate. One approach consists in sponsoring new international institutions as a way to reform global governance institutions, an approach known in Chinese as “Dao Bi”. The Beijing-headquartered Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is a prominent case of this “Dao Bi” approach. The World Bank and other international financial institutions have felt the challenge posed by the AIIB.
Third, China acts as a “middle” actor in global forums addressing global challenges. China’s role in the G20 and the success of the Chinese G20 presidency in 2016 show that China is moving quickly to a central position in global governance. China enjoys a natural “middle”-ness, acting as a bridge between the “developed” world (the “Global North”) and the “developing” world (the “Global South”). China is a member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa) grouping, which is a caucus similar to the G7 within the G20 – a hybrid but prime platform for managing the global economy.
What does China’s role in global governance imply for others, particularly the West, and for the future of global governance? The US and Europe have long hoped that China could become a “responsible stakeholder” in a rules-based global system. Now, China is evolving towards becoming a major player in providing new solutions to global challenges. This may be one of the most positive developments in a time of increasing “global governance deficit”.
However, the world has to realize the limits of China’s role in global governance. China’s “long march” towards a modernized economy and democratized governance is still unfinished. The so-called “China model” and the “China experience” are not simply valuable, but also problematic. While China projects huge resources towards international engagement (for instance through the “Silk Road” initiative) and even the development of its “soft power”, China still relies on old global institutions for advice and support in transforming China’s economy and society. While China takes the lead to become a rule-maker, it is still unknown whether China, the US and Europe will be able to act in concert for better global governance.