A Responsible Great Power

By Yi, Li Wen | The World and I, November 2009 | Go to article overview

A Responsible Great Power


Yi, Li Wen, The World and I


The Managing Global Insecurity (MGI) project visited Beijing, China March 19-21, 2008 to elicit Chinese priorities and perspectives on international cooperation and revitalization of the multilateral security system. During the visit, MGI highlighted the vital role China, as a new great power, would play in the future of the international security system. If the prediction that China will be a rising great power almost seems a cliche, the questions of what kind of great power China wants to be, and can it reach its claim of being a responsible great power remains to be discussed.

It seems to the author that the more closely China integrates itself into the international economic and political mechanisms, the more pressure China will receive to behave as a responsible power, from both the international community and the domestic society.

This article will discuss different definitions set by foreigners and Chinese for China's international responsibility, and to examine respectively how China meets those various criteria. To have a better understanding of the topic, it might be better to first have a look at why there is a growing demand for China to shoulder more international responsibility.

Motivations pushing China

Foreign views. Since Deng Xiaoping's government initiated the economic reform known as "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" in 1978, the Chinese economy has experienced rapid and steady growth. By 2007, China's economic scale stood only after the US, Japan and Germany. Although its GDP accounts for only 5 percent of the world, China makes a contribution of roughly one-third of the global economy growth, according to the Chinese Data Online.

China's power is also growing across political and military domains. Its diplomatic influence has expanded in recent years with its decision to engage the region through involvement in groupings such as the ASEAN plus three, six-party talks over North Korean. A giant country, China is blessed with large population, ample foreign reserves, and enormous production and demands. Foreign countries care about its stances toward global affairs, and expect China to play a bigger role in crisis management and stable maintenance.

However, the name of "great power responsibility" can be seen as an olive branch, as well as a hoop-tightening incantation (jin gou zhou). It could be used by other major powers as a constraint for China's development. As Shaun (2006) noted,, for America, the best scenario it would like to see is that China continues to gradually grow (as its growth is in line with America's interest by creating opportunities for America's exports and investments) but not rapid expand its international weight and influence.

Domestic views. As the Chinese government claims, the long-term purpose of China's national development strategy is to be 'strong, democratic and civilized by 2050.' This overarching aim, and its requirement for peaceful and stable internal and external environments, will likely to guide China towards a more integration-ist, cooperative set of relations with the outside world, according to Davies (2008). As a matter of fact, to be a "responsible great power" and to pursue the road of a peaceful development has been the broad hope of many Chinese reform-minded leaders dating back more than a decade ago. The Chinese wish to be viewed as responsible as they saw this as being beneficial to domestic stability and regional peace, which will in turn spur its further growth.

Criteria for being a responsible great power

International view. In the field of economics, one of the criteria set for China is to further integrate itself into the world economy and open the domestic market. Mahbubani (2005) notes that China has made substantive concessions to gain entry to the WTO, has restructured its laws and regulations as to eliminate trade barriers and attract foreign investment.

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