Academic journal article Global Governance

Rising from Within: China's Search for a Multilateral World and Its Implications for Sino-US Relations

Academic journal article Global Governance

Rising from Within: China's Search for a Multilateral World and Its Implications for Sino-US Relations

Article excerpt

What impact will the rise of China have on the existing international system? This article attempts to provide some clues for a better understanding of this issue by examining China's views on and policy toward international multilateralism in general and some of the newly emerging multilateral mechanisms in particular, including the Group of 20 and the BRICS. The article concludes that while China will become more proactive in its multilateral diplomacy, in many cases selectively, and increase its influence in global multilateral settings, various concerns and constraints will make it unlikely for China to completely overhaul or even dramatically reshape the multilateral architecture at the global level. China is likely to repeat its pattern of the past decade in East Asian regional multilateral-ism: participation, engagement, pushing for cooperation in areas that would serve Chinese interests, avoiding excessive responsibilities, blocking initiatives that would harm its interests, and refraining from making grand proposals. In addition, China is stuck in defining its identity, and caught up between posturing as a leader of the developing world on some issues and siding with the developed countries on other policy issues. Given all of these constraints, China's involvement in global multilateralism is likely to be guided by pragmatism rather than grand visions. The article also argues that China will most likely strive to rise from within the existing international order. Washington should be prepared to plan its China policy on this basis and Sino-US relations will be shaped largely by the dynamics of contentions for power and interest as well as cooperation and coordination between China and the United States in various multilateral institutions. KEYWORDS: China, multilateralism, BRICS, Group of 20, Sino-US relations, Chinese foreign policy.

CHINA'S PHENOMENAL RISE IN RECENT DECADES HAS SPARKED AN INTENSE international debate on the impact of the reemergence of the "Middle King-dom" on the existing international system. An important dimension in ad-dressing this issue is China's policy toward multilateralism, particularly major global multilateral institutions. Scrutinizing China's perception and policy to-ward multilateral institutions and regimes may provide some useful clues for observers to ascertain whether it is rising as a status quo or as a revisionist power.' Understandably, most studies thus far have focused on the implica-tions of China's approach to multilateralism for Sino-US relations and US global leadership, heating up the debate on China's rise with a wide range of views. Generally speaking, there are three camps of thought in the debate, in-cluding those observers who believe that China will successfully integrate into the existing order, those who argue that China has been selectively participat-ing in and using multilateralism for other purposes, and those who believe that China will ultimately overhaul the system.

Some scholars are unequivocally sanguine about the prospect of China becoming an integral part of the existing international order. This profuse op-timism, to a large extent, is built on a positive assessment of China's involve-ment in various international institutions.' Ann Kent, for instance, concludes that, as compared to its behaviors prior to the early 1980s, China's "acceptance of, and integration into, the international system have been nothing short of extraordinary."3 Alastair Johnston observes that China has demonstrated a cooperative attitude toward international security regimes from 1980 to 2000 largely as a result of social learning.` Edward Steinfeld argues that China has continued to integrate itself into the Western economic order and adheres to the rules set and dominated by the West.5 Rosemary Foot posits that China has chosen accommodation to cope with a US-hegemonic global order while simultaneously attempting to hedge and dilute US supremacy by seeking to establish solid relations with other partners and attempting to push for a more egalitarian world system. …

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