China's Compliance in Global Affairs: Trade, Arms Control, Environmental Protection, Human Rights, by Gerald Chan. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Company, 2006. xxii + 249 pp. US$52.00 (hardcover).
Former US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick's "responsible stakeholder" comments last year highlighted a key question on the mind of many of China's global partners: what is China's record in implementing its international obligations? Gerald Chan's China's Compliance in Global Affairs is a credible attempt to take a broad look at this issue, evaluating China's compliance with its international commitments in four key areas: trade rules, arms control, environmental protection and human rights.
This is an ambitious undertaking, as each issue has previously been subject to detailed study. Chan does not replicate these studies, but instead provides an overview of the question, focusing on agreements, key questions and outstanding concerns pertaining to China's implementation of its obligations; he aims to provide a fair and balanced look at the issue of China's compliance, and for the most part he succeeds. This book provides a useful introduction to the concepts and issues and to key agreements, and thus is for the non-specialist an accessible introduction to a complex issue, as well as a handy reference. Chan also makes important and useful points on the role of cultural differences in the process, particularly with respect to Chinese concepts of compliance, and stresses the larger issue of the Western cultural underpinnings of today's global rules-based system and the challenges this poses for both sides.
The first part of the book looks at broader conceptual issues related to China's growing integration with the rest of the world and its growing participation in international organizations and agreements. This is the stronger part of Chan's study: his analysis of the impact of China's cultural norms and views of its own history provides insight into China's approach to its international obligations and its role in the world. It also gives some useful data on China's participation in international organizations, and surveys some of the key theoretical questions relating to China's role in the international system: whether China assumes negative or positive responsibility in the world, for example, and whether China has adapted or simply learned the rules and norms of the international community. The chapter on compliance provides a useful survey of the conceptual and informational challenges inherent in evaluating compliance, and the reasons for which countries decide the extent and level of their compliance.
The second section, which looks in some detail at China's compliance in four specific areas (trade rules, arms control, environmental protection and human rights), is weaker. One shortcoming - perhaps more the fault of publication deadlines - is that the key elements of the analysis are based on material no later than (with some exceptions) 2002. This is unfortunate, as a lot has happened since then which could have supported or added complexity to Chan's analysis: the collapse of the WTO Doha round (confirming Chan's view on China not taking a leadership role); the increased attention of the Chinese government to environmental issues, particularly in the wake of some spectacular environmental mishaps; the heightened tension in recent years on the nuclear issue, particularly with the DPRK and Iran; and finally the emergence of the Hu- Wen leadership and the policy impact of its approach to domestic and international affairs, particularly the emphasis on China's "peaceful rise/development" and "harmonious society". …