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China in the Times to Come (Part III)

How has China shown itself to be a “responsible stakeholder” in world affairs?

May 23, 2007

How has China shown itself to be a "responsible stakeholder" in world affairs?

Assertions that China has yet to make a choice in this regard are, quite frankly, more an embarrassing commentary on the dated outlook and political myopia of the U.S. officials who make them than evidence of insight or serious thought on their part.

China in the Times to Come
by Chas W. Freeman
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

For the time being, the Chinese seem willing in most respects to accept continued U.S. management of the world’s affairs. But America cannot expect them to agree to U.S. entitlement as the “controlling stakeholder” of those affairs.

As the world turns and confronts new challenges, China will increasingly demand full participation in crafting responses to them. That is appropriate and in U.S. interest — for, increasingly, such challenges will be unaddressable without China.

This is already the case with respect to the world monetary system, in which the Renminbi yuan is poised to emerge as a major trading and reserve currency within the coming decade.

America is making a big mistake by not including China in the G-8 or, better yet, replacing the G-8 with a body that more accurately reflects global financial and economic power and China’s growing share in both.

China is already central to the global trade in energy, minerals and other raw materials, in which rapidly rising Chinese demand increasingly drives prices.

Even American “dead-enders” now accept that global warming and spreading environmental degradation, as well as the constant danger of epidemic disease, present increasingly serious public policy challenges to all of humanity.

As all the horror stories in the U.S. press and as tens of thousands of protests by affected people in China attest, the stress Chinese now put on their environment is much greater than Americans have ever placed on theirs.

What China does at home and what the world is able to do about a widening range of global problems have become inextricably connected.

In all the global commons — the seas, the air or space — there can be neither progress nor security without China’s full participation as well as the United State’s. If America were to ask for that participation, which we have not, would it be forthcoming? Could China rise to that challenge?

I am optimistic. China’s leaders are trying hard, in connection with the 17th Chinese Communist Party Congress to be held this fall, to develop a restatement of ideological principles.

The principles will emphasize the imperatives of societal and international harmony and the sinicization of Western-originated theories of innovation in science and technology.

The leaders want their country’s ideology to include comprehensive guidelines to promote the investigative and inductive reasoning processes characteristic of the earliest and best social science.

They want to draw pragmatic conclusions from the past 30 years of socioeconomic development in China, to follow Confucius and Mencius by laying out principles for ethical behavior at home and abroad and to recreate on Chinese soil the spirit of innovation in science and technology that inspired the industrial revolution in the Atlantic region.

Americans should all wish the Chinese leadership well in this ambitious endeavor. The world will be a better place if they succeed in elaborating an ideology that commits them to their own and others’ peace and development.

Whether one is by nature optimistic or pessimistic, what is at stake in China’s return to its historic eminence in human affairs surely illustrates that FDR was right long ago to attempt — over the resistance of our European allies — to incorporate China into the governing councils of the world. That effort failed soon after its inception.

If Americans fail now to recognize the potential for cooperation with China, as well as other nations with rapidly strengthening capabilities, and if we lack the vision to enlist the Chinese as partners in the pursuit of a better future, we will make mutually disadvantageous outcomes much more likely.

Preparation to confront the worst, if unaccompanied by a vision of the better, is not “hedging,” it is a belligerent strategy of despair based on self-fulfilling paranoia.

To take the right path forward, Americans need to know both where we are and where we want to go. We must find the potential for a better future in present realities. It is there to be found by those who look.

To identify common interests with the Chinese or to cope with conflicts of interest where these exist, America needs to understand Chinese perceptions and concerns, not just our own.