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China and Global Economic Governance: History Matters

Feb 17 , 2011

China’s embrace of global institutions and their rules and norms has helped guide its spectacular economic growth and integration into the world economy.

But China’s impact on the global economic order is still an open question. Its sheer size and dynamism make it a force to be reckoned with. So far, its influence has been largely constructive but recent signs of assertiveness in the Asian region and at home, coincident with the 2012 leadership transition, raise questions about the future. History matters to the answer.

China’s interaction with international economic institutions reflects its leaders’ own conclusion that, in a globalised world, China must learn from, and participate in, international organisations. Up to now, China has largely played by the existing rules of multilateralism. Its participation in the international economic system is constructive. In the Asian region China has been receptive to its neighbours’ initiatives to develop cooperative regional institutions.

Just playing by the rules is insufficient in an interdependent world economy. The existing institutions were created by the western powers but allow for new participants and leadership. In a multi-polar world no one power can ensure the global interest (or get what it wants) by itself. Partnerships, coalitions and networks may be required in which the emerging powers take on more responsibility for providing global public goods. Yet China’s demonstrated record is that of a still-poor developing country pursuing its own interests.

Wendy Dobson is Co-director of the Institute for International Business in the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

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