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Foreign Policy

China Should Become a Positive Force for World Peace and Stability

Jan 24 , 2017
  • Huang Jing

    Professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

The world is in anxiety with Donald Trump taking over the US Presidency. As Trump’s views on major issues remain unclear and his ‘America first’ position seems rather extreme, people around the world have been quite confused with regard to America’s future development and its leadership capability and role in world affairs. It seems that Trump may have negative impacts on world peace and development in the following three aspects, adding uncertainty to the future world order.

First, unilateralism under Trump’s leadership will give a heavy blow to world stability and development. The new US President stresses ‘America first’ and his team is full of extreme conservatives. Neo-conservatism, which prevailed in George W. Bush administration, will come back. The unilateral pursuit of American supremacy in international affairs will undermine various multilateral mechanisms in the international community and impact on the international order based on multilateral regimes.

Second, rightist populism in Western world is an adverse current against world stability and development. Brexit and Trump’s election marked an overflow of rightist forces in the West driven by populism. The West as a whole has become increasingly narrow-minded and conservative politically, protectionist economically, and exclusive and chauvinistic in religion and culture. This has not only ripped the fabric of liberal and democratic Western society, but also led to fragmentation of governance and policy-making. The result is a great reduction in the ability and influence of Western developed countries to promote world peace and development.

Third, there are more destabilizing factors in the global financial system, which may well incur new crises. Since the US abandoned the gold standard of the Bretton Woods agreement in August 1971, the US dollar has been the primary credit support in the world financial system. However, the heavy indebtedness of the US has been eroding the credibility of the dollar. The financial crisis of 2008 was in essence a credit crisis of the US dollar. Although the quantitative easing policy followed by US policy makers since has to a certain extent relieved and transferred the crisis, the dollar glut has further worsened credibility of this currency. Meanwhile, America’s debt snowball renders it almost impossible to avoid a ‘meltdown’ of dollar credit.

The various challenges of Trump taking office, however, also bring about major strategic opportunities for China, the world’s second largest economy.

First, China must actively promote global governance based on multilateral regimes. Today’s global governance is based on the international political order underpinned by the UN and other relevant agencies, the international economic and trade order underpinned by the WTO and various multilateral trade regimes, and the international financial order involving the World Bank, IMF, ADB and AIIB. China needs to make clear its principles and position to firmly maintain the existing international order. It must also take a more proactive part in the various affairs in multilateral international regimes and unite other countries in firm opposition to any unilateral actions that undermine these multilateral regimes and maintenance of their stability and development. At same time, it must make sure that its foreign policies move closer towards these regimes.

Second, China must continue advancing the development of a new model of major country relations with the US. Trump’s election has exposed a highly divided US citizenry and a strong domestic force to hold Trump back. As the world’s No. 1 power, the political regime that has formed for many years and the political structure of various interest groups are not something that Trump may change at will. If Trump stubbornly pursues his way, the more rational forces in the US will be activated. Admittedly both the government and the public in the US are quite upset and anxious about China’s rapid rise and there are loud voices about balancing or countering China. But that does not mean the US has the will or ability to collide head-on with China on all fronts, let alone a consensus to contain China. After all, China has been pursuing ‘peaceful development’ by blending itself into rather than challenging the world system and by riding the tide of economic globalization, which has created an irreversible mutual dependence between China and the US. As a result, China-US relations go far beyond the bilateral scope: Any topic on the table between the two countries is of global significance, and no challenge in today’s world can be resolved or even managed without communication, consultation and cooperation between the two countries. The very purpose of the new model of major-country relations is to secure in an institutionalized manner the avoidance of conflict and the cooperation for win-win outcomes between China and the US. It may be anticipated that Trump would exert pressure on China in all fields now that he has taken office. But tough positions and policy towards China may not last long. This is because China under Xi Jinping leadership will not back off and it may well go tit for tat on issues of China’s core interests. More importantly, full confrontation with China will not serve America’s overall interest, nor will it enjoy international support, not even from its own allies. Such is the reality. So long as China continues developing steadily, the tough posture of Trump will in the end turn into a bargaining model, thus offering new opportunities for advancing the new model of major-country relations.

Furthermore, China should go with the tide of world development and unswervingly implement policies conducive to multilateral regimes. In today’s world, economic integration and political multipolarization are two tides that are hardly to reverse. As a beneficiary of the two megatrends, China has actively pursued the Belt and Road Initiative, developed a global partner network, extended comprehensive economic partnership in Southeast Asia and created the AIIB since Xi Jinping took office. Obviously these measures are consistent with the trends of economic integration and political multipolarization and contribute to development of multilateral mechanisms in the Asia Pacific and Eurasia. In the long term, only with such institutional guarantees as multilateral mechanisms for cooperation, development, mutual benefit and win-win, will countries develop a sustainable community with a shared future, thus laying down a solid foundation for world peace and development.

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