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Opinion
On Global Governance
U.S. expert shares his views on the U.S.-China relationship
 NO.51 December 21, 2017

Editor's Note: The seventh World Forum on China Studies was held in Shanghai on December 10 and 11. It was attended by renowned China experts and Sinologists from 34 countries and regions. James Peck, visiting professor at New York University and founder of the Culture and Civilization of China project at Yale University Press and the China International Publishing Group, shared his views on the U.S.-China relationship in a speech entitled “Pathways to a New Era: What China Offers and Why the United States Resists” during the forum. An edited excerpt of his speech on global governance follows:

In pursuing ideas for global governance and a democratizing (and UN-based) transformation, China places the global inequities and injustices in the emerging multipolar environment at the center of demands for needed global change and for a new, more inclusive approach towards international affairs. By contrast, Washington's opposition to a multi-polar world and a strong United Nations emerged shortly after World War II.

China's emergence as a great power coincides with and is related to the beginning of the end of American universalism as we have known it, as well as centuries of the dominance of Western norms, values, and institutions. This historic transformation is part of a rapidly changing world in which no one country will possess the kind of power that the United States has had since 1945. There are several points to consider: first, the gradual weakening of the ability of the U.S. to so effectively exert its power globally; second, the rise of developing countries is bringing fundamental, near revolutionary changes along with increasing demands that the rules and means to balance different interests be formulated by all nations; third, the spread of China's global influence and the very character of China’s development, which offers other nations greater choices in their own quest for development and underlines the deepening demands for a more inclusive vision of global governance.

It's not just that the world has never seen anything quite like the rapidity and enormity of China's economic transformation. What makes China a very different great power is how its profound sense of independence, its history as a continuous civilization and its cultural density have blended with a policy of safeguarding its sovereign development in ways seen in few other nations.

It is Washington's aversion to China's intensely asserted independence and its determination to find its own viable path of development and its place in the world that has been constant for well over six decades. Today, as that independence continues, it allows for both practical help to countries in the South and support for their historic drive for their own forms of independence from Western and American forms of domination. China's commitment to "parallel institutions," while calling for more voting power for emerging markets and developing countries in such institutions as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), provides historically unprecedented possibilities for a more just form of global governance. From the New Development Bank (NDB) of BRICS, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and the Belt and Road Initiative to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO); all these are in China’s national interests and provide a foundation for alternatives to emerge and transform what U.S. officials like to call the "liberal international order." They hold promise of furthering a multi-polar order by laying the foundations for an interlocked pan-Eurasian economic cooperation zone that promises to further transform existing global economic dynamics. And they promise to put an end to the ways Asia was divided by colonial divisions, outmoded trade patterns, and a lack of confidence that Asians could solve their own problems.

In many ways this emerging multipolar world challenges the entire edifice of U.S. power fashioned after 1945. For what made the U.S. the world’s one and only superpower was not just its military and economic prowess. Its "superpowerness," its ability to be the pivot of power in virtually every region of the planet, was indelibly linked to its transformation of European and Japanese capitalism after World War II and the drawing of their elites into U.S. strategic needs. This often overlooked triad of power remains the lynchpin of American dominance. It was a key element of what Washington’s Cold War strategy was about. Though the collapse of the Soviet Union was the most "visible victory" of the Cold War, the “less visible” but no less consequential triumph for Washington was the integration of Germany and Japan into a U.S.-led system of collective security and the creation of a “democratic zone of peace.” Critical as the European and Japanese elites often are of U.S. policies, these elites well understand what they get out of the current U.S. system of power with its globe-spanning military bases and the ways its soft power restricts the range and character of debates about the "global order." This includes a shared, often subtle, agreement with Washington to conserve their privileged positions by preventing countries in the South from fully challenging this domination.

But things are profoundly changing, and they are doing so today amidst a particularly dangerous, volatile moment in American history. The failure of U.S. unipolar designs after the end of the Cold War, the increasing domestic divisions and governmental paralysis, a plutocracy committed to ever growing increases in its wealth, widespread popular disdain for the foreign policy elite and their endless wars, and a widespread popular desire to “pull back” from world engagement together pose a very complicated context in which to discuss U.S. interest in “global governance.” And into all this comes Donald Trump, whose "America First" thinking so far has shown little inclination to further the spirit of global governance.

Trump is the first U.S. president since World War II to at least verbally challenge the reigning consensus about America’s role in the world. With virtual unanimity, the establishment rejected him, and he has continued to use this rejection to his great advantage. Trump’s challenge – inconsistent and contradictory as it is – and his "America First" rhetoric are distinctive and very different from what came before. "America First" is not the Pax Americana.

Washington in particular is so uneasy about or hostile to many aspects of global governance. Why? First, global governance and truly effective assertions of national independence are not mutually exclusive, as China’s experience suggests. Rather they go hand in hand, reinforcing each other. Independent, sovereign, yet open to the world – that is the demanding task confronting nations in our increasingly multipolar and economically globalized, yet culturally diverse world. To Washington, this kind of independence is fraught with challenges to U.S. power.

Second, the challenge of global governance is part of an ongoing effort to envision far more effective ways that humanity can cope with its enormous challenges. At the heart of global governance must lie a sense of justice that enables civilizations and nations to determine their own fates in an increasingly multipolar world. Yet Washington has still opposed equitably bringing in the emerging nations so all can participate in the changing of established rules and innovatively developing others.

Third, Beijing's strong support for the United Nations is a notable part of any hope for global governance. China’s call for the UN to return to its original purposes is a reminder that global governance can best be rooted in respect for non-interference and national sovereignty – in the "equality of sovereignty" of all states upon which the UN was originally premised. President Xi’s statement that "the purpose and principles of the UN charter have not been effectively implemented, resulting in ...injustices and rivalries," reflects a longstanding concern in the U.S. among a few individuals, as was evident when U.S. Senator Fulbright argued years ago that the UN never functioned as it should have because the U.S. never wanted it to work.

Fourth, global governance entails an awareness that there is no one way nations should (or can) develop: "no one-size-fits-all development model in the world. The diversity of civilizations and development models should be respected by all," as written in the book Xi Jinping: The Governance of China.

The implications of this view, widely shared in the South, have barely taken root in the U.S. and Europe.

An openness to and acceptance of different paths requires a very different attitude. All too often Washington’s use of the language of human rights and democratization has become a way of judging China and other countries, hindering the understanding of them.

Fifth, there are obvious immediate and significant economic dimensions in discussions of global governance. The ignorance in U.S. debates about the realities of the U.S.-China trade deficit, the palpable uneasiness with China’s developmental path, and a general underlying fear and unease with China’s power are omnipresent. But besides this, there is continuing serious concern about what the 2008 crisis said about the U.S. economy. Clearly a basic global economic shift is occurring of extraordinary import, but it is hard to fully fathom. One aspect of this is that the U.S. has probably lost the capacity to stabilize the global economy on its own through the operations of the Fed, Wall Street, and vast government deficits.

The spirit needed to further global governance requires that Washington, if not now, then later, move towards some basic understandings between the United States and China. And it's important to develop constituencies in the U.S. to support this. Economic crises, climate change, nuclear issues, and pandemics–among other enormous challenges–all require, as Kissinger recently put it, the need to "develop an understanding of how joint Sino-American action could stabilize the world."

In a world in which there is likely to be far too much instability and considerable chaos, cooperation between the U.S. and China is more imperative than ever. The vastness of their differences, of course, is obvious and daunting. But together, China and America embody many of the different forces and processes in the world that must be understood and dealt with.

In different ways, global governance will require both China and the United States to undergo great changes. The difference between them is that China knows this; the U.S. does not. However much the global balance of power has changed, too often Washington acts as though the existing norms need only be tinkered with to continue the global environment which it dominated in both laying down rules and means of operating after 1945. But the era when others had to adapt while the U.S. did not is over.

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

Comments to baishi@bjreview.com

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