Since 2005, when then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick urged China to become a “responsible stakeholder,” policymakers have tried to determine what criteria define responsible stake-holding and whether China is meeting them. Bates Gill, Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS, and Dan Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute debated definitions of the responsible stakeholder concept and offered their assessments of China’s role in the international system in the seventh of Carnegie’s China debate series. Michael Swaine moderated the debate.

Defining “responsible stakeholder”
Blumenthal argued that being a responsible stakeholder entails a broader interpretation of national interest, to encompass the health of the international system, and that changing China’s definition of its national interests will require domestic political change. Reforms to date have led China to accept the international system shaped by the United States after World War II; further domestic liberalization is necessary if China is to contribute to the long-term maintenance of the system.

Gill countered that the responsible stakeholder concept is not a scorecard by which the United States measures China’s progress; rather, defining the concept should be a process of mutual accommodation and dialogue on overlapping interests.

Is China a responsible stakeholder?
China is becoming a responsible stakeholder, according to Gill, demonstrating increasing willingness to contribute to international public goods, including economic stability and growth, nonproliferation, and regional security. China lags behind on human rights, Gill noted, but overall trends indicate that Beijing knows it has a stake in the current international order and takes its responsibilities seriously.

China’s role in the six-party talks
Blumenthal argued that China’s actions on North Korea will be a key indicator of progress. As the only country with the leverage to end the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program, China must step up the pressure on North Korea – with increased trade restrictions, for example –  if it truly wants to counter the threat of proliferation. So far, Blumenthal said, China has chosen to serve its own interests, maintaining trade ties with Pyongyang, rather than those of the international community.

When the United States invests the time to forge a multilateral consensus, Gill countered, and convinces Beijing that an issue is of interest to the international community, not just the U.S., China is much more likely to act as a responsible stakeholder. Gill cited the case of Sudan, noting that after coordinated international pressure China’s traditionally non-interventionist stance shifted.