Since 2005, when then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick urged China to take up the role of a “responsible stakeholder ” in international affairs, this catchphrase has come to dominate discussion of China’s global role. The Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy hosted a discussion of China’s involvement at the Copenhagen Summit, in the G-2, and in regional politics with experts from Tsinghua University’s Department of International Relations and a group of young leaders  from the Mercator Fellowship on International Affairs. The event was moderated by Carnegie’s Paul Haenle.

China and the Copenhagen Summit

  • China’s Identity Dilemma: Assistant Professor Sun Xuefeng of Tsinghua University’s Department of International Relations suggested that the Copenhagen Summit highlighted what he described as China’s “identity dilemma.” China still struggles to balance its obligations as a “responsible stakeholder” with its identification with the developing world. In Copenhagen, the developing nations in the G-77 put increased pressure on China to provide them with a stronger platform for voicing their interests. Combined with entreaties from developed nations, China is forced into the middle, leaving both sides dissatisfied with its approach.
  • China’s Bottom-up Approach to Climate Change: Despite criticisms to the contrary, China has undertaken a vibrant “bottom-up” approach to climate change, with strong domestic investments in green technology, acknowledged one Mercator delegate. In terms of building its green infrastructure, China has engaged in leadership by example at home, if not always abroad.
  • China’s Domestic Concerns and International Role: China is a “typical” developing country, Sun explained, facing many of the problems that other countries face during their emergence, such as income gaps between rural and coastal regions and social instability. Given its domestic pressures, he contended that China has been reluctant to shoulder too much responsibility in the international realm that might adversely impact its development.

China and the G-2

  • Marginalization of Europe: Shi Zhiqin, a professor in Tsinghua University’s Department of International Relations, provided a brief overview of his work on E.U. power politics and European views of China. This led to a discussion of the concept of the G-2, a concept that puts the United States and China at the forefront of global decision-making . One Mercator delegate voiced concerns that China and the United States are leaving the European Union out of the equation.
  • China-E.U. Tensions under G-2: The development of the G-2 as a global order has exacerbated tensions between China and the European Union, suggested Wu Qiang, a lecturer within Tsinghua’s Department of Political Science. To reduce this trend, he contended that the E.U. should expand its efforts to become a more active participant in triangular relations among China, the United States, and the European Union.
  • G-2 Concept as a Myth: Haenle expressed skepticism towards the entire concept of a G-2. He explained that while China factors into a myriad of U.S. policies, this does not indicate that the United States does not value the role of other powers. Excessive focus on the concept of a G-2 leads to greater restrictions in what can be achieved through a multilateral framework.
  • Extended G-2 Includes China’s Neighbors: Sun argued that a number of China’s neighbors could be considered as extended members of the G-2, as they are dependent upon or are allies of the United States. The decline and loss of great power status among countries like Japan have made them even more beholden to the United States, according to Sun. Faced with the rise of China, this dependence has only grown.

China and its Neighbors

  • North Korea:  China’s stance vis-à-vis North Korea has undergone a considerable shift since the start of the Six-Party Talks, stated Haenle.  In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, China may have viewed its role as mediator between two provocative actors, the United States and North Korea. However, several years of questionable behavior on the part of North Korea, including two nuclear tests conducted over Chinese objections, has led many in China to conclude that North Korea has become the real liability.
  • China as a Developing Power: China has suffered a great deal in the past from external interference and has a degree of empathy for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and other developing countries, commented Shi Zhiqin. This is one reason why China has been historically reluctant to follow the U.S. lead in pressuring DPRK, Iran, and other countries, whether through sanctions or other means.
  • India: One of the Mercator delegates suggested that China does not always identify with the perceptions of its neighbors in the way described by Shi Zhiqin. One example of such a disagreement is the “String of Pearls” ports in the Indian Ocean. Indian experts emphasize the military function of these Chinese ports and relations bordering the Indian Ocean, while Chinese experts point to their economic utility.
  • Identity Imbalance: Carnegie’s Lora Saalman argued that in addition to the existing power asymmetry between China and India, her research has revealed a number of other contributing factors to Chinese-Indian tensions, including what she described as an “identity imbalance.” While the majority of Chinese experts studying India have academic affiliations, a significant number of Indian experts studying China have a military background. As a result, Chinese experts are more inclined to focus on economic cooperation, while Indian experts gravitate towards interpreting China’s moves from a military or strategic vantage point.