Since coming to power in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has directed a more active foreign policy and advocated for China to play a larger role in global governance. Last year, China chaired the Hangzhou G20 summit and ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change. This year, China held an international cooperation forum on the Belt and Road Initiative and in September will convene the ninth BRICS summit in Xiamen. Amid strong anti-globalization sentiments in Europe and the United States, there is a debate over the nature of Xi’s aims and intentions in his efforts to build new Chinese multilateral mechanisms for global governance, such as the Asian Infrastructural Investment Bank, and to reform existing institutions. 

Carnegie–Tsinghua Center’s Paul Haenle moderated discussions with leading Chinese and international experts about China’s growing role in global governance, the evolution of Chinese foreign policy, and preparing the next generation of leaders for transnational cooperation on some of the world’s most critical issues.

These events were off the record.

Discussion Highlights

  • The Evolution of China’s Role in Global Governance: The role of China in global governance has undergone tremendous shifts and transformations since the end of World War II. Panelists said. One panelist noted that from its founding in 1941 until 1971, China was kept on the outskirts of global governance, and it was not until 1972 that China gradually accepted and identified with institutions of global governance. This shift, the panelist added, was due to China’s changing status from a revolutionary state to a normal one embarking on the process of growth and reconstruction. As such, China needed the stability guaranteed by global institutions and benefited greatly from the latter. Since 2008, the panelist concluded, China has begun shaping global institutions, which has sparked many debates on whether China will be the next global leader, especially in light of a potential withdrawal by the United States
  • The Trump Administration’s Impact: During the campaign, one panelist noted, President Trump expressed strong negative views about the role of global institutions and U.S. involvement in them. Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as the Paris Climate Agreement, startled many Americans both in and out of the government, one panelist added. Another panelist observed that in light of the potential power vacuum these decisions could create, many commentators have speculated over the role that China will play. One panelist argued that given the size of China’s economy, population, and growth rate, it is impossible to envisage that China would withdraw from the global stage or from global governance. The panelists agreed that a U.S. retreat provides China an opportunity to step up its presence.
  • Xi’s Presidency and China’s Ambitions: Since Xi Jinping became president in 2013, China’s presence in global institutions and decision-making processes has deepened. While one group of analysts and scholars feel positively toward this trend, others are concerned that China may overreach its security capacity and that China is not considering potential political risks in countries such as Venezuela where the economic viability of certain projects may be jeopardized, one panelist observed. Another panelist argued that China is not, and should not, try to take on a comprehensive leadership role in the foreseeable future. Instead, the panelist added, one priority for China may be to focus on its domestic politics first while getting more deeply involved in certain global issues where it already has an advantage, most notably in combating climate change, renewable energy, and trade.
  • Differing Views on International Customs: One panelist suggested that China’s rise can potentially shine more light on the interests and priorities of developing countries and help make current institutions more equal. On the other hand, another panelist remarked that China’s behavior on the global stage has diverged from existing international customs, perhaps because of cultural differences. The panelist cited as an example the fact that while China in theory is against training peacekeeping troops about sexual assault awareness because of its non-interference policy, in practice Chinese troops have helped to facilitate training sessions and encouraged them—a noticeable contradiction that established powers may need to be flexible to.
  • Limitations to China’s Involvement Globally: While China’s rise suggests a shift in the existing dynamics of global governance, one panelist warned that it is important to remain aware of the limitations of China’s influence. Notably, China’s aims so far seem to be solely economic in nature, and China has shown a tendency to try and stay out of political entanglements. Another panelist suggested that this situation could lead to an effective distribution of responsibilities between China and the United States, one in which the United States remains a provider of regional security—a role that China does not have the capacity and willingness to take up—and China focuses on emerging non-traditional issues.



Welcome remarks by Paul Haenle and Lin Chengtao


Panel Discussion: China's Evolving Role in Global Governance

Moderator: Paul Haenle

Panelists: Jia Qingguo, Benedict Bingham, Xie Tao, Julia Broussard


Tea Break


Global Governance and Next Generation of Young Leaders: Presentation by students from the SAIS-Tsinghua master's degree program


Fireside Chat: Cultivating Young Leaders for Global Governance

Moderator: Paul Haenle

Speakers: David Aikman, Tang Xiaoyang

Jia Qingguo

Jia Qingguo is a professor and dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University.

Benedict Bingham

Benedict Bingham is country director for China at the Asian Development Bank.

Xie Tao

Xie Tao is a professor at the School of English and International Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Julia Broussard

Julia Broussard is country programme manager at UN Women China.

Tang Xiaoyang

Tang Xiaoyang is a resident scholar and the deputy director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy.

David Aikman

David Aikman is chief representative officer and managing director of the World Economic Forum’s China office.

Paul Haenle

Paul Haenle is the director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy based at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Lin Chengtao

Lin Chengtao is director of the Tsinghua University Center for Student Career Development.