Over the past few decades, rapid economic growth and expanding global interests have driven China to take on a greater leadership role in the world, as the country seeks to shape the international order to better reflect its own interests. Meanwhile, the international community is encouraging China to take further steps to contribute more to public goods and make progress in becoming a ‘responsible stakeholder.’ 

Former Australian prime minister and ISIF co-chair Kevin Rudd moderated a panel of former world leaders on how China’s rise is affecting global governance. They made suggestions about how China and the international community can work in concert to promote peaceful outcomes to existing disputes and conflicts and ensure that the global order reflects the complex realities of twenty-first century policy challenges.

Discussion Highlights

  • World Reacts to China’s Rise: Panelists asserted that how China rises and how the world responds to this global shift will be a core dynamic of twenty-first century international politics. They suggested that the relationship between China and the United States reflects the Thucydides trap, a historical pattern where conflict becomes more likely when an established power perceives a rising power to be contesting its leading global position.  Many experts do indeed seem to view China’s rise as an impetus that will prompt inevitable changes to—or even challenge—the post-World War II global order. To minimize the risk of conflict, participants suggested that the international community must recognize China’s growing capabilities and ambitions as a natural phenomenon, which must be reconciled with and integrated more deeply into the current world order.
  • Addressing Maritime Territorial Disputes: Panelists acknowledged that resolving maritime disputes in the South China Sea between China and countries like the Philippines and Vietnam will likely require long-term efforts and deft diplomacy. Although China is far larger and more powerful than its interlocutors, panelists recommended that China act with restraint and recognize that the international community has an interest in maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Despite their different positions, it would be constructive for China and other countries to agree on a code of conduct to guide their actions in the region, participants conclude.
  • Security Through Economic Integration: Panelists discussed what principles from European integration can be applied to security tensions between major Asian powers such as China and Japan or India and Pakistan. Some of them pointed out that—like the modern-day Asia-Pacific—Europe was plagued by bitter, centuries-long divisions even in the immediate aftermath of World War II. They asserted that the regional architecture of the European Union has enhanced the security of over 100 million Europeans in 28 countries. Some panelists suggested that Asian countries should find more ways to advance economic interdependence as a way to improve security as a supplement to military deterrence. 
  • Countries Large and Small: Panelists considered ways in which large countries like China and the United States can interact with small countries in constructive ways. They suggested that large countries must learn to better exercise restraint and build shared interests with smaller neighbors. In today’s globalized world, all countries—regardless of size—must be taken into account when making foreign policy decisions, one panelist pointed out. Participants concluded that trust among countries—particularly between large and small ones—is an ongoing process that requires contributions from both sides. 
  • Blurred Policy Lines: Panelists observed that policymaking in a globalized world has become increasingly complex. They noted that the number of stakeholders seeking a voice in foreign policy making has multiplied to include not only diplomats, multilateral actors, and national government officials, but also nongovernmental organizations, the news media, and local government officials. Participants also pointed out that public policymaking has taken on a more international dimension, as the energy, environmental, monetary, and immigration policies of individual countries affect conditions in neighboring countries more and more. 

Kevin Rudd

Kevin Rudd served as Australian prime minister and foreign minister. He is currently president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a distinguished fellow at the Paulson Institute. He is a co-chair for the Imperial Springs International Forum.

Carl Bildt

Carl Bildt was Sweden’s foreign minister from 2006 to 2014, and was prime minister from 1991 to 1994, when he negotiated Sweden’s European Union (EU) accession. He also served as a UN special envoy to the Balkans in the late 1990s. He is a co-chair for the Imperial Springs International Forum.

Felipe Calderón

Felipe Calderón was the president of Mexico from 2006 to 2012. Prior to that, he served as secretary of energy, a federal congress member, and secretary-general of Mexico’s National Action Party (PAN). He is a co-chair for the Imperial Springs International Forum.

George Papandreou

George Papandreou was the prime minister of Greece from October 2009 to November 2011 and previously served as the country’s foreign minister from 1999 to 2004. He is currently president of the Socialist International and a member of the Hellenic Parliament. He is a co-chair for the Imperial Springs International Forum.

Romano Prodi

Romano Prodi was the prime minister of Italy from 1996 to 1998 and the president of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004. He previously served as Italy’s minister of industry from 1978 to 1979. He is a co-chair for the Imperial Springs International Forum.

Marty Natalegawa

Marty Natalegawa served as the foreign minister of Indonesia from October 2009 to October 2014. Prior to that, he was Indonesia’s permanent representative to the UN for two years. He is an adviser for the Imperial Springs International Forum.

Terje Rød-Larsen

Terje Rød-Larsen is the president of the International Peace Institute, a think tank affiliated with UN headquarters in New York. Prior to that, he served as UN under-secretary general in various positions involved with negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He is an adviser for the Imperial Springs International Forum.