China is step­ping up to re­spon­si­bil­i­ties

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

For many years, as China grew stronger and more in­flu­en­tial, the United States has been pres­sur­ing it to as­sume more global re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Ten years ago, a se­nior Amer­i­can of­fi­cial, Robert Zoel­lick, urged China to be­come a “re­spon­si­ble stake­holder,” a term that per­plexed the Chi­nese.

“China is big, it is grow­ing,” the then deputy sec­re­tary of state said. “How will China use its in­flu­ence? We need to urge China to be­come a re­spon­si­ble stake­holder” in the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem.

China’s re­sponse, typ­i­cally, was that both it and the United States have to be re­spon­si­ble stake­hold­ers. To Bei­jing, the im­por­tant thing was to be on the same level as Wash­ing­ton.

China con­tin­ued to as­ton­ish the world with its growth and bounds and, in 2008, when the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis struck, Europe looked


to China for help. Hu Jin­tao, the Chi­nese leader at the time, said that China’s pri­or­ity was to run its own af­fairs well and China’s growth in it­self was a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to global sta­bil­ity and eco­nomic growth.

Dur­ing its years of rapid as­cen­dancy, Chi­nese of­fi­cials and aca­demics took the view that talk of China as­sum­ing more re­spon­si­bil­ity was a trap into which they should not fall be­cause it would sim­ply slow their growth.

Lit­tle won­der, then, that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama com­mented last year in a New York Times in­ter­view that China had been “a free rider for 30 years” and that the United States is still the only su­per­power to which oth­ers look to for help when needed.

In­deed, even when he vis­ited Bei­jing lasts Novem­ber, Obama said at a joint press con­fer­ence with the Chi­nese leader, Xi Jin­ping, that the United States wel­comes the con­tin­u­ing rise of a China that is peace­ful, pros­per­ous and sta­ble and, sig­nif­i­cantly, one that “plays a re­spon­si­ble role in the world.”

Fi­nally, it seems, the United States has got­ten its wish. China un­der Pres­i­dent Xi has ac­cepted the chal­lenge of be­ing a re­spon­si­ble power, but per­haps not in ex­actly the way the United States meant when it urged this on China.

In the last 12 months, Xi has made a se­ries of state­ments in­di­cat­ing China’s will­ing­ness to as­sume greater re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. But the Chi­nese leader, in what ap­pears to be a crit­i­cism of the United States, has also in­di­cated that big coun­tries should not use the pre­text of as­sum­ing global re­spon­si­bil­ity to ar­ro­gate even greater power to them­selves.

Last May, Xi un­veiled his thoughts on a “new Asian se­cu­rity con­cept” when he ad­dressed a pre­vi­ously low­pro­file group­ing called the Con­fer­ence on In­ter­ac­tion and Con­fi­dence Build­ing Mea­sures in Asia, also known as Cica.

“Ev­ery coun­try has the equal right to par­tic­i­pate in the se­cu­rity af­fairs of the re­gion as well as the re­spon­si­bil­ity of up­hold­ing re­gional se­cu­rity,” he said. “No coun­try should at­tempt to dom­i­nate re­gional se­cu­rity af­fairs or in­fringe upon the le­git­i­mate rights and in­ter­ests of other coun­tries.”

“It is for the peo­ple of Asia to run the af­fairs of Asia,” he added sig­nif­i­cantly, “solve the prob­lems of Asia and up­hold the se­cu­rity of Asia.” This would seem to leave lit­tle room for the United States in Asia, de­spite its al­liances with Asian coun­tries such as Ja­pan and South Korea.

In July, Xi spelled out China’s will­ing­ness to as­sume greater re­spon­si­bil­ity when he said in an in­ter­view: “As China de­vel­ops, it will bet­ter play its role as a ma­jor re­spon­si­ble coun­try. We will be more ac­tive in work­ing to up­hold world peace, ad­vo­cate com­mon, com­pre­hen­sive, co­op­er­a­tive and sus­tain­able se­cu­rity and co­op­er­a­tive and com­pre­hen­sive se­cu­rity.”

In the two years of Xi’s pres­i­dency, China has rolled out ma­jor projects it plans to im­ple­ment, in­clud­ing the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank which, de­spite Wash­ing­ton’s op­po­si­tion, has won the en­dorse- ment of most Amer­i­can al­lies ex­cept Ja­pan, re­flect­ing China’s new-found in­ter­na­tional clout.

This month, as the cri­sis in Ye­men con­tin­ues, China has for the first time helped to evac­u­ate 225 for­eign na­tion­als along with hun­dreds of Chi­nese cit­i­zens from Aden, the first time it has evac­u­ated for­eign­ers from a danger­ous hotspot.

So Bei­jing is fi­nally step­ping up and as­sum­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity but it is at the same time chal­leng­ing Wash­ing­ton for re­gional and global lead­er­ship. One won­ders to what ex­tent the United States is happy about get­ting what it had been urg­ing for a decade.

The U.S. Congress fi­nally seems to be wak­ing up to China’s chal­lenge. Con­gres­sional lead­ers have agreed to give Obama wide power to fin­ish ne­go­ti­a­tions on a trade agree­ment called the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship with 11 other coun­tries, which the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent has said will en­able the United States, not China, to “write the rules for the world’s fastest-grow­ing re­gion.”

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