China is making waves again, not just in the South China Sea, but in the world of development finance as well. Just as the economy shifts support from external to internal demand, the nation’s worldview is going through an equally dramatic transformation.
The inward focus on domestic stability, one of the hallmarks of the “reforms and opening up” of Deng Xiaoping during the 1980s, is now being augmented by an outward-facing focus on China’s emerging role as a global leader, a key ingredient of the “China Dream” espoused by Party Secretary General Xi Jinping. These two sides of the same coin underscore the daunting challenges China faces in its search for a more sustainable development strategy.
There has been a rich discussion of China’s economic-rebalancing imperatives, shifting the growth engine from manufacturing and exports to services and private consumption. By contrast, the bulk of the debate over China’s new outward-facing geostrategic role has largely been framed in situational terms. That’s certainly true of recent territorial disputes in the East and South China seas, but it’s also the case in China’s “One Belt, One Road” plan for pan-regional integration – stretching from East Asia to the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. Missing in this discussion is a deeper examination of the strategy and principles of institution building and the role they will play in forming the foundations of China’s regional development aspirations.
Topping that discussion list is global governance – in particular, the standards and processes that define the effectiveness of international institutions. China faces a steep learning curve as it attempts to integrate institution building into the global policy architecture. Until now, the nation has largely been a follower, not a leader, in shaping the conventions of global governance. As an active member of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the World Trade Organization, the United Nations and more, China has developed a keen appreciation of the norms of western governance. But now China is engaged in global institution building of its own – the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New (BRICS) Development Bank. And that casts China in a new and important role in the global governance debate.
Picture: Chuck Hagel (120919-D-BW835-412) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons