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China says ‘no thanks’ to G-2

Posted by smeddum on May 28, 2009

May 29, 2009

China says ‘no thanks’ to G-2
By Jian Junbo

SHANGHAI – At the Sino-European Union (EU) summit in Prague last week, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao rejected the concept of a Group of Two (G-2) comprising China and the United States, saying “it is totally ungrounded and wrong to talk about the dominance of two countries in international affairs”.

It was the first time a Chinese leader has publicly commented on the notion of a G-2, though Wen and a number of Chinese officials and think-tanks had cast doubt on the practicability of past notions of a “Chimerica”.

The idea of a G-2 was first forwarded by US academic circles in 2006, but it was raised again by Zbigniew Brzezinski, an influential specialist in international relations and national security advisor to former US president Jimmy Carter, in Beijing in January

as the two countries celebrated the 30th anniversary of establishing formal diplomatic ties.

Similar to “Chimerica”, which would put the US and China at the forefront of international affairs, the idea of a G-2 grouping has attracted wide attention, especially as Brzezinski was an advisor to President Barack Obama during the presidential elections.

In the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in London last month, the G-2 was floated again in the Western media and academic circles. Then after several weeks, on the eve of this month’s just-concluded 11th Sino-EU summit, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband predicted that over the next few decades, China would become one of the two “powers that count”.

He said, “China was becoming an indispensable power in the 21st century in the way [former US secretary of state] Madeleine Albright said the US was an indispensable power at the end of the last century”. He also argued it would be up to Europe if it wanted to change the G-2 into a G-3.

While widely discussed, the concept of a G-2 has not been clearly defined. According to Brzezinski, G-2 described the current reality, yet for Miliband, G-2 was a possibility in the foreseeable future.

The exact structure of the proposed G-2 is also unclear. A G-2 would seem to imply that the group would have the strength, capability and will to set the agenda for international affairs. It could be argued, as only two countries are involved, that this would resemble world hegemony.

China has neither the capacity nor the desire to become a member of a G-2. It is true that China has the world’s third-largest economy, is the biggest creditor to the world’s sole superpower – the United States, and is one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security council, and China indeed seems a big power.

However, with its huge population and wealth and development gaps, China can also be seen as a poor, underdeveloped country – its per capita GDP was ranked 104th globally last year by the World Bank. China is still a developing country, and by comparison the US is far more advanced in almost all economic sectors and in soft power and military strength. At this stage and in the foreseeable future, there is no match between China and the US in terms of overall strength.

The responsibility of a G-2 member to jointly shape the world’s economy and international affairs is too far beyond China’s ability and ambitions. It is unwise for a country, like a person, to commit itself to something beyond its ability. That is why when Western commentators discuss the G-2, China is inevitably suspicious of their intentions. Many Chinese scholars fear that under a G-2, China could be enmeshed into a structure built by the US, and required to make more contributions to world economic and social development than it can afford.

A G-2 would also imply a need for China to overhaul domestic governance. As a member of G-2, China would need to be a leader in both foreign and internal affairs, and this has raised fears of Western intervention in China’s domestic affairs.

The grouping also goes against core principles of China’s foreign policy such as multilateralism and the desire for a multipolar world order. For example, Wen stressed on at the Prague Sino-EU summit the importance of China’s relations with the EU.

Another major reason for China to reject a G-2 is that it is would not be legitimate international structure. If G-2 was built with the help of the US, then the question is who can empower or authorize the US to do that? We can imagine the G-2 would be refused by most countries if taken to a global referendum. No other country, except for US, wants to see the emergence of “pax-Chimericana”. The rejection of a G-2 does not mean China will shirk its global responsibilities. China has welcomed the increased role it and other big developing countries enjoy through the G-20 framework.

Even if a G-2 became a reality, it could never replace the power, function and authority of the UN as the sole international organization recognized by the majority of states in the world. Although there are many problems that the UN faces in regard to its effectiveness and accountability, it is still the best platform for the international community to peacefully deal with issues of common interest.

As the US became the target of anti-Americanism in the world after former president George W Bush started the Iraq war in 2003, G-2 one day could also be the target of anti-hegemony or anti-imperialist movements, affecting China’s global image.

Another reason is related to the rise of civil society as an increasingly important factor in international governance, especially since the end of the Cold War. Without the participation of transnational non-government organizations (NGOs), many international issues can not be resolved successfully. Yet if G-2 was accountable for international governance it could be a threat to global civil society because as a hegemonic structure it could limit the function and ability of other actors including other countries, the UN and lots of NGOs.

It is self evident that a G-2 would not be good for other countries and powers, especially rising industrial stars like India, Russia and Brazil. All of these nations have the ambition to compete for influence and power with both US and China in the international arena. The idea of a G-2 is based neither upon the realities of international politics nor on the willingness of China and the rest of the world.

Dr Jian Junbo is assistant professor of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai, China.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication andrepublishing.)

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