Global institutions 'need to be reshaped'

Updated: 2012-11-16 08:54

By Andrew Moody and Lu Chang (China Daily)

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 Global institutions 'need to be reshaped'

Zhao Minghao says it is key with the financial crisis to have such a body as G20. Feng Yongbin / China Daily

Global institutions 'need to be reshaped'

Real ambassadors for China over coming decades will be the Chinese people, says scholar

China foreign policy expert Zhao Minghao believes the current world order is in a "plastic" moment.

The research fellow at the China Center for Contemporary World Studies, the Communist Party of China think tank, argues many of today's international institutions emerged in the aftermath of World War II and now need to be reshaped.

"The current global order is very problematic because it cannot effectively solve the global challenges we are facing.

"So the international system is in a 'plastic' moment. We have seen the rise of the Asia-Pacific region and other emerging countries and this has to be reflected in some way (through international institutions)."

Zhao, who despite being only 30 already has an international reputation with articles in The New York Times and other publications, was speaking across a large white table in the tranquil setting of the Center for Modern Art Studies at Peking University where he is a non-resident fellow.

He says that although China, as one of the five permanent members on the United Nations' Security Council, has a prominent position within at least one established institution, new bodies such as the G20 still need to up their game to reflect the world's increasing complexity.

"It was very important with the financial crisis to have such a body as the G20 to respond to the crisis and coordinate macroeconomic policies," he says.

"But to most scholars, including myself, the G20 is also a disappointment because it is a too loosely-organized institution and not very functional because countries make promises they can barely keep. What institutional structure will emerge as a result of this 'plastic' moment, to be frank, I don't know but I think we are making progress toward it."

Zhao, who has an easy charm and speaks perfect English, had just returned from a trip to Europe, taking in Germany, France, Russia and the Netherlands, with Yu Hongjun, vice-minister of the International Department of the CPC Central Committee, who is also president of the think tank Zhao works at.

His delegation met with heads of European think tanks and political leaders, including former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi.

"We talked about the euro crisis and China-Europe relations. I think the (eurozone) situation is getting better now we have seen European leaders wanting to take this problem seriously but there are still many challenges ahead, including domestic reform, especially in the southern European countries," he says.

"Many are expressing concern at (British Prime Minister David) Cameron's proposal to review the relationship between Britain and the EU. The EU needs that triangle of Germany, France and the UK."

Zhao was speaking on the day of the US presidential election when it wasn't clear whether Republican challenger Mitt Romney would emerge the victor but he didn't think the outcome would change much for China.

Romney might have said he would declare China a "currency manipulator" on the first day of his presidency but Zhao insists that would have been of little consequence.

"It is not an era when any president can exert a decisive impact on this bilateral relationship between the US and China. The increasing interdependence between the two makes it different from the past. There is now no alternative to cooperation. Cooperation is not a choice but a necessity."

Zhao does, however, believe the US needs to rebalance its foreign policy and recognize that it should place more emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region in the decades ahead rather than fighting wars in the Middle East.

Zhao, who is from Xuzhou in Jiangsu province, is a product of Peking University, regarded as China's top university, where he did two undergraduate degrees a decade ago in international history and art studies, which remains a major interest.

He went on to study at Lund University in Sweden for a master's degree in human rights law, which was part of a joint program with Peking University, and has also been a graduate student both in the United States at Purdue University in Indiana and at the National Taiwan University.

He became a policy analyst in the International Department of the Central Committee of the CPC in 2009 and since this year has been a research fellow at its think tank.

Zhao recognizes China is extending its role in the world to Africa, where it has an increasingly important commercial and geopolitical relationship, which some in the West have criticized as neo-colonial.

"I think it is unfair to label China's relations with Africa as neo-colonialism. I would like to emphasize one aspect that it is not China that has obtained the most oil from the region but Western countries," he says.

"China actually wants to develop a relationship with African countries on a number of different levels, including economic ties and economic assistance."

Zhao rejects the idea that China, which may replace the United States as the world's largest economy over the next decade, has any designs to dominate the world, as is implied in the title of Martin Jacques' book When China Rules the World.

"I don't think China wants to rule the world. I don't think it has any such intentions or capabilities. I think in the coming decades it is not possible to see any hegemonic powers emerging," he says.

He also says there are risks of China being seen as living in its own "Middle Kingdom" universe.

"We have to be cautious on appearing to have a Sinocentric DNA, a sort of Middle Kingdom legacy. I think if others see us as being Sinocentric that could be harmful in foreign policy terms," he says.

He does see a greater role for Chinese soft power in extending the country's influence in the world.

"Many people here talk about soft power, even in the Party's congress report and the government work report, there is reference to soft power. China has many resources for soft power and they have to find a way to use these resources," he says.

"Chinese traditional culture, philosophy, even Chinese food, which is universal like Coca-Cola or KFC, is a form of soft power."

For Zhao, however, the real ambassadors for China over the coming decades will be the Chinese people themselves, particularly the new generation.

"We can't just sell things like food and movies. We need to show the world what China's society is like, how open-minded the young generation is and how innovative Chinese businessmen can be. The reliable generator of soft power is society and its citizens, not government."

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(China Daily 11/16/2012 page24)