The world’s greatest global governance challenge is to establish shared responsibility for the most intractable problems of our post-unipolar world.
Much of the world chafed against the United States’ enormous relative power in the first decade after the end of the Cold War.
Many enjoyed its grievous overreach in the following decade. But now, more capitals need to assume the role of ‘responsible stakeholders’ that was urged on Beijing by Robert Zoellick in 2005.
China serves as the most pressing example of a country that must embrace its growing power in the international arena.
In the UN Security Council chamber and other forums, China is increasingly willing to take the lead and behave more like a great power. On the other hand, it remains disengaged from issues that do not trespass directly on its core interests.
It is largely preoccupied with protecting its interests and those of its allies rather than projecting its influence, or doing much to strengthen the international system.
The Iran nuclear issue is only one example. Beijing’s interests on Iran are not, of course, identical to Western interests. Yet as a key player in the international political and economic system, it is giving insufficient weight to the great risk posed by an Iranian nuclear bomb.
China has changed the way it does business, but it continues to define its national interests narrowly and pursue them with an uncompromising resolve.
On the other hand, the West needs to be careful what it wishes for. Western countries want rising powers to be more responsible and active, but they don’t necessarily like it when such powers are more assertive.
US officials often say that China should ‘step up,’ for instance. But China’s vision of ‘stepping up’ will not be the same as the United States’.
How would the West feel about rising powers wading into the Middle East peace process, for example, or participating in ‘coalitions of the willing’ that intervened in other countries?
As China’s wealth and power grow, so will its interests expand. A middle-power foreign policy is inadequate for a great power. If China is to help run the international system, then it has a stake in strengthening it.
Fullilove is the Executive Director, Lowy Institute for International Policy