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November 10, 2009
China steps into a new role on the world stage

Nina Hachigian with Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg. Photo: Flickr user CenterforAmericanProgress

I haven’t much posted recently because I just finished a report about China’s role in the international system.

China’s New Engagement in the International System looks at China’s engagement on four transnational threats that the Obama Administration has prioritized — global warming, the global economic crisis, nuclear proliferation and global pandemics like the swine flu.

The bottom line conclusions I reached were these: China’s transformation on the international stage has been profound, moving from a hostile, aggressive “rogue” state outside the international system to a full and active participant in global institutions.

China is deeply engaged in international institutions and initiatives. Chinese officials show up to all meetings, they are serious, and they often contribute to policy discussions in a constructive manner. This is no minor milestone.

Yet the quality of China’s engagement today on these four transnational issues leaves something to be desired from an American point of view. While China does play by the international rules to a large extent in these four areas, China does not reliably use its clout or leverage either to solve global problems or strengthen the system.

Rarely does it show proactive leadership on global problems, though the cases of North Korea’s nuclear program and pandemic flu are hopeful exceptions.

We launched the report this week at an event at the Center for American Progress with Deputy Secretary of State (and my former boss) Jim Steinberg. I asked him all questions about the framework for US-China relations and the upcoming trip. You can watch it here.

I’ll write more on this topic and the President’s upcoming trip to Asia in posts to come.

October 12, 2009
Obama is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t

I was as surprised as anyone to hear that President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His detractors wasted no time pointing out that he doesn’t deserve it — just as the week before, some were gleeful that the U.S. was NOT awarded the Olympics. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

As he has said himself, his accomplishments aren’t comparable to past recipients (so far). But President Obama’s foreign policy vision is worthy of international accolade. He is implementing a strategy that recognizes that nation states have to hang together in this world or suffer apart.

Countries that want peace and prosperity — which is most of them — need to work together to have any hope against forces of chaos like global warming, worldwide economic crises, omni-present swine flu or terror attacks.

And they need to strengthen the international system that helps fight them, too. That is a far cry from thinking that rising powers as a threat to us as many in Washington tend to do.

Last year, in conjunction with the book I co-authored on this topic (see sidebar), an artist made this video:

It’s often described as “edgy” by my foreign policy friends–to try to illustrate this point and we had the following discussion about it.

I’d like to hear what you think.

– Nina Hachigian

October 1, 2009
What in the world is China?

Students sing in honor of the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

What better way to celebrate a birthday than to take to the world stage? Last week, Hu Jintao became the first Chinese president to address the U.N. General Assembly, a privilege seemingly reserved for the president of the United States and colorful despots such as Moammar Kadafi. The People’s Republic, which turns 60 on Thursday, has evolved from tin-pot polity to powerhouse. And among the spectacular transformations China has undergone, its dramatic turnabout in how it relates to the world stands out.

China began as a pariah state, rejected by and immensely hostile toward the world community. Marxism shaped its view of international organizations as the “instruments of capitalist imperialism and hegemonism,” and for decades China had little to do with them.

Fast-forward to last week, when Hu proclaimed the “important role” of the United Nations and entreated the international community to “continue our joint endeavor to build a harmonious world of enduring peace and common prosperity.”

Today, China has joined every major international organization to which it is eligible and signed more than 300 international treaties. It has even had a hand in creating new regional groups. “They are acting like the new us,” a U.S. official told me. They prepare, send huge delegations to summits and carefully cultivate diplomatic capital.

This is not just lip service. In many cases, China’s engagement with global entities such as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund has prompted Beijing to bring its conduct in line with international standards.

The next step, though, is a critical one. Now that China is fully engaged and has earned considerable clout, what will it do? Will it increasingly abide by and support international standards? Could it eventually become a genuine leader for the global common good, with the risk and sacrifice that often entails?

Beijing sends mixed signals. On the hopeful side, we see China’s leadership on the North Korean nuclear issue — hosting many rounds of the six-party talks, producing draft agreements and now, for the first time, enforcing U.N. sanctions against its nominal ally. And although it once objected to the whole idea, China now has 2,000 of its citizens in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

China has also done an about-face since the 2003 SARS debacle, when it covered up the outbreak and deceived international health officials. This time, it is sponsoring international conferences on swine flu and vaccinating millions of its people. In the economic realm, the stimulus package Beijing enacted in response to the global meltdown was huge — exactly the scale that the IMF and the U.S. recommended.

Of course, every nation acts in its own interests, but in all these cases, China also promotes the broader safety and prosperity of the world.

However, other areas show the zero-sum side of China’s international engagement. On climate change, China is one of the big bumps in the road on the way to a binding treaty at the Copenhagen summit in December. Thankfully — as it is now the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide — Beijing is going gangbusters on efficiency standards and renewables. But unless those domestic ambitions can be turned into specific and verifiable international commitments, there will be no deal, and the world will continue toward climate calamity.

There are other concerns. Chinese companies are signing billion-dollar energy contracts with Iran just as the international community is trying to ratchet up the pressure on the Tehran regime over its nuclear ambitions. And Beijing is still holding out against tougher sanctions as the U.S., France, Britain and even Russia push forward.

Also, China’s human rights conduct does not live up to international standards, and, often to ensure access to natural resources, it supports and shelters dictators who abuse their people. Its concerted efforts at industrial espionage undermine international law, and its no-strings-attached development assistance, while doing some good, is setting back anti-corruption efforts.

The U.S. does not have the power to make China a global do-gooder, but it has some cards to play. Administration officials have begun to frame the bilateral relationship in terms of global challenges, so that the health of the U.S.-China relationship, which Beijing cares deeply about, is tied to progress on major threats such as climate change and Iran. The U.S. is also reengaging with multilateral organizations, which increases Washington’s leverage when dealing with Beijing.

One of the most effective ways for Washington to shape China’s evolution is to remove Beijing’s excuses for inaction by leading ourselves — passing strong climate change legislation, ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, making good on President Obama’s disarmament pledges and increasing efforts to alleviate extreme poverty around the globe.

U.S. exceptionalism has often provided political cover to China. In his own speech to the United Nations last week, Obama acknowledged that the United States hasn’t always been a fully responsible superpower, and he pledged to do better.

The Chinese say it is unfair to expect a still-developing China to shoulder so much international responsibility. But the forces of globalization that made China the major power it is today are the same ones breeding threats that only nations acting in concert can address.

China has come a very long way in two generations. Let’s hope that the next 60 years see China’s growth into a model citizen and stalwart supporter of the international system — for its own sake, and for ours.

– Nina Hachigian

Photo courtesy of Flickr user kevsunblush under a Creative Commons license.

September 28, 2009
The G-20: A new architecture for a new day?

G-20 leaders in Pittsburgh. Photo: Argentine Government

A surprising amount happened last week on the diplomatic scene, from the Iran confrontation to President Hu’s historic first speech ever by a Chinese president to the U.N. General Assembly where he announced some pretty dramatic steps on climate to President Obama using his leadership at the U.N. to pass the non-proliferation resolution to the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh.

Policies within the established architectures were changing, but finally the architectures were changing too. First, the G-20 resolved to replace the G-8 as the go-to group for global economic leadership. As I’ve written frequently, this is the right move. But a lot of questions remain including — who are the 20? Are they going to be the current 29 or so leaders, or will they find a way to shrink the group to a more manageable size? More importantly, will they find a mechanism to “refresh” the membership every so often? The top economies won’t always be comprised of this group. It would ensure the group’s future relevance if they brought in new blood and excused old blood every now and again, as I’ve suggested in the past.

The IMF is also — finally — going to better reflect the economic realities of today, because the G-20 agreed to shift 5 percent of voting shares from the developed to the developing countries. This might not sound like a lot, but in the world of IMF governance, it’s major. It shows Europe’s willingness to give up some of its over-representation.

Finally, the G-20 undertook two interesting experiments in accountability. First, it reviewed its progress to date. The result sounded like a puff piece, but the exercise, if taken seriously and done regularly, is one method to hold this group to account for its performance. Finally, it asked member countries to submit their macroeconomic policies to a “peer review” process. This is an interesting way to try to put teeth in a system with no built in enforcement mechanism. Peer pressure can be a powerful force, even among major powers.

– Nina Hachigian

September 24, 2009
Deciding who decides at the G-20 summit

Nina Hachigian is joined by Bruce Jones, the director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University and senior fellow and director of the Managing Global Insecurity Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

The agenda for this week’s meeting of the Group of 20 developed and developing nations is full, but when the leaders of all these countries sit down in Pittsburgh to discuss banking regulation, energy and poverty alleviation, one question will not be on the table — the question of who should be at the table in the first place.

Deciding which nations will sit at the global decision-making table is more politically charged than whether to tie bankers’ bonuses to the risks they take or whether countries can and should stop subsidizing fossil fuel consumption. Resolving which nations will try to forge consensus on these and other critical questions, however, is key to determining whether any resolving actually gets done.

The current G-20 — which in fact consists of roughly 27 countries — came to life when the Bush administration was in a big hurry to address the global financial crisis back in 2008. The previous global leadership forum, the Group of 8 — the United States, Japan, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Russia — lacked the participation of newly emerging economic powers such as China and Brazil as well as several other major economies such as Saudi Arabia and South Korea. A global crisis requires global participation, and the G-8 was clearly the wrong tool for the job.

Since the G-20 already existed at the ministers’ level, President George W. Bush moved it up a notch to create a new forum. Pittsburgh marks the fourth time this group of leaders has met, but it still operates on an ad hoc basis and the confusion of who attends is undermining confidence in its ability to deliver. The challenge now is to forge a G- grouping that actually works.

The first problem with the current G-20 is that its membership is somewhat arbitrary. It is loosely based on economic weight, but Argentina, whose economy is not in the top 20, attends meetings and Poland, which is in the top 20, does not. If the G-20 were comprised of the actual top economies, then at least extremely time-consuming and distracting squabbles over who is in or out would be minimized. Using objective criteria for membership also has the aura of fairness in determining eligibility.

To increase legitimacy by increasing representation, the Center for American Progress proposed a variation of this idea earlier this year. The plan would take the top two economies from each of five regions of the world and then fill in with the next 10 largest economies. The group could also evolve over time, with membership recalculated every five years to reflect the actual economic and power realities of the moment. That “refresh” makeover would ensure that the group doesn’t quickly become a relic.

Another approach would be to base membership not just on economic weight but also population. One version proposed by the Brookings Institution’s Managing Global Insecurity project, would be to combine economic weight and population in determining the rankings of the top 16 countries.

Both the CAP and Brookings’ approaches allow for the inclusion of important populous countries such as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Nigeria in addition to the big emerging economic powers that are now in the G-20. This has the potential to make the group’s decisions resonate with a far wider set of countries. That would help ensure greater global compliance with any decisions the leaders of these countries agreed to take.

The difficulty with all of these proposals, as President Barack Obama points out, is how do you explain to the 17th or 21st country that it is not welcome? That’s tough politics.

Hence a third answer is popular these days, which is to have a core of powerful countries act as the new G-grouping and then vary the membership depending on the issue. But if the politics of who’s at the G-20 table are thorny, why repeat them every single time a new meeting is convened? Surely better to take a tough decision once, rather than endlessly renegotiate it.

The choice of a global leaders-level summit grouping involves tradeoffs of important attributes. The new grouping should be broadly representative to maximize its legitimacy, but small enough to be effective. It should tie membership to responsibility, but also serve to shape the choices of less responsible, yet powerful, actors. Ideally it would be inclusive but small, representative but value-based, and legitimate, but effective.

That may simply be an unattainable goal in today’s world. Thus the Obama administration and other governments at the G-20 summit next week need to decide what attributes are most important and then brave the consequences. We believe that the most important balance to strike is between efficiency and buy-in — largely confining the club to those with actual power in the world economy and global security but bringing in a few countries that represent broader regions or groupings of states.

Right now, with the G-8 still active and the G-20 also meeting, the window is open for the Obama administration to develop a consensus around a new grouping of global leaders, or perhaps more than one, that could play a key role in global cooperation for decades to come. If they don’t seize this moment, however, important issues could drift, setting back progress.

If this issue isn’t tackled head on and some degree of stability brought into global decision making, both resentment and uncertainty will rise. That puts at risk the broader strategy that President Obama has outlined of forging broad cooperation on critical issues, such as non-proliferation or the upcoming talks in Copenhagen to forge a global carbon-emissions accord. These are problems that can’t wait for solutions.

– Nina Hachigian and Bruce Jones

See the original post.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user iwasaround under a Creative Commons license.

September 21, 2009
Missile defense that will defend

In digesting the accounts of the Obama administration shift on missile defense, I had a surreal moment when I realized that I was experiencing surprise in reading that the system the U.S. plans now to deploy will actually defend against missiles — the kind of missiles Iran has — and will be ready to do so in a couple of years.

Missile defense during the Bush administration was so contingent as to be faith-based — if Iran builds long-range missiles, if they choose to commit a suicidal act by launching one, if the system can be made to work…if, if, if.  Of course, we need to plan for long-term and unknown threats, but not at the expense of protecting against more immediate and known threats. This shift also opens up more potential for cooperation with Russia on Iranian nuclear ambitions, by removing an irritant in the relationship but, more importantly, by showing just how serious we are about the threat from Tehran. Another victory for rational defense policies.  Go Gates.

– Nina Hachigian

September 18, 2009
China and India? No — just China

Pollution in northern China. Photo courtesy of Flickr user AdamCohn underCreative Commons license.

It’s good to be back. Some recent bits of news on China and climate caught my attention. First was Todd Stern’s admonition in Tuesday’s FT that China and India risk protectionist measures in the U.S. Congress if they do not agree to bind themselves in Copenhagen to curb carbon emissions.

Politically, this is certainly true. But it made me wonder whether tactically we should decouple China and India on climate in the run up to the negotiations in Copenhagen. Todd Stern has forgotten more about these issues than I will ever know, and, of course, in the long run we absolutely need all the major economies on board. Emissions from India and Russia could potentially catch up to China’s one day.

But, today, the real problem (other than us) is China. That fact is reinforced by a two-year study conducted by Chinese government thinktanks, released Wednesday, that said if China’s energy usage structure remains unchanged, its emissions of greenhouse gases would represent 60 percent of total global emissions and three times China’s current production. Of course, China’s usage IS changing, and that’s the encouraging news. China is massively investing in clean and efficient technologies.

That said, China is the largest emitter in the world and will be for some time to come. The U.S. and China account for about 20 percent each of global emissions and India is currently only at 5 percent. A 2006 study [PDF] from the Department of Energy has that disparity continuing until 2030. Even if India catches up, much faster, or China slows its emissions growth dramatically, China will still a much bigger part of the problem well into the future.

Moreover, the critical political point for today is that the largest emitter, China, has refused to commit to binding targets at Copenhagen for reducing its emissions. Without that commitment, the international community can’t forge a deal. Lumping India and China together offers China political cover in the negotiations. It reinforces China’s strategy of aligning itself with truly poor developing countries, like, say, Chad, that really cannot be asked to bear the costs of climate change. Further, while the Chinese government can likely deliver on an international commitment, its not clear that the Indian government currently has the capacity.

Right now, it may make sense to isolate China as a unique case. Particularly when by China’s own measure this week, it is no longer a low-income country, but a middle income one. I am not suggesting bilateral negotiations — the current set of mechanisms is fine. And we need the other emerging economies signed onto any treaty with as good a commitment as possible. But pressure where pressure is due — the real challenge of the coming months is the PRC.

– Nina Hachigian

August 12, 2009
Flu should force action on health care

You know when we are going to be really sorry that we don’t have a new health care system?  When a pandemic really hits this country. And that could be as soon as this fall. The H1N1 flu isn’t particularly deadly as pandemics go, but it’s highly contagious. And many public health experts think its coming back for a second round, just as schools start up again.

When the kids of an uninsured family start showing symptoms, they will head to the emergency room — because they can’t call their primary care doctor for an initial read. ERs could easily get overwhelmed as the pandemic spreads. That will place a huge, expensive and ultimately deadly stress on the system.

I realize that insuring the uninsured is not what average Americans care about right now given the economy — it sounds expensive and the insurance lobbyists and neocons such as George Will are trying hard to play that up. So I think it’s right for the administration to be emphasizing the virtues — that a new health care plan means that preexisting conditions will be covered and that you can never lose your insurance for good.

The last thing they want is to create a panic around H1N1. But soon, it might be the virus that sells the Obama health care plan.

– Nina Hachigian

August 4, 2009
Mr. Clinton goes to Pyongyang

Clinton made a surprise trip to North Korea.

Update: North Korea has reportedly pardoned the two U.S. journalists.

Those who have complained that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has too many envoys are going to have a field day with this. But the decision to send former President Bill Clinton to Pyongyang to try to negotiate the release of the two Americans held there, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, is a smart move.

First, sending a well-respected former U.S. president shows the kind of respect Pyongyang is likely to respond well to.

Second, having such a seasoned political observer on the ground will give the U.S. some intelligence about what is going on in Pyongyang these days, with rumors about Kim Jong Il on dialysis and the plan to hand the reins to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un.

To the extent that the Obama administration wants to send a signal that they want to find a way to reengage after the second nuclear test, President Clinton can be trusted to handle that carefully.

Fourth, Bill Clinton is an excellent hands-on negotiator, and he won’t give up.

Finally, the fact that the U.S. is sending such a high-level figure means that back channels have indicated the possibility of success. I’m willing to live with the smirks for a decision that might return two Americans to safety and could help break the impasse with North Korea.

– Nina Hachigian

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton under a Creative Commons license.

July 30, 2009
Vanadium anyone? China sends Pyongyang a strong message

Okay, so the Strategic and Economic Dialogue did not produce any earth-shattering policy pronouncements, but we shouldn’t have expected any, as I mentioned in this TNR piece. This is the first sit-down, and the very broad scope of it — as well as the number of high-level officials involved — was in and of itself useful in setting the tone of the U.S.-China relationship going forward.

While nothing much happened in DC, perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the very first time China has publically enforced sanctions against North Korea was happening at the same time.

From a Korean newspaper account, pointed out by the Nelson report, comes this:

Chinese customs authorities confiscated 70 kg of vanadium that North Korea tried to smuggle through China. Vanadium has defense and nuclear uses — alloys containing vanadium are used in missile casings — but it was not clear what the stash was to be used for.

Dandong News, a newspaper from the Chinese-North Korean border city of Dandong in Liaoning Province, on Tuesday said the local customs office seized vanadium hidden in six fruit boxes from a truck heading to North Korea last Saturday. The confiscated material was contained in 68 bottles hidden among fruit and is worth 200,000 yuan, it said.

Vanadium is resistant to corrosion by sulfuric and hydrochloric acid and strengthens steel. It is alloyed with steel to make jet engines, missile casings and superconducting magnets.

This is a fairly big deal.  China has voted for sanctions before, but enforcing them — and doing so publically — is new.  Beijing is clearly trying to get Pyongyang’s attention.

– Nina Hachigian

Nina Hachigian is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the co-author of "The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise." She has worked on the staff of the National Security Council in the White House and been a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. She specializes in U.S.-China relations and great power relationships, multilateral institutions and U.S. foreign policy.

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