From rebel to world player

  • AseanPlus News
  • Sunday, 25 May 2003


Long claiming to be a champion of the developing world, China is making its first appearance at the meeting of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialised nations in June – a sign of a shift in its foreign policy from being a revolutionary power to a major world player. 

China’s need to repair the international damage caused by its initial mishandling of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak provides the immediate background for President Hu Jintao’s meeting with the leaders of G-8 countries. 

But experts say the real motive behind China’s acceptance of the invitation to a meeting of developing countries on the sidelines of the G-8 annual summit is that it needs an alternative platform to the UN Security Council, where it holds a permanent seat. 

It is obvious that acting solely from the position of a UN Security Council member, China can no longer make its voice heard to the best of its interests, observed Zheng Yu, international relations expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 

“The functions of the UN Security Council have been continuously restrained. The Group of Eight is now the international arena where all matters of economic, political and security importance are decided,’’ he pointed out. 

Three years ago, China rejected an invitation from Germany to attend the G-8 annual summit as an observer, maintaining its communist stance that the group is a club of the rich. 

But since 2001, a series of subtle political moves has highlighted how China is shaping a new image of itself – no longer as a communist power supportive of guerilla movements but as an emerging world player wishing to converge with other world powers. 

Launching a charm offensive as Asian neighbours harboured suspicions of its rising clout, China in November 2002 signed an agreement that would create a free trade zone by 2010 with the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean). 

The agreement puts China at the forefront of a zone that would be the third largest in the world after the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement. 

Beijing has also abandoned its once-virulent anti-US rhetoric, joining forces with the United States in its global “war against terrorism.” 

While opposing the US-led war against Iraq, China is now actively trying to participate in the rebuilding of the oil-rich country and has dispatched a special Middle East envoy as a sign of its intention to expand its influence in the region. 

“China has been on the rise for more than 20 years. But what makes these three years special is a combination of economic and military power that has given the country a new confidence,’’ said Robert Ross, a political scientist from Boston College. 

China’s self-assessment is undergoing a change and Chinese leaders are getting briefings on China being a rising power, Ross told a meeting of the foreign press in Beijing. 

Not surprisingly, an offer by visiting French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin last month for President Hu Jintao to attend a pre-summit meeting of the G-8 in Evian on June 1 was accepted promptly. The summit itself is from June 1-3. 

“We believe this meeting is necessary at this moment and very important,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhang Qiyue said last Tuesday. 

She presented China’s decision to attend the G-8 meeting as an effort to enhance dialogue between Southern and Northern nations. 

“We believe this initiative is a very important opportunity for the leaders of South and North to exchange views on the development issues of the world,” Zhang said. 

But while China maintains that it will attend the G-8 meeting holding up the banner of a leader of the developing world, Beijing is well aware that its interests now lie with the world of developed countries, represented by the G-8. 

The G-8 comprises the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia – all of them major economic and trade partners of China. A year after China joined the World Trade Organisation, and two decades after it began allowing foreign companies to invest locally, the country has become an indispensable part of global economy. 

China is the fastest growing major economy and the leading exporter in the developing world. Its economy ranks sixth in size in the world, according to World Bank figures. 

There is no need for China any longer to feel the humiliated victim of the imperial world from the beginning of the 20th century, Ye Zicheng, professor of international relations at Beijing University, told the Southern Weekend newspaper. 

And the Group of Eight is not the 1900 Eight-Power Allied forces that burned and ransacked Beijing either. 

Experts say the example of Russia, which evolved toward greater participation in the G-8, has given China a good deal of enlightenment on how to gradually transform its image as a communist country with isolationist politics. 

Parallels are also being drawn between Hu and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was the first head of the Soviet state to attend a G-8 meeting in 1991, just months before the Soviet Union disintegrated. 

Hu Jintao’s attendance at the G-8 meeting marks his first official appearance at a world forum since he was anointed Communist Party leader in October and state president in March. – Inter Press Service 

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