Notes on China

With regard to China — having spent the past year in Singapore, where people spend a LOT of time thinking about China’s future roles, I think Kal has laid out just a few of the many possible futures. No one, including the Chinese, really has any idea what kind of great power China will be in a decade or two, either internally or externally.

At the moment, it’s more or less playing by existing rules, while amassing the wherewithal to set up new international systems, and it is actively hostile to citizen power in any form we would recognize. But China is changing with unbelievable rapidity, and those changes are likely to alter how China behaves internationally too.

Chinese lawyers are using Chinese courts to successfully sue Chinese government bodies on behalf of citizens whose rights have been violated. China last month promulgated sweeping new “right to know” regulations that give citizens access to an enormous array of formerly secret government information. Implementation isn’t going to be smooth. But China will be building on years of experience with municipal-level open government regulations with some surprisingly successful cases — such as Shanghai. Chinese authorities remain hostile to NGOs — but on some issues, particularly environmental, some high-level authorities are beginning to recognize the utility of channeling public pressures through such mechanisms.

There’s only one area where Chinese foreign policy is likely to come into direct conflict with the interests of the existing great powers: energy. But the U.S. is hardly in a position to berate China on the energy front. If we want to help guarantee a peaceful multi-polar world a decade or two out, we need to get our energy house in order, and fast. And that’s an area where transnational connections between environmental, human rights, and development NGOs could prove useful — with a bit of real leadership from the US.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Drawing from his recent book, All Politics is Global: Explaining International Regulatory Regimes, Tufts University’s Daniel Drezner explains that “for many issues that comprise the daily substance of our lives … the politics have gone global.” However, he argues, the intellectual response to this development has been out of proportion to its real extent. When great powers coordinate on regulatory standards, that may be enough to shift the rest of the globe. But, as Drezner illustrates from examples ranging from the Internet to genetically modified foods, when the costs of adjustment are too high for states with economic heft, global regulatory coordination tends not to be forthcoming. In the end, we get neither a “race to the bottom,” nor liberation from the state through jurisdictional competition. “Globalization is not irrelevant to global governance,” Drezner concludes, “but it is not transformative either.”

Response Essays

  • Ann Florini, director of the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the National University of Singapore and senior fellow at the Brookings Institutions disagrees with Daniel Drezner’s claim that global governance remains dominated by a few great state powers. “We’re heading for a multi-polar system where very different kinds of states, at very different levels of development, will matter,” Florini argues. And, she maintains, “ ‘regulation’ is no longer done only by governments.” For example, corporations, not states, put international protection of intellectual property rights on the table, but it was small states and pressure from civil society groups that eventually determined effective policy. Florini suggests Drezner’s analysis is confused by an over-simple idea of the interests of great states. “How states define what their interests are is one of the most important ways globalization is affecting outcomes in global rule-making.”

  • Jeremy A. Rabkin, professor of law at George Mason, writes, “one can accept almost everything [Drezner] says in his essay and still think the challenges we face now are different, in important ways, from the patterns we had become accustomed to in the past.” The collapse of communism and the discrediting of socialism has led to a world in which “states now are so entangled in international regimes — because so entangled in international exchange — that the accepted rules of international economic conduct are now recognized to be very important.” Though the U.S. can in principle block international rules contrary to its overall interests, domestic interests jump at the chance to push their narrow agendas, it is often easier to go along than to fight, and some marginal changes occur simply through neglect. But “marginal changes can add up to sizable effects in the aggregate.”

  • “In the main [Drezner’s] argument is persuasive,” writes Kal Raustiala, director of UCLA’s Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations. However, the continued preeminence of states on the world stage “is a bit more ambiguous and complex than Drezner suggests.” Raustiala argues that critics of globalization increasingly “expect more openness, more transparency, more accountability; in other words, a process more like domestic governance.” Raustiala contends that can learn something important by looking to domestic politics: powerful lobbyists and special interests did not emerge because the state was getting weaker. “The rise of interdependence and NGOs in American society didn’t signal the end of the state; it signaled the growth of the state.”