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Series: Global China
Members of the U.N. Security Council, including representatives from Russia, China, and South Africa vote against a U.S. draft resolution calling for free and fair presidential elections in Venezuela at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - RC166DE52B80

Global China: Global governance and norms

Learn more about Global ChinaFrom human rights to energy to trade and beyond, how is China approaching global norms and norm development?

China’s efforts to secure a larger role for itself in multiple international institutions have generated questions about the scale of its ambitions and the tools it will use to advance them.

The fears that China is changing the United Nations from within seem if not overblown, at least premature. The U.N. can still be a force multiplier for the values and interests of the United States, but only if Washington now competes for influence rather than assume automatic U.N. deference.

China’s involvement in United Nations peacekeeping is one of its better-known investments in the multilateral system. But its contributions to blue helmet missions remain limited, and Beijing has taken a cautious approach to expanding its commitments.

Chinese Communist Party policies towards Xinjiang have increased colonial development, further eroded Uyghur autonomy through force and ethnic assimilationism, and co-opted the “Global War on Terror” framing to portray all Uyghur resistance as “terrorism.”

Despite its rhetoric, Beijing has worked at the U.N. to marginalize women’s rights defenders — critical actors for promoting gender equality — and has consistently voted against measures to strengthen visibility and protection of LGBT people’s human rights.

A 2014 speech by Xi Jinping was the first signal of Beijing’s more focused effort to alter the security architecture supporting the Asia-Pacific regional order. To achieve this goal, China is seeking to contest the “network power” that has enabled American leadership in the Asia-Pacific.

If Washington’s China strategy is to effect its desired change — a world where America is secure and remains the preeminent power — it must include investments focused on winning the competition of political systems.

China is the world’s second-largest digital economy, second only to the United States, and leads the world in the value of many digital applications, including e-commerce and mobile payments. Yet, China remains largely closed to foreign competition.

How will a growing Chinese middle class impact global politics, when democracy is no longer the only way to achieve a stable middle-class lifestyle?

Multilateral organizations also see both challenges and opportunities around China’s Belt and Road Initiative as it relates to their investments in global governance. They are weighing the potential for shared resources against the rule-bending ambitions of China’s approach.

As the geographic scope of China’s Belt and Road Initiative continues to grow, countries must decide whether to join — and to what extent they should participate.

Like other powerful nations, China may refuse to comply with international law when doing so suits its perceived interests. Nonetheless, international law matters to China.

The trajectory of climate change will depend on decisions about the sort of infrastructure that Chinese entities fund abroad, and the U.S. should re-engage and seek to shift financial incentives toward lower-carbon projects.
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