Managing China’s rise

Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations has a solid op-ed (via RealClearPolitics) in The Washington Post that ably enumerates the numerous complications of China’s rise, which accordingly calls for greater US leadership to ensure that as China becomes more powerful, its power is channeled in the direction of upholding international order and rules, rather than undermining them.

Her most important point:

If we want China to be a responsible world power on issues such as energy security, climate change, human rights and even space-based weapons, we need to step up and lead. We can and should condemn China for not respecting the international rules governing these issues or negatively affecting other countries’ well-being, but we must be prepared to play by the same rules. While other powers may have granted American exceptionalism in the past, China is not inclined to do so. Indeed, China is more likely to seek its own “exceptional” status.

Even if we get that far, there will still be a tough road ahead. The transparency, accountability and rule of law that responsible world leadership entails are nascent and under constant threat in China. This is where Washington has it right. We need a strong commitment — from the federal government as well as the private sector — to helping, if not pushing, China in the right direction, and we need to do so with a long-term perspective.

This needs to hammered home to the US government repeatedly; international order will not defend itself. The developed countries, especially the leading developed country, must actively defend international order and its institutions, in order to prevent China and other rising powers from trashing it. This means that the Bush administration and subsequent administrations must act like the US actually remains the leading pillar of international stability, rather than its leading revolutionary power.

As we have seen in recent years, when the world’s leading power acts like a revolutionary power, international order invariably suffers.

This does not mean that the US and other liberal democracies should hold off from pushing for change in international relations, namely from encouraging the move away from the Westphalian model of sovereignty. But they — the US especially — have to temper their enthusiasm for revolutionary change with a realization that pushing too hard risks undermining international order.

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