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China’s Increasing Influence in International Affairs

Updated On: Sep 22, 2006

China’s increasing influence in the world has been demonstrated this week in a number of events. However, its increasing prominence is not always viewed in positive light.

First, the IMF members have voted to give China (along with South Korea and Turkey) an increase in its quota from 2.93% to 3.65%. This means that China’s position in the IMF ranking has risen from ninth to the sixth. Still, it is important to note that the increase is more symbolic than one reflecting the actual size of the Chinese economy (which is currently the fourth largest). Chinese influence in the IMF would still be fairly limited.

Furthermore, it is uncertain as to whether this increase of quota for the Chinese is aimed at pressurising the Chinese to make its exchange rate more flexible. The IMF Chief Rodrigo de Rato has denied such a claim. The governor of the People’s Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochun reiterated that China would reform its foreign exchange regime in a “gradual, effective, and controllable” way.

Second, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced this week that it would expand its peacekeeping force in Lebanon to 1,000. This is China’s largest single deployment of peacekeepers. Xinhua quoted a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, Major General Peng Guangqian explaining that, “The fact that the Chinese army is open and transparent is the best response to the ‘China Threat’ concept heard in some countries… The openness of the Chinese army demonstrates China’s sincerity in preserving world and regional peace.”

While the Chinese might see the increase of quota in the IMF and their willingness to send more peacekeepers as evidence of their increasing importance in the international stage, their views of themselves might not be shared by others. Newsweek carried an article pointing out the wide gap between how the Chinese saw themselves and how the world viewed China. For instance, the article showed that the Chinese consider themselves among the most trustworthy nations in the world, non-Chinese ranked Chinese as among the least trustworthy. The article warns that “power and national image don’t always go hand in hand” and that the Chinese would ultimately need to have a better system at explaining what China was really like to the outside world.

Incidentally, another article in the New York Times also suggests that Chinese’s increasing prominence in a particular area of foreign diplomacy- provision of overseas aid- is viewed negatively by the West. The New York Times cited the staggering US$2 billion aid package that China is providing to the Philippines annually for the next 3 years, vastly outstripping the $200 million that the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are offering separately. This amount exceeded the $1 billion aid that the Philippines is negotiating with the Japanese.

China’s overseas aid has roused some complaints particularly from the traditional aid donors e.g. Japan, Western Europe, the United States and the International Financial Institutions. These traditional aid donors argued that China lacked transparency in its aid provision. Unlike these other donors, China has shunned attending meetings organised by the World Bank to coordinate aid activities in the poorer countries. They also suggest that Chinese aid particularly to Myanmar and Cambodia seemed to be aimed at guaranteeing its access to natural resources. On the other hand, there is little doubt that the aid recipients preferred Chinese aid because the Chinese generally do not impose conditions. Furthermore, the Chinese is willing to take on complicated projects in remote areas whereas other donors are not.

It is interesting to note that the US and European media seems to have a tendency to over-emphasise the negative aspects of the rising influence of China. Many governments of developing countries, on the other hand, seem contended to be the recipients of Chinese’s goodwill.

Sources:

An Image Emergency: The Gap Between How China Sees Itself and Others See It is Wide and Dangerous (Newsweek, 25 September 2006)

Chinese Forces Makes Bigger Contribution to World Peace (Xinhua General News Service, 21 September 2006)

Chinese Military on the Global Stage; Beijing Finds Benefits in Peacekeeping Role (International Herald Tribune, 20 September 2006)

Analysis: China’s Increased IMF Voting Power Reflects Growing International Role (Xinhua Economic News Agency, 20 September 2006)

China Wins as Members Approve IMF Overhaul (The Business Times [Singapore], 19 September 2006) 

China Competes With West In Aid To Its Neighbours (New York Times, 18 September 2006)

Bigger Say for China Not Pressure Tactic: IMF (Chinadaily.com.cn, 18 September 2006)