Can China Save the Global Order?

ANNAPOLIS – At the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos in January, Chinese President Xi Jinping, drawing on China’s own recent experience, spoke in defense of globalization, and offered a vision of inclusive, sustainable development. With US President Donald Trump’s administration turning its back on internationalism, China has stepped forward to assume the mantle of global leadership. But can China really provide the alternative solutions needed to keep the engines of globalization running?

The post-war liberal order has been in serious trouble since the 2008 financial crisis, which weakened Western economies and undermined global-governance bodies and regulatory institutions. According to International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, emerging economies accounted for over 80% of global growth in the aftermath of the crisis, and now contribute 60% of global GDP.

Meanwhile, emerging powers, particularly China and Russia, have further undermined key liberal institutions and values. Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and intervention in Syria have challenged principles of humanitarian interventionism such as the “responsibility to protect” (R2P); and a rising China is confronting the West’s supremacy – in hard- and soft-power terms – in the post-war global order.

The US has responded to these developments by trying to create a liberal order 2.0, and by pursuing a strategic pivot to salvage the status quo in Asia. Many observers have focused on America’s goal of preventing Chinese regional dominance. But the US also wants to defend and strengthen the principles that made post-war Asia’s success possible – what former US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell calls Asia’s “operating system.”