China still very much on Zoellick’s mind

China engaging its public on nation’s role: Ex-US deputy secretary of state.

ASIA INTERVIEW

BEIJING is now engaging the Chinese public on the country’s role as a rising power.

Mr Robert Zoellick, the architect of the US policy of encouraging Beijing to be a responsible stakeholder on the international stage, said proof of this could be seen from the showing of a documentary series on the rise of great powers on Chinese television last December.

“The fact that it is shown on Chinese TV suggests that the Chinese leaders themselves want to engage the public,” he told The Straits Times in an interview.

“The documentary does not focus on China. It is not jingoistic. It is a serious examination of the role of a rising power.”

The 12-part documentary called The Rise Of Great Powers examines nine global powers since the 1500s – Portugal, Spain, Holland, England, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and the United States.

The early episodes examined how the emergence of great nations began to take on global consequences in the 15th and 16th centuries as European naval powers Portugal and Spain waged wars and colonised other countries far from their shores.

The later ones looked at the rise and fall of great powers as a result of technological breakthroughs and “institutional innovations” – a catch-all term to mean broad-based economic and political reforms – in Western democracies such as England and the US.

Dressed in a pin-striped, long-sleeved shirt and well-cut slacks, he was relaxed, breaking into occasional smiles, during the 90-minute interview in his office in New York’s financial district.

The tall and lanky trade specialist believes that discussions in China today dovetail with interest in the US and other countries in engaging China about its role as a stakeholder.

“For China, the concept of responsible stakeholder is one that matches Beijing’s own inquiry about its role in the international system,” he explained.

When Mr Zoellick, a Harvard-trained lawyer and former deputy secretary of state, coined the “responsible stakeholder” concept in September 2005, he wanted to go beyond the engagement policy of the previous seven US administrations.

His aim was to further China’s global integration. To encourage this process, he sought to divorce historical analogies often used by hardliners in the US who compare China’s rise to Weimar Germany and the former Soviet Union.

But he also laid down markers by which Washington would evaluate Chinese behaviour, especially given the concerns over Beijing’s huge trade surplus and military build-up.

“There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done,” he said. “It is a work of decades, not just months.”

The former Deputy Secretary of State and US Trade Representative shuttled all over the world during the Bush administration to promote US global economic policy.

It is no different now for him as the point man for Goldman Sachs on international affairs – a responsibility requring him to zip across North America, Europe and Asia to deal with governments and businesses.

His brows furrow when he talks about Congress and trade but China appears to be close to his heart and he spoke excitedly about a trip in March at the invitation of senior Chinese officials.

Mr Zoellick, who still maintains regular contact with high-level Chinese officials, said that Beijing recognised that it had greater influence in the international sphere.

But this had come rather quickly, taking the Chinese longer to adjust. Africa was one example of how China was trying to figure out how to use its growing influence.

He said: “They recognise that the economic relationship can create positive and negative feelings in Africa. It can create a sense of domination and competition. But it can also create a sense of opportunity.”

Chinese President Hu Jintao has pledged to increase imports from Africa, responding to fears about the trade surplus that are increasing as China pumps unprecedented aid, investment and loans into the poor but resource-rich continent.

Mr Zoellick noted that Washington had actually made progress in its ties with Beijing over the last six years, and the challenge was to maintain a beneficial relationship for both.

He said: “We can connect China’s development needs with American interests. This would help Washington to show its public that the economic relationship with China is beneficial to both sides.

“At the same time, the Chinese authorities will also recognise their larger responsibilities for sustaining the international system that benefits them.”

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