The ‘Values Gulf’ and National Interest in China’s Policy

In examining the emergence of the Gx process institutions, especially the recent creation of the G20 leaders summit, experts have recognized the obstacles that have been created by this enlargement.  There seems little question that the emergence of the G20 at Pittsburgh raises questions particularly around effectiveness – the combination of commitment and implementation. They have also raised the ‘red flag’ (no pun intended) on the question of diminished likemindedness.  Most experts looking  at the dimension of legitimacy – membership representation –have applauded the permanent integration of the G5 – Brazil, India, China, South Africa and Mexico – not to mention other large emerging and developing states. 

Most international relations experts are sensitive to the reality that the inclusion of the rising states has raised difficult diversity questions. There is less likemindedness today in the G20 than there was in the G7/8.  Also the potential socialization and influence on the enlarged club membership may be distinct.  Thus, achieving collaborative decision-making – commitment – may be less possible.  So for example, John Kirton, the director of the G8 research group from the University of Toronto, and a strong proponent for the Gx process, has concluded (find his most recent evaluation in a paper he delivered at the ISA on February 19th entitled “Assessing G8 and G20 Performance, 1975-2009,” prepared for the “Relevance and Legitimacy of the G8 and G20” panel)  - in partnership with colleagues from the State University Higher School of Economics in Moscow - that in some subject areas for the three most recent G20 meetings that:

G20’s compliance performance is much lower than that of the G8 and, within the G20, the compliance of the G8 members is much higher than those that are members only of the G20.

 I won’t discuss here the difficult methodological problems posed in this kind of evaluation.  I will identify an examination by yours truly of the question of effectiveness when the document is out from the Stanley Foundation. 

Recently experts have raised the problem of China’s inclusion and have noted both China’s opposition to international verification of GHG levels at the climate change talks and China’s unwillingness to support added sanctions on Iran in the face of Iran’s continuing efforts to enrich uranium.  Most see this opposition as part of the values gulf between China and US.  Particularly in the latter case experts suggest that China’s opposition to enhanced sanctions arise from China’s disinterest in stopping Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and on the other hand the desire of China to secure a steady supply of oil from Iran.  Since I have criticized China’s position at COP-15 there are definitely conflicts of interest.  But especially in the Iran case to assert there is not a Chinese national interest in support for non-proliferation is to me going too far.  One needs to separate out negotiating tactics – China rarely supports sanctions - from national interest.  It seems to me that China has long supported the effort to prevent further proliferation.  And while there is no doubt a national interest in securing Iranian oil, there is a national interest in preventing proliferation, which could lead to great instability in this vital region, which might lead to a desperate military attack on Iranian facilities, and which in turn might lead to disruption and potential shortages, not to mention other bad things. 

What I’m suggesting is that experts have been too quick to reach for the values gulf, ignoring China’s national interest in avoiding nuclear proliferation.

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