China Engages Global Governance: A New World Order in the Making?

China Engages Global Governance

Author(s): Gerald Chan, Pak K. Lee and Lai-Ha Chan

ISBN:          978-0-415-55713-9

Publisher: Routledge

Year:          2012

Price:         $155,00

Reviewed by Jinhua Li, Lecturer, University of North Carolina Asheville, USA.

The implication and impact of the rise of China have become the center of both scholarly studies and popular media discussions since the beginning of the twenty-first century. China’s increasing involvement in global society is especially keenly felt when traditional world powers such as the United States and European Union are tarnished by economic recessions since 2009. With its rapid economic development and active involvement in international affairs, China is exerting a global influence that is influencing the existing world order in every aspect. It is beyond dispute, therefore, that China has firmly integrated itself into a world order that is in transition through its interactions with various international institutions.

The assessment and prediction on China’s role in an increasingly globalized world have been ambivalent, if not polarizing. One of the main contentions among China scholars and international policy-makers is to what degree is China powerful. In other words, although many economists cite China’s aggressive economic development in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) and annual growth rates, which have maintained above 9% in the past decade, as evidences for China’s superpower status, we must not forget that when we look at its per capita income, China shares nothing in common with developed countries. So, are we overestimating China’s prowess by regarding it as a developed country and imposing responsibilities and duties that are not compatible with its power status? To further complicate the issue of China’s global position, we must also acknowledge the rise of China and conceptualize how its ascension to international significance impacts the world order. That is, even when no consensus on China’s global power status has been achieved, there is little dispute that China has indeed become much more powerful than a few decades ago, and a world order without China’s active participation is unimaginable. Thus, what changes will a rising China bring?

Gerald Chan, Pak K. Lee and Lai-Ha Chan’s China Engages Global Governance: A New World Order in the Making? provides valuable insights on these questions with comprehensive and innovative investigation of China’s involvement in global governance, which is defined as “how global problems are handled and how global order and stability can be ensured, in the absence of an overarching authority or world government to regulate” (p.8). By taking China’s changed demands and aspirations as variables to the shaping of a new world order, this book breaks new grounds for future studies on China and globalism by moving away from previous scholarship’s focus on the bi-lateral dynamics of Sino-US/Sino-West relations and adopting an interdisciplinary method that bridges the fields of China Studies and International Relations. In particular, China Engages Global Governance seeks to understand the status and role of China in the contemporary world through its interactions with multiple transnational regimes and systems, on different levels, regarding issues of global magnitude.

Claimed to be the first scholarly endeavor that studies how China engages in global governance, this book sets out to solve two major questions surrounding this issue: “how powerful China is in terms of providing viable solutions to various global issues; and what the resultant world order would be in the wake of China’s rise” (p. 5). These two questions are in turn further broken down into three clusters of questions, the first of which sets up the parameters of this investigation by defining what global governance means and how to assess China’s involvement in global governance. The second cluster of questions looks into the opportunities and challenges that China faces as it aspires to be a stronger power in world affairs, and the last cluster deals with potential outcomes of China’s rise in the reconfiguration of world power dynamics. Together, these clusters of questions move from a theoretic framework within which China’s international status is examined to more specific and detailed studies on different aspects of China’s developments that determine its global engagement. They create a very effective structure that enables general readers as well as the experts to grasp how and why the study is conducted in such a manner. Specifically, the chapters are also arranged in a corresponding order: the first two chapters expound the concept of global governance and the Chinese understanding on it, and the following chapters each deals with one specific aspect of China’s activities in its security areas, both in the traditional realm, such as “peace and security, world trade and finance, human rights and humanitarian intervention,” and in relatively newer areas, including “environmental protection, public health, food safety, energy security, and transnational organized crime” (p. 7).

What is especially enlightening is Engages Global Governance’s lucid explanation on how China understands global governance. Exploring the Chinese perspective on global governance proves to be significant in several aspects. First of all, this provides a fuller picture in the current investigation, in the sense that the concept of global governance becomes mediated and constantly negotiated. It is crucial, therefore, for us to remember that there will always be disagreement and discrepancy between China and other international parties and organizations on many issues, and only when this is acknowledged can we seek common grounds in dealing with these issues. Secondly, understanding how China interprets global governance promises to explain how China imagines its involvement and assesses its participation in different areas. This enables a historicized exploration for China’s peaceful rising foreign policy, whose justification should be understood within the context of China’s long cultural tradition, which helps to explain China’s “concern about the ulterior motives behind the Western efforts to promote global governance” (p. 38).  Furthermore, this serves as a context and background on which the book’s analyses and assessments of China’s participation on global governance should be understood. For example, because “China’s approach to global governance remains fundamentally state-centric” (p. 37), it is typically reluctant to deal with non-government international organizations in equal footings with foreign governments in its handling of world affairs, so “China is often accused of intransigence” (p.38). Thus, this illuminating chapter is strategically structured to promote an unbiased and balanced study.

The eight body chapters, each of which examines one aspect of China’s engagement in global governance, adopt a comparative method that evaluates China’s participation and efforts through its relations with international governments and non-government organizations. Each chapter follows a very navigable structure that first explains the scope of the chapter and the focuses of the assessment and after careful examination and close analyses of relevant, up-to-date data and evidences, evaluations and assessments on China’s performance are included at the end of each chapter to summarize the findings. Thus, each chapter serves both as a separate investigation in their own right as well as a part of a much bigger study.

Just as the benefit of this structure is obvious, the inadequacy is also quite evident: each chapter works in relative isolation rather than as parts of an organic whole. In other words, while the issue of China’s engagement in global governance is multi-faceted, intricately inter-connected, and inter-dependent, these aspects are not discussed with a global vision within the scope of the book. For instance, both public health and food safety could be addressed vis-à-vis the situation in human rights and finance and trade, and humanitarian intervention is closely connected with transnational organized crime. These intersections of China’s global engagement could bring more in-depth exploration on China’s increasingly influence over a new world order that is gradually taking shape.

The assessment and evaluation on China’s participatory performance in these areas measure China’s benefits from its position within the global order against the amount of global public goods China provides. So, to put it in over-simplifying terms, if China gains more than it provides, then it does not fulfill its duty and responsibility as an increasingly powerful and wealthy nation. Drawing on the conclusion of the book, it is evident that China has yet to provide global public goods in all areas to fully measure up to its political and economic status. This is especially explicitly expressed in the area of public health, which receives the harshest evaluation among all examined areas. The chapter “finds China fails to support the developing world adequately in tackling the spread of HIV/AIDS” (p. 124). Specifically, it only “pays lip service to Africa’s calls for extending access to essential HIV/AIDS medicine to ailing patients in the continent” (p. 124). Thus, China is suspected of taking free-rides to global health, meaning that it enjoys the benefits of global public health cooperation without providing commensurate contributions to it.

China Engages Global Governance proves to be a timely study that illuminates China’s present globalization focus and efforts within an increasingly borderless world. Its focus on food safety serves as an excellent example of its well-timed publication. If one pays close attention to China’s recent socio-economic happenings, one would recognize food safety as one of the primary concerns in public health. In fact, it is mentioned in a prominent position in Chairman Hu’s report at the just closed eighteenth CPC National Congress. To further reveal the impact of this issue, China Engages Global Governance devotes an entire chapter on food safety to underscore the significance of this security area not only domestically, but also across national borders. As a result of increasing concerns over food safety and industrial standards, China creates the State Council Food Safety Commission at the highest administrative level and adopts a top-down approach in establishing laws and regulations. However, such a state-centric approach severely limits the involvement of other parties in a variety of levels, and “as a result of which its food governance is also primarily focused at the national level” (p. 140).

In conclusion, China Engages Global Governance expresses cautious optimism and modest hopefulness in China’s rise and its growing power in global governance, believing that they “should be welcomed as they may provide greater diversity and great stability in global development”, but such advantages might be offset by the danger of “a low level of global collective action” (p. 184). As China continues to seek greater say in global governance and exerts bigger influences in the rule-making process with international affairs, this conclusive remark reminds the readers that like it or not, China is already a part of global governance, but how significant its role is in the making of the new world order remains to be determined.

Suggested citation: 

Jinhua Li (2013). Review of “China Engages Global Governance: A New World Order in the Making?”, edited by Gerald Chan, Pak K. Lee and Lai-Ha Chan, East Asian Integration Studies, Vol. 6, no. 12 , Internet file: