China's Bid to Reshape International Governance

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is seeking to revise the international order to advance its own interests and governance system. The CCP’s ambition for global supremacy dates back to the time of Mao Zedong. However, under Xi the CCP has become more assertive on the international stage, enabled in part by the US retreat from global politics. Some fear that the CCP’s intention is to create a hierarchical international system based on its own authoritarian principles, and with China assuming a central geopolitical role.


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The CCP is trying to rewrite existing international institutional norms, to align them more with its own values. Notably, Chinese officials currently hold leadership of four out of fifteen UN specialised agencies, more than any other country. This has allowed China to promote its political objectives, e.g., as demonstrated by its anti-Taiwan diplomatic campaign. Moreover, China is the second largest donor to the UN. Beijing is exploiting this leverage to shift the UN’s definition of human rights and internet freedom towards its own authoritarian values. Further using its growing economic influence, China has been successful in gaining the support of developing nations at the UN, due to their greater dependence on Chinese financial assistance.


At the same time, Beijing is increasingly attempting to overcome current international standards by creating its own. The main one of these is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This seeks to create an integrated economic and geopolitical order under Chinese leadership. Likewise, in December 2015 China created the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), to promote China as a responsible global actor. Beijing has also sought to gain influence at a regional level, through such bodies as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).


Such developments may potentially embolden autocrats to pursue repressive policies, knowing they have an increasingly supportive international environment to do so. These trends may provoke diplomatic crises, amid a decline of the US-led international order.