Featured

Now Beijing is closing the door too

This article appeared in The Australian Financial Review.

There is a rising tide of protectionism worldwide. For Australians its most immediate manifestation is Donald Trump’s in-your-face “America First” approach, which has seen the US withdraw from and rewrite bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, or threaten to do so. It has also seen the imposition of tariffs on $250 billion worth of imports from China, culminating in a looming trade war. Brexit and European populist movements stand as other prominent examples of this trend.

China is another example.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2017, shortly before Trump took office, Chinese President Xi Jinping touted the benefits of “economic globalisation” and stated, “China will keep its door wide open and not close it”. He said, “An open door allows both other countries to access the Chinese market and China itself to integrate with the world”. Xi claimed China would “enable the market to play a decisive role in resources allocation”.

At the time, some applauded his speech, and considered it evidence that China would be taking the mantle of global trade leadership; that it represented an antidote to Trump’s disdain for free trade and open markets.

The reality, of course, is much more complicated.

16334081422_c4776f25ae_k
Andrey Grushnikov/Flickr, 2015

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of “reform and opening up” in China. Introduced in 1978 – just two years after Mao’s death and the end of the Cultural Revolution – it enabled participation of private enterprise. The policy ultimately led to China’s emergence as an economic powerhouse, which in 2011 became the world’s second largest economy. This was an achievement previously unimaginable for a purportedly socialist country.

Since reform and opening up, the Chinese government has proclaimed its commitment to openness and fairness, while continuing to implement protectionist policies. Under Xi, China is becoming less, not more, open – both economically and politically. But now, in contrast to Xi’s speech at Davos, less is being said to mask this.

The image and narrative of reform are changing.

Rewriting history

Continue reading “Now Beijing is closing the door too”

Featured

China’s ‘rule of law in international relations’

This article originally appeared in the Lowy Interpreter.

In 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced the term ‘rule of law in international relations’ to describe the Chinese government’s vision for the interaction between states within the international order. He said:

We should jointly promote the rule of law in international relations (国际关系法治化). We should urge all parties to abide by international law and well-recognised basic principles governing international relations…There should not be double standards when applying the law. We should jointly uphold the authority and sanctity of international law and the international order.

The term is related to – but used in distinction from – existing concepts of international law (国际法) and international rule of law (国际法治). The Chinese government’s application of ‘rule of law’ to ‘international relations’ specifically indicates a new concept in its global governance lexicon.

But what does it mean?

Xi’s use of the character hua (化) here is instructive: it signifies a change in state, meaning the Chinese government does not believe international relations are characterised by the rule of law, and this requires revision.

The reference to ‘double standards’ is also telling. The Chinese government frequently accuses other states of having ‘double standards’ when they criticise China’s human rights record and its occupation or militarisation of features in the South China Sea. Invoking the ‘rule of law in international relations’ could serve as a more sophisticated rebuke.

The timing of the introduction and dissemination of ‘rule of law in international relations’ coincides with China’s domestic push for ‘rule of law’. The Fourth Plenum of the 18th Party Congress in October 2014 passed a set of reforms to the judicial system and government, including provisions ensuring greater accountability of party members and officials and the centralisation of the court system, all under the auspices of ‘socialist rule of law‘. These reforms are explicitly Party-led: they emphasise that ‘the Party’s leadership is…the most fundamental guarantee for socialist rule of law in China’.

Following the 18th Party Congress, Foreign Minister Wang Yi praised Xi’s introduction of ‘rule of law in international relations’, writing in an opinion piece for state media that:

diplomacy is an extension of domestic politics; China, with its firm commitment to promote rule of law internally, is inevitably a firm protector and active builder of international rule of law.

This strongly suggests that the Chinese government’s understanding of the rule of law in its domestic context informs its international approach.

Continue reading “China’s ‘rule of law in international relations’”