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Opinion

China is ready to play a bigger role in world affairs

Government committed to multilateral approach to global challenges

| China

The 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1 is an occasion to look back on the nation's momentous progress and consider what role it will play in the world over the next seven decades.

China has benefited greatly from embracing globalization and its institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. As China's economy continues to expand, Beijing's role in the future will be to safeguard and enhance the international liberal order.

This commitment can already be seen in its contributions to U.N. peacekeeping and its establishment of new multilateral bodies such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

China will remain the largest contributor to global growth for some time to come as it becomes the world's biggest economy. While top-line output expansion will slow as the economy matures, its sheer size will mean that each extra percentage point will represent a much larger boost to global gross domestic product.

This growth will increasingly depend on innovation and productivity as China sees the end of its demographic dividend and seeks to find ways to support an aging population.

Chinese imports will play an ever-larger role in global trade flows. Buoyed by urbanization, rising incomes and a growing middle class, annual consumption is expected to grow by $6 trillion through 2030, exceeding the combined growth of the U.S. and Western Europe. This massive market will be a boon for businesses, workers and farmers in Asia and beyond, fueling global development much as the U.S. market did in the second half of the 20th century.

China's growing economic might will see it play a central role in world affairs. But many other countries are on the rise too, setting the stage for a multipolar world in which no single power can dictate norms and rules.

The major challenges the world will face will be global ones which no country can solve alone. China's long-term global strategy is firmly anchored to this reality. The government recognizes that multilateralism is the only way to meet transnational challenges and sustain an open, inclusive global economy.

Far from seeking hegemony, China will seek to uphold and enhance the current multilateral order, as commensurate with its capabilities and responsibilities as a leading power.

Existing global institutions are ill-equipped to deal with challenges such as climate change and technological disruption. Reform, however, has been held back by a lack of global leadership and consensus.

China is well placed to help overcome this gridlock and galvanize international cooperation. As it transitions from being a developing nation into a developed one, China can help bridge the divides that have stalled reform.

China will work to promote regional integration initiatives such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. It should seriously consider joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership to take part in the development of high-standard trade architecture.

Beijing's warming ties with Tokyo augur well for this possibility as well as for a more unified and integrated Asia.

To reinvigorate existing institutions like the WTO and U.N., China can be expected to work with partners to update their structure and create a fairer, more inclusive framework for global governance.

It will also help to coordinate in building new mechanisms to deal with myriad global issues rising in importance, including environmental protection and the digital economy. The AIIB and China's proactive stance in forging a consensus on dealing with climate change offer models of what is to come.

Jin Liqun, president of the AIIB, speaks at a news conference in Beijing: the bank offers a model of what is to come.   © Reuters

Along the same lines, China's Belt and Road Initiative will continue to evolve, with concrete steps to make the program multilateral. For example, a Belt and Road International Cooperation Committee would help to enable active participation by all countries and organizations.

The BRI will further help to overcome infrastructure gaps and knit Eurasia together with transport, logistics and communications networks. This will help all corners of the world share the fruits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Seventy years ago, China was recovering from devastating wars and largely shunned on the world stage. Today, it stands at the dawn of a new global era in which it will play a leading role.

China still has a long way to go. There remain many domestic challenges as well as questions about how other countries will respond to its rise. Regardless of the answers, China is destined to play a crucial role in the future of the global economy and international relations.

Wang Huiyao is president of the Center for China & Globalization, a nongovernment think tank based in Beijing.

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