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HomeAsiaPanel Summary Report: What Impact Will China’s Rise Have on the Global Order?

Panel Summary Report: What Impact Will China’s Rise Have on the Global Order?

Here is a summary of the discussions prepared by IPD research fellow Pouyan Kimiayjan:

On July 29th, 2020 the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (IPD) hosted a panel on China’s vision of the international order. The panel discussed three critical questions:

  • How China’s rise will impact the current international order?
  • What is China’s vision for the international system?
  • How the international community can de-escalate rising tensions and prevent conflicts during this period of adjustments and changes?

Our three distinguished panelists included Victor Gao, Vice President of the Center for China and Globalization, Robert S. Ross, Professor at Boston College and Associate at the Fairbank Centre for Chinese Studies, Harvard University, and Jeffrey Reeves, Vice-President of Research at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. This panel discussion was moderated by Bijan Ahmadi, Executive Director at the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy.

Victor Gao’s opening statement touched upon China’s transformative change in the past four decades, asserting that no other country has changed more profoundly than China and that the country is expected to continue its change and development. The VP of the Center for China and Globalization further asserted that China has been a beneficiary of the current international order and is trying its best to enjoy peaceful coexistence with the international community. China has engaged other nation-states on an equal basis, believing that all countries have the right to protect their sovereignty, territorial integrity, and enjoy the right to develop peacefully. 

Gao argued that China has had no intention to “rock the boat” and or destroy the global order. In fact, China is pleased to be a responsible stakeholder in the current international order. Furthermore, China believes in reciprocity. For example, instead of withdrawing from the WHO, China has prioritized reciprocal  cooperation with other powers in developing a vaccine for COVID-19. This approach stands in contrast to that of the Trump administration, a power that acts unilaterally and intends to impose its will on other powers. In summary, according to Victor Gao, Chinese foreign policy is shaped by five key principles: equality among nations, being a responsible stakeholder in the current rules-based international order, respecting the principle of reciprocity and mutual respect among nation-states, the pursuit of common interests of the international community, and conducting foreign policy based on realism and pragmatism, rather than imposing and or exporting one’s worldview on other nations. 

Robert Ross’ opening statement concerned China’s role as a revisionist power and how aggressive the country has been in trying to change the rules and norms of the current international order. Following the Second World War, the United States established the Bretton Woods System and set the rules of the post-war international order through international organizations such as the IMF and the WTO. Meanwhile, China was excluded from this process. It is now only natural for China to revise these rules “to make them more appropriate for Chinese interests.” However, the question is to what extent China wants to revise this order and how aggressive it has pursued this revisionist policy. 

Ross asserted that China has been fairly moderate in pursuit of revising the global order. While being denied leadership in the WTO and the IMF, the country has begun establishing its own multilateral institutions, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. While this institution is different from the WTO, it is not fundamentally different in terms of its norms. Moreover, while China opposes US hegemony in East Asia, the country hasn’t engaged in broad military conflicts to impose its will. Instead, China has relied on coercive diplomacy to secure its interests. In contrast to the United States’ gunboat diplomacy in the Carribean, China has enjoyed a fairly moderate rise.

Jeffrey Reeves’s opening statement concerned China’s rise in the current world order. Reeves argued that China has already risen and will shape the existing international order. This rise is disruptive, but not destructive in his opinion. The country has already begun challenging US hegemony in Asia and its dominance on the global stage. According to Jeffrey, there is nothing about the order  in Asia, that necessitates US leadership and dominance. In fact the current world order “is a socially constructed concept. It is only as good as its ability to ensure its participating members’ interests, regardless of these states’ domestic institutions or values.” China will undoubtedly have an impact, for good or bad, on this order, and will demand greater representation. If China is denied fair representation, it will establish its own institutions, as it already has begun doing so. In this light, China’s rise will change global norms as well, including norms around human-rights that were once established by the US-led order. China’s rise will also change the global balance of power, as it further invests in its military in line with its economic interests. Therefore, Reeves recommended that China must be given the space it deserves, and we must understand that as China expands, some states have to step-back.

If the United States tries to block China’s rise, conflict will become more likely in Reeve’s opinion. 

In response to a question concerning China’s role in the region, Gao elaborated that with 14 land neighboring countries and half a dozen maritime neighboring countries, China has a more complicated regional situation from that of the US, which only has two neighbors, Canada and Mexico. In this light, one of the key pillars of Chinese foreign policy is its relations with neighboring countries. China depends on the South China Sea for its commerce. Therefore, in order to secure this vital trade passageway, China has a strong interest in regional stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. 

In response to a question concerning the impact of retrenchment from the region and the potential emboldening of China, Ross argued that the United States is no longer the dominant maritime power. There is a multipolar regional order in the Asia Pacific. The regional order in the Asia Pacific allows other nations to engage with both China and the United States. Singapore for example will trade with both countries, without having to pick sides. Meanwhile, the United States’ resistance to China’s rise is a futile approach. The region has a benign view of China, given that China has refused to export its values and has rather focused on doing business, in contrast to the United States’ export of democracy.

In response to a question concerning the role of Canada and other middle-powers and if they are willing to accept adjustments to the US-led international order, Reeves recommended that Canada should not align with the United States against China. This alignment would harm its relations with China and limit its maneuverability in the Asia Pacific. Reeves believes that the United States’ approach towards China is not about China, but rather has to do with the US’ domestic short-comings. In fact, US firms have made billions from trade with China and US consumers have benefited immensely from Chinese exports. One must understand that China’s stability has been due to the country’s social and political institutions, and not despite them. 

Instead of joining the US’ policy towards China, Canada must focus on economic diversification and further engage in the Asia Pacific. The United States, on the other hand, needs to develop its capacity to compete, and not contain China. 

Gao also warned of a conflict with the United States, and that such conflict will be catastrophic for the international community. Henceforth, peace needs to be prioritized and any dangerous escalation must be avoided. 

Furthermore, in response to a question concerning the impact of the US Presidential elections on relations with China, Robert Ross pointed out that under a Biden presidency, the United States will focus on areas of mutual interest, in contrast to the Trump administration’s decoupling policy. Biden will rejoin the WHO and work with China on containing COVID-19. The US will also re-join the Paris Climate Accord and cooperate with China to fight climate change, if Biden wins. There is potential with the Biden administration of a gradual moderation in the trade war, as Republicans will keep the pressure on the Biden administration to have a more aggressive policy on China. If Donald Trump secures a second term, the President will be more unhinged in dealing with China. However, Ross believes that a second Trump term will accelerate China’s rise, as the Trump administration has already contributed to the US decline in the past four years.

In response to a question concerning India, Jeffrey Reeves mentioned that President Modi has not used threatening language against China and is instead focused on taking advantage of India’s geopolitical space. However, India is concerned about Pakistan’s relations with China, while stopping short of conducting its foreign policy similar to that of the United States and Australia, powers that see China as a strategic threat.

Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  

Panelists:

Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security

 

Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.

Panelists:

Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.

 

Panelists:

Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 

Panelists:

Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 

 

Panelists:

Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.

Panelists:

Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.

Panelists:

Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.

 

Panelists:

Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor