In January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Xi Jinping of China called his country a champion of free trade and globalization. And at an international conference in Beijing in May, he laid out China’s grand vision of promoting global integration by linking Asia, Europe and beyond through a new network of roads, railways and sea routes.
.. China is fashioning a new form of multilateralism
.. This strategy will advance its economic and political influence in a far more effective manner than a unilateral approach built on brute economic force, a tactic that has produced mixed results for China so far.
.. With the United States apparently pulling back from multilateralism
.. This form of multilateralism is built on transactional principles very different from the type of global order the United States and other Western economies have championed, one built on trust and mutual cooperation. It will eschew values like democracy, human rights and freedom of expression, which the United States has long sought to promote around the world.
.. Beijing’s strategy has two main prongs. The first is to change the rules of the game from within, by expanding Chinese influence in existing international institutions.
.. But the other side of the bargain — China’s opening — was not fulfilled. Foreign exporters and investors still face many barriers in China.
.. Foreign businesses undertaking production in China also have to partner with local companies, requiring transfers of technological expertise and intellectual property. Foreign investment is still restricted in certain sectors, including financial services like insurance.
.. The country is now one of the prime users of the W.T.O. dispute-settlement process to protect its own interests and to aggressively counter trade actions brought against it by other countries.
.. At these organizations, the United States and other advanced Western economies together still have the dominant voting power. So, China has been subtle in its approach, creating alliances with other emerging-market countries like India and Russia to advance its priorities.
.. The second prong of China’s strategy is to set up its own international institutions.
.. Initiatives like One Belt, One Road — the plan to invest $1 trillion or more in transcontinental infrastructure — and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which started operation last year, allow Beijing to cloak its influence behind the facade of a large group of countries
.. The professed multilateral nature of its initiatives allows Beijing to pull other countries more tightly into its fold. It becomes harder for countries that do not share China’s values to stay on the sidelines. Many countries joining with China say they must do so to influence these new institutions from the inside rather than just complain about them from the outside. This was the justification when Britain, Germany and France signed up to become founding members of the Asian infrastructure bank, leaving the United States fuming.