On March 23-24, 2012, Indiana University's Research Center for Chinese Politics & Business (RCCPB) and the Workshop for Political Theory and Policy Analysis jointly hosted the "Conference on China and Global Governance" in Bloomington, Indiana. Scholars from the US, Canada, China, and Europe presented findings from research projects examining the growing role of the Chinese government and non-state actors in international regimes dealing with foreign investment, exchange rates, intellectual property rights, foreign aid, public health, and climate change.
Some conclusions that emerged out of the papers and discussion are surprising:
• China by and large is a "status quo power." This finding goes against the expectations of those who believe that a rising China that did not create the current rules of the international system would naturally be an opponent of the status quo. That has not been the case. Although there is disagreement about what constitutes "status quo" vs. "anti-status quo," in no area that we examined did we find the Chinese government, industry, NGO's, or experts going strongly against the grain of existing international rules and procedures. For the most part, Chinese are attempting to learn the existing rules of the game and not promote alternate institutions and norms.
In 2009, Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of China's central bank, put forward the idea of creating a "super-sovereign currency," but in reality China still favors a dollar-based international monetary system. A substantial part of China's foreign aid is "tied" to economic benefits for Chinese industry, but foreign aid even from many OECD countries has been similarly tied. China's rules for reviewing foreign investment for national security and competition policy concerns are relatively similar to those of other countries. China is a huge violator of IP, but its legal system and the trend of growing patenting amongst Chinese companies places China increasingly within global common practices.
• China's domestic political economy fundamentally shapes how Chinese participate in the international community. Chinese are prone to gravitate making international regimes serve the interest of industry and production, as opposed to the interests of consumers and workers; and they generally prefer state-based institutions, as opposed to private governance mechanisms.
• The global status-quo shouldn't be seen as inherently good, and in fact, in many areas is quite troubling, as overall poverty levels and inequality are still on the rise. The global IP regime, to many, has overly shifted its balance toward protecting inventors at the expense of consumers. China and others need to be much stronger advocates of reform; otherwise, poverty, climate change, and other problems will not be solved.
Workshop co-founder Lin Ostrom, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, gave the conference's keynote address. She discussed how to apply polycentric governance approaches, a key prinicple the Workshop has long advocated, to effectively addressing the problems of global climate change. Her advice: don't just depend on national governments and international negotiations; local initiatives can also be extremely important. She noted a program in Sacramento where when customers were given electric bills that showed how much electricity they used relative to their neighbors ("You're using much more than your neighbors!"), people quickly cut back.
This research on global governance is currently being issued through the center's working paper series. Contributions will soon be revised and published through an edited volume, journal articles, and other formats.