What Does It Mean to Be a Global Power: Focus on China

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    • 00:10

      SHAUN BRESLIN: I'm Shaun Breslin.I'm a professor of politics and international studiesat the University of Warwick, and I'm alsoan associate fellow of the Asian Programmeof the Royal Institute of International Affairs.I'm going to present a case today on what it meansto be a global power or, more specifically, what it meansfor China to be a global power.I'm going to do this by running throughdifferent interpretations or definitions

    • 00:31

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: of global power, what it means to be a global power.How do you have power?How do we measure it?And at the end, hopefully you'll beable to evaluate for yourself whether youthink China has global power or, more correctly, in what areasChina has global power.It's not difficult to find assertions that China

    • 00:53

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: is already a global power.Some examples can be found from the mid-2000s.But China's global power status has much more commonlybeen cited and asserted in the years followingthe global financial crisis.And the 2013 Pew Survey of global attitudesfound that China is popularly thoughtof as the world's leading economic power in North America

    • 01:13

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: and Europe.So it seems to make sense to thinkof China as a global power.But what does being a global power actually entail?Put another way, what qualifies a countryto be counted as a global power?And rather than seeking a single understandingof the nature of Chinese global power,I mistakenly tried to identify a difference, first

    • 01:34

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: by establishing different understandings and definitionsof global power and then by considering Chinese powerin different issue areas.Now I should note here that as important as military poweris, I'm going to leave that to military expertsand here just focus on what we might call political economydimensions of global power.The first task is to think about what we mean by power.

    • 01:54

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: Power here is defined as generating action or changein others, change that they otherwise wouldn't makeor, in some interpretations, changethat runs counter to their prior preferences and interests.It's also important to think in termsof internal and external dimensions of power.By this, I mean that power is partly internally derived,emerging, for example, from the domestic buildup

    • 02:17

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: of armed forces or economic resources.But power is also partly externally granted.It's how others perceive you and consequentlyact that gives you power.The second key thing to say is thisis the study of China as a global power,not as the global power or a studyin Chinese global hegemony.Now China might at some point rise to rule the world,

    • 02:38

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: as some have suggested, and shape the global order.But for the vast majority of analyses both inside Chinawithout, there's no serious suggestionthat China is on the verge of replacingthe US as the global hegemon with the Chinese unipolarsystem anytime soon.China, if it's going to change the world,is going to have change it as number two.

    • 03:02

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: So how can we begin to assess if China has global power or notor perhaps more correctly to assesswhat sort of global power China has become?We're going to suggest that thereare four different understandings thatseem to be most pertinent to looking at China.My original thought was that China's global powerdecreased as you go through each of these four.It's strongest under the first definition.

    • 03:24

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: But looking over it again, I'm not so sure,so see what you think at the end of this video.First, perhaps the loosest and most basicdefinition, being a global power suggeststhat national interests and objectiveshave a global impact.And if this is global power, then China certainly has it.James King, for example, points to how since around 2003,

    • 03:46

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: China has become what he calls an issueof daily international importance,as Chinese demand for a whole range of goods and resourcesbegan to impact on every part of the world.And it's this understanding-- whatChina does has consequences across the world-- thatis most often used in identifyingChina as a global power.We should note, though, that in establishing the idea

    • 04:07

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: that China is a partial power, David Shambaugh warns usthat we need to make a distinction between the spreadof power and the depth of it.A great spread equates to being a global actor,but this is not the same thing as having the abilityto influence and change others that a real global power has,remembering the idea of power as generating change

    • 04:27

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: that we defined above.A second definition is it become the common sensethat the country is or has become a global power.Now, such a common sense understandingisn't typically based on anything specific--no data or definition-- but instead occurs when there'sa widespread acceptance that this is simplythe way that things are, and so to contradict the belief

    • 04:49

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: becomes nonsensical.While this approach is largely usedto explain the maintenance of existing power relationships,the assertion that China simply isa global power may be one that challenges the status quo doesseem to fit this definition of a widely held but unexplainedcommon sense in international politics.Now, in itself, this is not enough to equate power.

    • 05:09

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: The key is for the idea of China,if you can call it that, to generate some sort of action.So here we're looking for evidencethat other countries have changedthe way they act because of the waythat they think of China as a global power.Now one example might be the way that in thinking about whatChina is and, maybe more important, what China willbecome in the future, a number of countriesseem to have changed their policy on pushing human rights

    • 05:32

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: and promoting democracy in China.We might think of this in terms of Chinese imagined power.How others imagine and think of Chinaempowers China from without.The third understanding of having global poweris others taking your interests into accountor what they think your response willbe before making decisions.If we're going to maintain an emphasis on global power here,

    • 05:54

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: power at the global level, well, thiswould seem an apt understanding of Chinese importancewhen it comes to debates on how bestto reform global governance.Here we might think of China as a global veto player--and a veto that it doesn't have to exercise itselfas long as others reject options that theyknow China wouldn't accept.The fourth and final definition is the power

    • 06:16

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: to change the world to one of China's own making.Here it might be helpful to refer to Susan Strange'sunderstanding of structural power, defined as the powerto shape those global structures that all of ushave to operate within.It entails not just creating institutionsof global governance and the rules and norms through whichthey operate but also controlling the way

    • 06:36

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: that states, companies, individuals interactwith each other, the whole way in which the global economy isorganized.This is not just a case of Chinese interestsand influences spreading across the world but of Chinachanging the world itself.And as the influential Chinese scholar Yan Xuetong argues,the top strategic interest of a rising poweris to establish a new world order.

    • 06:58

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: It's this dimension of power thatis generating most interest and indeed considerable concernabout those who are wary of a Chinese-dominated world order.We might suggest that both interestin a potential Chinese world order and, indeed,the possibility of emerging have bothincreased in the wake of the global financial crisis.So can China be considered to be a global power that

    • 07:20

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: seeks to shape the world order to reflect its own interests?Well, the answer is a partial yes.There is a clear willingness in Chinato express dissatisfaction with the global order,push for reform within it that givesChina and other developing states more power.China is now also developing his own transnational governanceinstitutions-- the new Development Bank with its BRICS

    • 07:40

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: partners and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank,for example.Whether they're fundamentally alteringthe way the world is ordered remainsto be seen-- whether, for example, they'lloperate under fundamentally different rules, procedures,and ideas from existing banks.There's also much talk about Chinese soft power, partlydefined as the attraction to Chinese alternativeto the existing global order.

    • 08:02

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: This is partly just a byproduct of consequenceof Chinese success, but there is more to it than this, too.The Chinese government has spent considerable time, effort,and money trying to establish itselfas a new type of global power, one that won't about treatother developing countries as previous great and globalpowers did, one that will fight for the interest of developingcountries to ensure the democratization

    • 08:22

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: of global governance and stop the Western powers from beingable to dominate the world.Now as important as soft power might be,I would suggest that to date, it'sChina's material power, built around economic growthand capital accumulation, that's become the biggest

    • 08:43

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: source of Chinese global power.Here, though, I want to further break downmaterial economic power into threedifferent dimensions-- market power, productivepower, and financial power.While the first two have played important rolesin increasing China's global profile,I think it's the latter, financial power, thathas the potential to be a real game-changer.

    • 09:05

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: So in terms of market power, having a large and growingmarket might not be a source of power in its own right,but it can become a source of powerthrough the skillful use of commercial diplomacy.For example, by controlling who can get accessto this large and growing market.Notwithstanding WTO entry, the government,both central and local governments in China,

    • 09:25

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: set up considerable power to control who can do whatwithin China in many sectors.So does this market power give China global power?Well, if we think back to the different definitionsof global power we identified earlier on,then we can find three reasons for arguing that it does.First, quite simply, what happens in the Chinese markethas an impact across the globe.

    • 09:47

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: Second, rather than the outward projection of global power,China has the ability to defend itselffrom what we might call the liberal global order.It's what Daniel Drezner calls a defensive and deterrent power.And third, as I've already suggested,it also allows China to persuade other countriesto do things that they might not otherwise want to do.For example, countries that decide to exercise their rights

    • 10:09

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: and, for example, meet the Dalai Lama often find themselvesand companies based in their national jurisdictionsdenied access to China.Meanwhile, those who have repentedfor previous misdemeanors are rewarded at their expense.Having productive power is defined hereas having power over what is produced, how it's produced,and how the products are exchanged,

    • 10:31

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: a phrase I've taken from Engels.In a world of globalized production,it becomes very difficult to say which individual countryhas productive power defined in this way.For example, if a company from Japan loses production to Chinato produce exports to the American market,is the power China's or the investing companies'?

    • 10:51

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: Or does it lie in the power of the American marketand American consumers?Or is it in some way shared between them all?Now for these reasons and given the importanceof foreign investment into China in generating Chinese exports,I think early analysis of China's participationin the global economy slightly exaggeratedthe extent to which power really was Chinese or at least Chinese

    • 11:14

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: alone.But while we can question the balanceof power between the Chinese stateand non-Chinese and non-state economic actors, whathappened in China increasingly had a global significance.In this definition of inner global power,Chinese power really has been on the rise.Decisions made by Chinese political elitesabout the way in which China re-engaged

    • 11:36

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: with the global economy-- that's a reconfigurationof the regional economy.It forced other regional states' decision-makersto rethink their own development strategies.In Japan, Western Europe, the United States,as more companies move their production to China,then others had to think how they could best respond.Now what might we look for in the future

    • 11:57

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: as a sign of a more fundamental global powershift in production?Probably a more dominant role for Chinese companies,particularly in advanced markets,in the way that Japanese and Korean national champions cameto dominate some economic sectors in the past, perhapsalso Chinese actors taking the leadin innovative high-tech sectors--but maybe Chinese outward investment changing patterns

    • 12:19

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: of global production elsewhere.And this brings us to the final dimensionof material economic sources of power-- finance.And notwithstanding the significanceof China as a source of global production,it's perhaps in this realm that Chinese power has become

    • 12:41

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: most evident in recent years.The growth of Chinese foreign currency holdings in itselfis often given as a source of Chinese power.We should note here, though, that itmight be difficult to actually articulate this power.Dumping dollar holdings might indeedbe a powerful tool that could causehavoc for the US economy-- indeed,

    • 13:01

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: the global economy in general.But creating global turmoil would alsohave severe implications for a major global tradingnation like China, a big case of mutuallyassured economic destruction.Nevertheless, the idea that the UShas become in some ways financially dependent on China,therefore potentially subject to Beijing interests,

    • 13:22

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: has gained a popular audience.The creation of the China Investment Corporation in 2007had a new dimension with the ideathat it would act as an agent of state powerin strategically purchasing major assets across the world.But despite some high-profile purchases,it's actually the broader economic activities

    • 13:42

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: of Chinese companies overseas that havecreated the idea of that China is out to buy the world.The activities of major state-owned enterprises,often funded by Chinese development loansto secure energy resources and other industrial outputs,has created the idea of a China, Inc., a coherent state

    • 14:02

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: effort deliberately designed to strengthen Chinaat the expense of the rest of the world.Now it'd be wrong to associate allthat is done by everybody Chineseas in some ways part of a state project.Indeed, all that is done by Chinese state-owned enterpriseshas been part of a concerted state effort.Quite simply, the search for profits

    • 14:23

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: and commercial objectives have also played an important rolein generating overseas investmentand increasing China's global economic profile.We also need to take care not to exaggerate China's significanceand forget that other countries are doing it, too.Even so, Chinese investment clearlyhas become an important component of the way

    • 14:43

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: that the global economy really works.And China's economic reach is now truly global.For example, in Latin America, trade with Chinawas one reason that a number of regional economieswere able to offset at least part of the impacton their economies that emerged from the decline in demandfrom the USA.And we shouldn't underestimate the significance

    • 15:05

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: of the global crisis.In addition to real, tangible economic relationships,the crisis also changed perceptions of Chinaand Chinese finance in large parts of the world.Rather than seeing China simply through production or marketlenses, the potential role for Chinese financetook on a new importance.

    • 15:27

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: Political arguments about the wisdomof letting China gain a stronger economic footholdin large parts of the West lost considerable purchaseas the urgency of finding new drivers of economic growthtook hold.This took the form of both individual European nationslooking to China as a source of potential investment and alsothe failed attempt to gain Chinese financial support

    • 15:48

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: for the Euro bailout project.And I think it's fair to say that itled to a perception of a global power shiftwithin China itself.Though once, China was thought of as somewherebelow Europe on the ladder of global powers,the crisis resulted in a shift of these perceptions,with Chinese increasingly thinking of Chinaas occupying second place.

    • 16:16

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: If we tried to put all this together and cometo an overall evaluation, then wecan suggest that while China really does have global power,it is a bit limited and rather lessthan a common sense understanding wouldhave us believe.It's clear that what happens in China ripples around the world.China is largely considered to be global power by others

    • 16:38

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: and they treat it as such, devise policiesand articulate preferences having first consideredwhat they think the Chinese response might be.Alone and with others, China has the abilityto force for limited reform of the balance of powerwithin global institutions and to introducenew ones if it is dissatisfied with the paceand extent of change.

    • 16:59

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: China is also reasserting the primacy of sovereigntyas a basis for how the international communityconceives of and delivers the right to protectand providing an alternative thatweakens the ability of the existing powersto get their own way.To date, China has become an active memberwithin the existing institutions of global governance,not a revolutionary opponent of them.

    • 17:21

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: This is particularly the case whenmoving towards existing norms, participating in existinginstitutions, is seen as being beneficialfor Chinese industrial and broader economic interests.Now, of course, this does not mean that China is simplya status quo power that is happy with thingsexactly as they are.We've seen that this is not the case.

    • 17:41

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: But even where China is promoting clear alternativesto the status quo-- for example, in the formation of the AsianInfrastructure Investment Bank-- is not so muchattacking the existing order as providing alternativeswithin it.What of the future?There has been a question over whether Chinais prepared to accept the cost of transferring

    • 18:01

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: global power into leadership.For example, in climate change negotiations.Time will tell.And I want to finish on a slightly different note.If we're searching for global change, then of courseit is important to look at the global power,real and potential, of countries like China.But China cannot change the world on its own.

    • 18:23

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: How others react to China, how they see it now and imagineit to be in the future, will be a key determinantof whether China can exercise its power or not.So we need to focus on followers as well as leadersand whether they see Chinese global power asbeneficial or legitimate.And although we haven't discussedthe regional dimension or, indeed, military power

    • 18:46

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: today, how China exercises its military power in the Southand East China Seas will have a massive impact onwhether the potential followers are prepared to accommodateChinese global power or not.

What Does It Mean to Be a Global Power: Focus on China

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Abstract

Professor Shaun Breslin asks, "Is China a global power?" He analyzes assumptions and counterpoints to determine whether China has achieved global power status and whether there is anyone else at the top.

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What Does It Mean to Be a Global Power: Focus on China

Professor Shaun Breslin asks, "Is China a global power?" He analyzes assumptions and counterpoints to determine whether China has achieved global power status and whether there is anyone else at the top.

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