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Secretary Clinton Discusses China’s Global Responsibilities as an Emerging Power

United States Institute of Peace



Excerpts from Secretary Clinton’s Remarks at the U.S. Institute of Peace China Conference:

…And China has its own choices to make. Its power, wealth, and influence have pushed it rapidly to a new echelon in the international order. What China says and does reverberates around the globe, and simply by changing itself, China affects the world around it. At the same time, it is still working on its great economic mission, bringing development to millions more of the Chinese people. My Chinese counterparts often talk to me in passionate terms about how far their country still has to go. So China is faced with the complicated task of balancing the demands of development with its responsibilities as an emerging global power, or as my Chinese friends sometimes say, a reemerging global power, because of course China has hundreds, thousands of years of history as an influential nation and culture.

And I’ve pointed out to my counterparts China’s response at times has been to seek to have it at both ways, acting like what I call a selective stakeholder. In some forums, on some issues, China wants to be treated as a great power; in others, as a developing nation. That’s perfectly understandable, because China has attributes of both. Nonetheless, the world is looking for China to play a role that is commensurate with its new standing. And that means it can no longer be a selective stakeholder.

Now, I’m well aware that debates about the rise of China and other emerging powers, and they usually start and too often stop with people simply saying, “With great power comes great responsibility” – I think that is a quote from the movie Spiderman, if I remember – (laughter) – and just leaving it at that. Well, it is worth pushing ourselves further on what this really means in action on a pragmatic, day-to-day basis.

The link between power and responsibility is built into the logic of global politics. As countries become more powerful, their stake in the success of the international system naturally rises, because they have more to lose when that system fails. At the same time, the world’s expectations of them naturally rise as well, because they have more to contribute to strengthen the system. But more than this, it is understandable that the international community wants some confidence that a country’s growing power will be used for the benefit of all. And given the historic challenges to security and stability posed by rising powers, they do have a special obligation to demonstrate in concrete ways that they are going to pursue a constructive path. This is particularly true for a country that has grown as rapidly and as dramatically as China has.

Ultimately, because emerging powers have such a large and growing impact, allowing them to selectively pick and choose elements of the rules-based international system that may on a short-term basis suit their interests would render the system unworkable. And that would end up impoverishing everyone. Having said that, the international system is not static.


…But there are principles that we know work And we cannot afford to abandon them…


…promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, which do reflect universal values and the inherent dignity of all humankind.

We believe China will have to go further to fully embrace its new role in the world to give the world confidence that it is going to, not just today or on one set of issues, but for the long run, play a positive role that will enhance security, stability, and prosperity.

So the world is looking to China and asking questions like these: Will China adapt its foreign policy so it contributes more to solving regional and global problems to make it possible for others to succeed as well? Will it use its power to help end brutal violence against civilians in places like Syria… Will it work more vigorously to establish international standards in cyberspace, so the internet works for everyone and so people in China and elsewhere can harness its economic and social benefits?


…Finally, we do ask, can China meet its obligations to protect universal human rights and fundamental freedoms? Now, this is an area in which we have had long and profound disagreements. And even as our two countries become more interdependent, the United States will, of course, continue to stand by our principles and universal standards of human rights. And we believe that with development comes an opportunity for the aspirations of people everywhere to express themselves freely, whether on the Internet, or in a public square, or on the factory floor. And so like people everywhere, we do believe that the Chinese people have their own legitimate aspirations, and we do believe that everyone should have a legal system that is independent and will protect them from arbitrary action. And we do believe, not just in China but everywhere, in religious and linguistic differences, cultural differences being respected. Reforms that support these goals give people a greater stake in the success of their nations, which in turn makes societies more stable, prosperous and peaceful.

…Now, questions like these are the kind that we kick around all the time with our Chinese counterparts. And I personally am very grateful for the open, candid dialogues that we have been holding for the last three years. We have the greatest respect for what China has accomplished in 40 years, and we want to see those accomplishments continue to build into the future.

Full Speech

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