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Time for a Strategic Reset

Author: Elizabeth C. Economy, C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies
January 26, 2012
Americas Quarterly


Chinese foreign policy has had a good run. With a booming economy as its calling card, Beijing has pushed to the forefront of the emerging economies, negotiated wide-ranging free-trade agreements with its neighbors, and rejuvenated previously moribund economies through its demand for natural resources. Its vast foreign currency holdings have also transformed Beijing into the world's banker. China is now the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt. It is a more significant provider of loans to the developing world than the World Bank, and is one of the few global economies capable of significant assistance in the midst of the eurozone crisis.

China's very success, however, has bred new challenges for its foreign policy. The country's vast economic reach means it must now be prepared to address crises far afield, negotiate difficult tradeoffs between its economic and security interests, and be responsive to the demands of the global community.

The Chinese people now openly voice their opinions, placing pressure on a traditionally opaque policy process. And when the world looks at China, it no longer sees a developing country; it sees the world's largest exporting nation, the second largest economy and the largest population.

Commodity markets rise and fall on Chinese demand. The country's trade and investment practices shape the way business is done throughout the world. Global climate change hinges in good measure on the future trajectory of Chinese energy policies. And no international regime—from protecting intellectual property rights, to controlling cyber warfare, to preventing nuclear proliferation—can thrive without full Chinese commitment.

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