Global Governance: How Fine, How Fast, and How Far? - A Perspective of China

The rapid development of economic globalisation, the resultant upsurge of global issues and increasing expansion of civil society has led to a deepening of international mutual dependence between countries. The concept of global governance, which had been dormant for a long time, rose at the end of the 1980s and the dawn of the 1990s. Many social powers and scholars began to define the models of global governance from their respective perspectives. Global governance, as a ubiquitous term, showcases the expertise of leading scholars and practitioners concerned with the processes of international cooperation and multilateralism. Global governance has been a significant issue in Chinese academic literature for a long time (see Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1: Prevalence of Global Governance in China (2001–2010)


Note: Number of hits in Chinese Wanfang Data search with “global governance” anywhere in the article. The y-axis indicates number of articles.


Figure 2: Prevalence of Global Governance in China (1997–2008)


Note 1: Number of hits in Chinese National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) search with “global governance” (caption) in the article. The y-axis indicates number of articles.

Note 2: The A and B labels in the figure refer to the top two citations. A: Keping, Y. 2002. An introduction to global governance. Marxism and Reality 1:22–32. B: Cai, T., Nanlin W. 2004. Global management: A new way of cooperation adapting to the globalization. Nankai Journal 2:64–70.

These figures demonstrate the gradual increase in the use of the concept of "global governance", which began to be emphasized more frequently by Chinese social scientists. The analyses of Chinese global governance mainly concentrate on the following: global governance institutions, modes of global governance, legitimacy, achievements, obstacles, etc.

The purpose of this paper is to explore Chinese academic literature for concepts related to the efficacy, future, and obstacles of global governance.

Global Governance: How Fine

Although global governance in some Chinese literatures is considered to be a distant dream, others claim a more positive evaluation. However, in the light of the recent global financial crises, it is time that people around the world cool off from this ideological debate, as some Chinese think that the notion of democracy has been mixed in with the global governance of the past decade, and focus on its implementation, such as meeting global challenges.

According to Chinese literature, notable achievements in global governance and global cooperation have recently emerged in three general areas: cultivating civil society, spreading universal values, and solving global issues. (1)

At present, more and more civil society organisations have established a positive and tight social network in China, influenced by the notion of global governance. Notably, a large number of national cooperative organisations have emerged and have shown exuberant vitality. These civil society organisations have also boosted the diversification and multidirectional development of political resources at home and abroad. Participation of non-state actors in public policy making improves both its quality and the effectiveness of its implementation in China’s decision-making processes.

Another important contribution of global governance theory is the dissemination of universal values (such as democracy, liberty, and human rights) to developing countries, which reflects a new feature in the course of globalisation. Global governance encourages multidimensional cooperation among non-governmental organisations, global international organisations, and the governments of all countries. It supports the efforts within China to promote the rule of law, accountable government, and universal values. For example, more and more Chinese defenders and advocates show their objection to current government policies (for instance, having to beg for channel and supervisory space on the Internet) by saying, "Human rights are the most important value in the modern world."

The last contribution of this theory is that a long-term mechanism to tackle global issues has been initially established. During the participating countries' debates in global or regional forums, a consensus emerged around these key points: First, global threats compel all governments to assume responsibility through multilateralism and concerted global action. Second, factors that trigger global issues are immensely complex and challenge the traditional concept of national sovereignty. "Global governance institutions" cover a diversity of multilateral entities, such as the World Trade Organisation and International Monetary Fund, whose connotations lead to a paradigmatic consensus.

Global Governance: How Fast

Despite the fact that we can take great pride in past achievements, there is still room for improvement for better global governance and a better global future. Global governance is a process of interactions between what is to be and what is supposed to be, the merging of the ideal and the reality. In the Chinese people opinion, the prospective breakthroughs in arrangements for global governance that we would like to see achieved in the future mainly focus on the following points.

First, the wisdom of traditional Chinese culture should play a more important role in global governance through increased cultural exchanges between the East and the West. The Chinese traditional culture is considered to be the crystallisation of human wisdom and heritage, which could support global governance by stressing the importance of such concepts as cooperation, a concept highlighted in Master Sun's Art of War (Sun Zi Bing Fa). (2) Besides, Confucian values have been introduced in international society through China’s adoption of a harmonious world(hexie shijie) foreign policy perspective in this century. More and more scholars have realised that "Confucianism" equals peace, human-centeredness, benevolence, and public morality in its discourse. All of these characteristics are also present in the global governance idea.

Hence, nowadays we need to take Chinese factors into account when considering global issues. Otherwise, "global governance" will become a narcissistic narrative.

Second, we should raise small countries to the same political status as big powers. Gone are the days when a big nation could lord over small ones. Truly effective global governance requires joint participation of all members, so both small countries and big countries should be given an equal role. As we have seen, the small countries in the Great Lakes region of Africa are rapidly gaining a reputation as green pioneers, for they have made huge contributions to global environmental protection. Global governance in the future should give more "voice and choice" to such small countries so that they can play a full part in the process of it.

Third, the pace of integrating different regulations should accelerate. It's quite obvious that there is a divergence among different regulations in the 21st century. As such, the logical process among different regulations lies in resolving system conflict and system vacuum to realise system coupling, thus enhancing the efficiency of system structure and providing better public goods. More and more global standard protocols and agreements will be reached. In the case of climate change and appropriate international monitoring, without a new global agreement, there is a little chance of governing serious climate change successfully.

Global Governance: How Far

The world is undergoing a process of structural transformation in multiple dimensions: technological, economic, cultural, and institutional. The interweaving and common effects of changing factors, which can lead to important advances in mutual understanding and cooperation, have also shaken the development of global governance. The key objective of global governance should be furthering in-depth development to achieve the national structural transformation to good governance in different dimensions

To attain sustainability, global governance needs to improve in the following areas. First, the legitimacy of global governance should be validated. Without the support of this legitimacy, we can hardly imagine that an overlapping consensus (Rawls 1987) on any issue will come true. Furthermore, if sovereignties persist in boundary and territory disputes and legitimate violence, they would undermine the ability of global governance to achieve its full development and potential.

Ideological challenges should be a second concern. The notion of democracy has got interwoven with global governance by its opponents and proponents in the past decade. As a result, it has provoked backlash from some developing countries (e.g., China). Therefore, we should distinguish between same problems and similar problems. For example, global warming is the same problem faced by every country, but democratic institutions of different countries face similar problems depending on their specific conditions.

Growing global inequality and socio-economic deprivation are other areas of concern. These issues create as many opportunities as threats; for example, the organisational and institutional tools of global governance are either insufficient or inadequate in some countries.

All in all, although the theory of global governance describes a beautiful vista of international harmony and tries to solve global problems, the future of global governance remains an open question until the above problems can be solved.


(School of Government; Peking University; Beijing 100871)



(1) Most Chinese scholars agree that the idea of global governance has isomorphic influences on the development of countries and choices of citizens (Keping Y. 2011, Yong X. 2001, Zhenlai D.1992). Meanwhile, especially recently, in China, there has been fierce debate about the acceptability of a universal value system. Some scholars support efforts within China to promote the rule of law, accountable government, and universal values; there is a belief that the world’s widespread acceptance of democracy and human rights values will increase the possibility that China will eventually transform to a democracy. However, others oppose this development. They think that the universal value of "impartiality, harmony, and responsibility" is the essence of oriental civilization and is more appropriate compared with the Western values of "democracy, freedom, and human rights."

(2) Sun told a story about cooperation in his Art of War, "For the men of Wu and the men of Yueh are enemies; yet if they are crossing a river in the same boat and are caught by a storm, they will come to each other's assistance just as the left hand helps the right" (XI. The Nine Situations , Master Sun's Art of War).



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