China's president Xi Jinping (left) and his wife Peng Liyuan. Photo: EPA

China deserves more credit for its positive global contributions

Jonathan Power says nation has been an easy target for Western snipers

China is a sitting duck. Not so long ago, as far as most of the rest of the world was concerned, it was almost a closed, mysterious, society. Now it is wide open. The bad is there for all to see. And this has allowed an open season on the shooting range. The targets are legion - corruption, nepotism, nationalism, maladministration, growing inequality, environmental degradation, overassertive foreign policy and the military build-up.

Western critics enjoy popping off at them. Much of what they say is true, but much is exaggerated and much of the positive is ignored.

It is firmly committed to opposing the enlargement of the nuclear weapons club

China's attitude to global governance - the collective management of common problems at the international level - is a good place to start. In the time of Mao Zedong, excluded from the UN by the US veto, it had nothing to lose by playing the wild card.

After Richard Nixon's opening to China, including its admission to the UN in 1971, China moved from opponent of global governance to playing a passive position while it learned the rules of the road. Since 2000, it has been more of an activist, confident and outspoken.

Global finance is a good example. In 2009, China began to push for a major reform of the international monetary system and suggested that the US dollar be phased out as the world's principal reserve currency in favour of a basket of currencies including its own - perhaps a sensible idea. Meanwhile, it won approval for an increase in its voting rights in the International Monetary Fund. In its role as a responsible influence on international financial affairs, it won the appointment of a Chinese as the World Bank's chief economist and another as deputy head of the IMF.

Over the past 30 years, China has signed up as a member of most inter-governmental organisations and hundreds of the big NGOs. China has become a "socialised" member of the international community. It is a signatory of more than 300 multilateral treaties with a reputation for its diplomats' knowledge and sophistication.

These days China is one of the world's strongest advocates of the UN. It is the least frequent user of the veto among the "Big Five" on the Security Council. It makes an effort not to appear out of step with the consensus and would rather abstain than vote against a resolution.

China has affixed its signature to all the international treaties concerned with nuclear non-proliferation and arms control, including the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty which the US, once its great proponent, has not ratified. Breaking ranks with both the US and Russia, it has proclaimed a nuclear weapons "no first use" pledge. It is firmly committed to opposing the enlargement of the nuclear weapons club, most importantly to North Korea.

According to David Shambaugh in his fine new book, , in the Security Council, China has voted identically with the US 93 per cent of the time. He also notes that China has contributed 20,000 troops to UN peacekeeping over the past 20 years, with very little publicity.

Publicly, it has also accepted the controversial "Responsibility to Protect" principle passed by the Security Council in 2006, which can be used to override the precious state sovereignty that China has earnestly protected, if there is genocide or other crimes against humanity.

China still has a propensity on occasion to behave in the old way - dealing with some of the world's more unsavoury regimes and being caught violating the UN sanctions it has voted for, as with the Iranian banks. But, overall, it is moving forward into positive territory, an understated story in the world outside China.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: China deserves more credit for its positive global roles