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The Rise of China - Challenges for Development Policy and Strategy

Time (GMT +00) 13:00 14:30


John Humphrey, Team Leader, Globalisation, IDS


Lauren Phillips, Research Fellow, ODI


Simon Maxwell, Director, ODI

John Humphrey started by highlighting the fact that China is no longer an aid beneficiary of Europe and the UK, but a development partner. He argued that there are three main challenges to international development policies stemming from this. The UK and Europe should pay particular attention to these challenges and how to work with China on them. He asserted that it was dangerous to assume that the UK and Europe could change the Chinese agenda.

Humphrey saw aspects to Chinese power which the West could seek to influence: economic power and soft power.

In describing Chinese economic power, Humphrey highlighted the massive influence it has as a trading partner. There is seen to be a 'scramble' for Africa by China but Humphreys argued that within Africa there is also a corresponding scramble to realise the potential of the Chinese market. He emphasised the influence China also enjoys as a result of African infrastructure investment, as well as the loans and debt relief it provides. He stated that this economic power is not on the scale that the Triad Economies had asserted, but it is unexpected.

Humphrey's view that China's perceived soft power comes not from what it currently is, but perceptions of what it will be, i.e. the nation to challenge and possibly usurp the United States. China has acquired its current and growing position from a non-standard model of development, Humphrey asserted which also threatens and undermines the West's belief in other development models. He described the hypocrisy of both the West and Japan in questioning the role of China in the development of Africa, highlighting in particular the arguments they posit about conditionality. These were not dissimilar from the conditionality imposed by these nations themselves on Japan with regard to whaling and the US' focus on Security Council members with regard to its aid and development agenda.

Humphrey went on to describe that the developed world view China as needing to be 'tamed'. This, Humphrey argued, is why they are trying to bring China in line with their own development practices, for example, involvement with the DAC; involvement in other Donor groups; and following their lead on international situations. He assessed China as being reluctant to submit to these pressures, for fear of being perceived as sub-subservient.

Humphrey suggested instead that developed nations should try to engage, understand and work with China. He argued that UK and European policy should be:

  • To appreciate that China is still very new on the development scene and may not have the skills, knowledge and experience from which the UK and Europe benefit

  • To engage in dialogue with groups that influence Chinese policymakers;

  • Interactions between the UK, Europe and China should be multi-faceted and should include engagement by both governments, NGOs, think tanks and scholars

  • To help build links between China and Africa using the influence and experience of the UK and Europe

  • Perhaps most importantly, for Europe to act as a united front in its engagement with China

He ended by stating that China is just starting to understand the impact of its rapidly changing status on the rest of the world, and the UK and Europe need to be partners rather than competitors in this process.

Lauren Phillips opened her comments by agreeing with John Humphrey on most points and discussing some of the questions as to why China matters in the international system. Similarly to Humphrey, she believed the real power that China holds currently is that it has the ability to transform the international political order.

She went on to discuss international relations theory, especially with regard to China's role in Africa. On the one hand, Realists are concerned that China's new role in Africa is a sign to the West of it's global intentions. Whereas Liberals feel that China's position may undermine the current rules of the international society.

She then discussed how Realists are focused on the balance of power, which gives rise to three situations:

  • When balances of power are shifting - this is the most unstable situation for the international system

  • When there are two major powers which gives rise to a bipolar system - this is thought to be more stable, as each power acts as a check on the other

  • When there is one major power which gives rise to a unipolar system - this is seen to be moderately stable, though its longevity is questionable

Phillips then posed the question of how China's rapid growth and corresponding power might be interpreted using international relations theory. She asserted that it would probably be asserted that this level of growth could act to destabilise the current global order. This would be dependent on whether China acts as a revisionist or a status quo state.

Phillips then focused on the evidence available to analyse China's conduct according to the rules and norms of the international system, compared to that of the West. She felt that China had acted similarly to its Western counterparts in all areas, possibly with the exception of human rights, though she added that it was difficult to draw any firm conclusions at this early stage.

She concluded that there is no easy answer to the question of the effect of rapid Chinese growth, though she did feel that China could have the capacity to transform the international system, but only in co-operation with the EU, US and Asia. This was because China's current power is primarily the result of economic growth, in which these regions are all important partners.


In the discussion which followed, the following points and questions were raised:

  • China is not as powerful in Africa as is perceived, being only Africa's third largest trading partner

  • Could the impact on African agriculture, as a result of Chinese agricultural policies, be the same as that on industry in Latin America?

  • It must not be forgotten that China may also want to influence African domestic policies

  • China may not always have correct/beneficial policies when dealing with Africa but could those of the developed world be described as such?

  • Conditionality is still an important factor in the current discussions between the EU and China

  • China is promoting the status quo in its dealings with Latin America because of the US presence there, so possibly if another power challenged China in Africa this may result in a change

  • The main issue with regard to China is the West's struggle to accept that China has become the new global economic force

  • In the past, China saw the US as a competitor, but there is increasing evidence that it is now viewing the US as a partner

  • The West primarily sees itself as a responsible power, whereas China views itself primarily as an economic power

  • The importance of China's possible role in Darfur and possible change in approach as a result of recent events


The seventh and final meeting in the joint IDS, IIED and ODI 'Development Horizons' series discussed china and development policy.

John Humphrey started by highlighting the fact that China is no longer an aid beneficiary of Europe and the UK, but a development partner.