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David Miliband: China ready to join US as world power

May 19, 2009

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
Guardian (UK)
May 17, 2009

The view from the gallery of the Shanghai World
Financial tower, a symbol of China's growing
economic influence. Photograph: Dan Chung/Guardian

David Miliband today described China as the 21st
century's "indispensable power" with a decisive
say on the future of the global economy, climate change and world trade.

The foreign secretary predicted that over the
next few decades China would become one of the
two "powers that count", along with the US, and
Europe could emerge as a third only if it learned to speak with one voice.

The remarks, in a Guardian interview, represented
the most direct acknowledgement to date from a
senior minister, or arguably from any western
leader, of China's ascendant position in the global pecking order.

Miliband said a pivotal moment in China's rise
came at the G20 summit last month in London. Hu
Jintao, China's president, arrived as the head of
the only major power still enjoying strong growth
(expected to be 8% this year), backed by substantial financial reserves.

"The G20 was a very significant coming of
economic age in an international forum for China.
If you looked around the 20 ­people sitting at
the table … what was striking was that when China
spoke everybody listened," Miliband said.

"China's indispensability in part comes from
size, but a second part is that it wants to play a role."

Hu helped bolster Gordon Brown's ­position
against protectionism, and ­China's economic
stimulus package (equivalent to 16% of its GDP
over two years) is widely seen as among the world's best hopes for a recovery.

"Historians will look back at 2009 and see that
China played an incredibly important role in
stabilising global capitalism. That is very
significant and sort of ironic," Miliband said.
"There's a joke that goes: 'After 1989,
capitalism saved China. After 2009, China saved capitalism.'"

Signals from Beijing since the ­London summit
that it is considering tough ­concerted action to
reduce CO2 emissions, have raised hopes of
reaching a ­workable international pact to contain climate change.

Miliband compared China's potential role in the
coming years to the role the US claimed for
itself in the 20th century, recalling a 1998
boast by Madeleine Albright, then US secretary of state.

"China is becoming an indispensable power in the
21st century in the way Madeleine Albright said
the US was an indispensable power at the end of
the last century," Miliband said. "It has become
an indispensable power economically, and China
will become an indispensable power across a wider range of issues."

But in contrast to America's 20th-century ascent,
which eclipsed Britain, Miliband said China would
not displace the US but rather join it at "the
new top table", and because of its low per capita
income, it would not rival the US as the world's
leading superpower for at least a generation.

At the G20 summit, some commentators argued that
the most important axis was a "G2" of the US and
China. Whether that could be expanded to a "G3",
Milband argued, would be up to Europe.

"I think that there is a scenario where America
and China are the powers that count," the foreign
secretary said. "It is massively in our interests
to make sure that we have a stake in that debate,
and the most effective way of doing so is … to
ensure we do it with a European voice."

A report by the European Council on Foreign
Relations argued that China was exploiting the
EU's divisions and treating it with "diplomatic
contempt". The report, published in advance of
Wednesday's EU-China summit in Prague, said that
European states, dealing with China individually,
lacked leverage on issues such as trade, human rights and Tibet.

"Europe has not been sufficiently strategic in
its relationship with China," Miliband said. "I
think a significant part of that is
institutional. The EU-China relationship is a
good case for the Lisbon treaty. At the moment,
at every EU-China summit, the EU side is led by a
different presidency and every year there's a different set of priorities.

"Miliband denied Britain had allowed human rights
to slide down the agenda with China, saying there
was a constant dialogue between the two countries
on the issue. "It's a mature relationship that
does take these issues seriously," he said.
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