Analyses | 01 December 2010

The stakeholder spectrum: China and the United Nations

In recent decades China has become a far more active and effective player in, and contributor to, the United Nations. However, according to Dr Michael Fullilove, the limits of this enhanced engagement are becoming clear. Dr Fullilove emphasises that while the West might advocate that China become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in the international system, China’s leadership may respond that the responsibilities – and prerogatives – of a stakeholder are open to interpretation. 

  • Michael Fullilove

In recent decades China has become a far more active and effective player in, and contributor to, the United Nations. However, according to Dr Michael Fullilove, the limits of this enhanced engagement are becoming clear. Dr Fullilove emphasises that while the West might advocate that China become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in the international system, China’s leadership may respond that the responsibilities – and prerogatives – of a stakeholder are open to interpretation. 

  • Michael Fullilove
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Key Findings

  • China has become a more engaged and effective member of the United Nations.
  • There are limits to this Chinese engagement – China has refused to shoulder the responsibilities commensurate to its growing power.
  • While pressure may be brought to bear on China to assume a greater role, China’s notion of ‘stepping up’ may not be the same as the West’s.

Executive Summary

In this article for the prestigious journal The Washington Quarterly, Dr Michael Fullilove argues that China has become a far more active and effective contributor to the United Nations. However, he emphasises that this increased engagement with the UN has limits. While China has become a more active participant in UN forums, it has thus far refused to shoulder the responsibilities attached to its great-power status.

Dr Fullilove lays out China’s engagement with the UN on a ‘stakeholder spectrum’, which outlines the degree of engagement according to a variety of issues. At one end of the spectrum, China has increased its diplomatic engagement with the UN organisation in New York and has enhanced its contribution to UN peacekeeping. At the other end of the spectrum China has refused to engage over human rights issues and has used its Security Council veto to shield pariah states from international pressure.

Dr Fullilove argues that, as China assumes a global role in international affairs, pressure will be brought to bear on China to ‘move up the stakeholder spectrum’ and to intensify its engagement with the UN. However, Fullilove cautions that China’s notion of ‘stepping up’ and assuming a more active role may not be compliant with Western expectations. The West needs to consider carefully what it wishes for: while Washington or Canberra might press China to assume greater responsibility, growing Chinese assertiveness would arouse concern.