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The G7 and China in the Management of the International Financial System

Professor John Kirton
Department of Political Science
Centre for International Studies
University of Toronto

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1. The Debate Over China's Relationship to the G7: Object, Associate or Member

The issue of China's proper relationship with, or even prospective place in, the G7/8 has been a prominent feature of the debate over reform of the Summit process launched by the end of the European cold war during the past decade. Amidst the rich array or opinions featured in this debate, three broad schools of thought about China have dominated. The first treats China as an outside object, neither worthy of greater inclusion nor a country bringing valuable assets into the G7/8. The second considers China to be a valuable associate, with more formalized links to the G7/8 bringing net advantages to both. The third judges China to be a legitimate member, particularly after Russia's admission, of some if not all of the G7/8 institutions.


a. Outside Object:

The first school of thought treats China as an outside object, warranting no institutionalized association with the G7. Canadian scholar John Kirton has well reflected the core position that China lacks the full set of qualities required for membership in this exclusive club. He predicts: "Today's often touted prospective entrants - China, India, Indonesia, Brazil - will only be admitted if and when, in the still distant future, they become enduring market-oriented, democratic major powers, and thus acquire the fully systemic perspective, sense of responsibility and capacity to contribute to global order which flows from these attributes." (Kirton 1999: 48).

Perhaps the leading scholar of the Summit, British diplomat and now academic Nicholas Bayne, shares this attitude, although for reasons rooted directly in the functioning of the G7/8 rather than the qualities of China itself. He writes: "large populous countries, like China, India, Mexico and Brazil, deserve more weight as they open up their large internal markets..(but)..present G7 membership provides the best opportunity for exerting reciprocal pressure between the highly developed countries of Europe, North America and Japan, which would be lost if the composition were changed" (Bayne 1995).

Even those that believe the G7/8 Summit itself needs new members, for reasons of representativeness and legitimacy, do not necessarily privilege or even include China in their list of prospective associates. For example, American scholar Jeffrey Sachs has argued for the G8 to expand into a G16. But unlike developing Brazil, India, South Korea and South Africa, and then democratic Nigeria, Chile and Costa Rica, he does not specify China as a desirable new entrant. (Sachs 1998)

It is noteworthy that those treating China as an outside object consider China to be one among a large class of prospective associates, with Brazil and India being the most frequent colleagues or surrogates. By this calculus, those finding the G7/8 grounded in a particular value or deficient in a certain aspect could well favour others on the list. Privileging the G7/8's democratic character would make India the obvious candidate, while a desire for greater geographic representativeness would point to Brazil (given the presence of existing member Japan to represent Asia).


b. Worthy Associate

The second school of thought views China as a worthy associate of the G7/8, although one lacking at present, and perhaps for some time, a legitimate claim for full membership. British scholar Michael Hodges has argued that "China is a major player, not only in the regional context of the 1997-8 Asian crisis, but also in the world economy as a whole" (Hodges 1999: 71). He concludes that "it may be useful to extend formalized links between the G7 or G8 and China, given the growing importance of China to the global economy."

A more developed analysis in the same direction comes from American analyst William Whyman. He treats China's relevance not only in the context of other candidates, but of Russia in the years just prior to its admission into the new G8. Whyman begins by noting the need to give "large emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil" a voice in the major international economic regimes "or their support for an open, multilateral economic system and their domestic economic liberalization cannot be assured." (Whyman 1995:151). The new constellation of power and the new global challenges further underscore a claim. He continues: "if the G-7 follows a path that refocuses on guiding the international economic system, there is a logic to including the emerging giants of the twenty-first century such as China, India, Brazil, and maybe even Indonesia, Nigeria or a unified Korea." (Whyman 1995:157). He concludes, however that in the short to medium term, such a prospect is unlikely, and that limited moves toward greater association should be sought.


c. Legitimate Member

A third school of thought regards China, at present, as a legitimate member of some or all of the G7/G8 system. This school begins with the longstanding criticism of the institution on the grounds that it lacks legitimacy or effectiveness because it excludes such robust and rising powers as China (Commission on Global Governance 1995, ul Haq 1994, Jayarwedna 1989). The case, argued by those who both want to expand the G7, or replace it with a more representative institution as the center for global economic governance, rests on several major claims: the world's ten largest and most rapidly growing economies on a purchasing power basis include China, India, Brazil and Russia, with Mexico, Indonesia and the Republic of Korea not far behind; these countries have much of the world's population; without them the G7 accords low priority to the development issues that preoccupy most of the world; and expanded membership would thus make the G7 or its replacement more representative and effective.

One of the earliest calls for China to be given full membership offered a more comprehensive set of rationales. Writing in 1993 American analyst W. R. Smyser, argued, presciently, that the G7 should focus on devising "new international financial and monetary arrangements that can handle the potential crises that might arise and that one can already foresee," that Russia should be given full membership in 1994, and that "As soon as possible after that, and subject to political developments in Beijing, the People's Republic of China (PRC) should also be invited to the summit meetings." He continued: "The PRC now has one of the world's fastest growing private sectors, a considerable trade surplus, and the potential for explosive advances in modern industry. It has the world's largest population, and it must join the global economic and political system to help that system function effectively No summit can carry out any decisions that it may make if the PRC does not agree to them. Once the PRC joins, the summit will be the G-9, and it will again be the central coordinating mechanism of the world." (Smyser 1993: 26-7). Notably, however, given his conception of the summit's central purpose, Smyser felt that Russia and the PRC should be excluded from the G-7 monetary and financial forum, which would be reserved for those who hold "the financial balance of the world."

These calls were echoed, in a less singularly China-focused fashion, soon after. Immediately prior to the Lyon 1996 Summit, American ex-official and scholar Zbigniev Brzezinski called for the creation of a G11. He argued that the G7 "membership is no longer representative of power or of principle and it needs to be expanded. Russia...cannot now be excluded....China, India and Brazil are as entitled to participation as Russia and in some respects much more so." (Brezinski 1996).

By 1998, American analyst Fred Bergsten, just before President Clinton's June 1998 visit to China, argued the converse of the Smyser proposition. Bergsten noted the World Bank's estimate of China as the world's third largest economy and its "increasingly central role in the world economy" and thus judged it "should shortly begin participating in the "finance G-7'" of ministers and central bank governors. However, its continued failure to democratize, Bergsten concluded, rendered its participation in the Summit itself premature. Sharing this view was the editorial staff of the British magazine the Economist, which in 1998 declared China to be "an island of stability, perhaps a new economic leader in the region, worthy of a seat at the G7's top financial table." (Economist 1998).

The Asian financial crisis led others to look with favour on full membership for China in the G8 itself. Canadian scholar Peter Hajnal, writing a year later, suggested that China, despite its "lack of commitment to democracy and human rights," is a "plausible future candidate" of the Summit itself, by virtue of China's position as "a potentially major economic power," the only UNSC P5 member not in the new G8, and an economy by many indicators that surpasses Russia's (Hajnal 1999: 30)

Others sought to admit China by modifying the G7/8 system more broadly. Former Canadian sherpa and analyst Sylvia Ostry has outlined an expanded G8 with three concentric circles. Here an inner G3 of the US, Japan and Germany for leadership and crisis management, is joined by a middle ring of the current G7/8 with the possible addition of China for geopolitical, security and global issues, and an outer circle of representative major regional powers such as Brazil, India, Australia, South Africa and a more democratic Nigeria (Hajnal 1999: 29-30). Alternatively, the case for admitting China through the contraction of G7 membership has been offered by one of Canada's leading economist journalists, David Crane. He suggests that the 1997-9 financial crisis created the case for a new G5, composed of the US, Germany, Japan, Russia, and China alone. (Crane 1997).

The debate over China's proper relationship thus features disagreement over two major dimensions. The first is China's domestic and international economic, political, social, demographic and geographic behaviour, character and capabilities, in both absolute and relative terms, in a transforming international system. The second is the impact of Chinese membership on the G7/8 itself, in both positive and negative ways. Much less attention has been given to several other crucial analytic issues: the treatment the G7 and the institutions it controls has actually accorded China during the past decade; China's desire for closer association; the effect of greater G7/8 association and membership in adjusting China's behaviour, definition of interests and sense of identity; why the particular combination of China's vulnerabilities and G7/8 capabilities may provide the basis for a claim; the impact of greater Chinese association on the other major claimants in the world; and the G7's needs for China in order to maintain the concerted power of the G7/8 over the global system and an effective equality of power among its members within.

Especially against the volume and variety of the analysis in the debate over Summit reform and the place of China, it is also noteworthy how little intellectual effort has been devoted to devising reasons and formulae for China to become more associated with the G7/8 system, in ways that fall short of full membership. This lacuna is especially unfortunate, given the major interrelated issues that require careful consideration for such an advance to occur. These include: the specific formula that will maximize the benefits and minimize the costs for China's enhanced participation, both for China and the G7/8 itself; the impact that China's enhanced association would have on other potential associates, including fellow regional Asian and APEC partners such as South Korea and India; and whether such association can be reversed, held at a particular level indefinitely, or, is, following the Russian and European Union cases before it, a prelude to ever more full membership.

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