China: 'White Knight' or 'Angry Outsider'?

As Chinese President Hu Jintao joins other world leaders in London to seek a way out of the global financial crisis, one pressing question is what role China will play in the G-20 summit.

Will it be the "white knight," ready to use its $1.9 trillion of foreign reserves to rescue the global economy?

Or will it be the "unhappy outsider," challenging the Western domination of the international financial system and the role of the U.S. dollar in global finance?

Finance Minister Xie Xuren expressed China's readiness last week to contribute some of its foreign reserves to boost the resources of the International Monetary Fund, which oversees the global financial system.

Central Bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan made headlines in capitals around the world with his proposal for a new global reserve currency in international finance.

Another Chinese official, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, also called for a major overhaul of the World Bank, which assists developing countries, and the IMF, seeking more decision-making powers for China, India and other developing countries.

In effect, the senior officials have made it clear that China is willing to contribute more resources to the IMF and World Bank in exchange for a bigger say in the two institutions. They also made it clear that China should not be expected to play the role of a "rich uncle" with deep pockets. They explained China's position that its contribution to the IMF should not be based on its huge foreign exchange reserves but, instead on its low per capita gross domestic product.

Hu: China Will Act Responsibly

Before he left for London, the Chinese president told state media that China will act as a "responsible country" during the G-20 gathering and work jointly with others to seek "positive and practical results" in tackling the global financial turmoil.

Adopting a moderate tone, he put the priority on "stronger coordination" among nations to stabilize global financial markets and "joint efforts" against protectionism to help the global economic recovery.

The Chinese president also took a pragmatic position by calling on countries to adopt stimulus measures "in line with their own situations" and advocating "balanced, gradual and effective" reforms in the global financial system in order to prevent a similar crisis in the future.

The Success of 'Unhappy China'

But in contrast to his measured language, a best-selling book in China is stirring a controversy for its provocative stand and angry rhetoric. Entitled "Unhappy China," it calls for a more assertive Chinese nationalism that will enable the country to stand up to the West and attain global leadership.

The book argues that, as the world's third-largest economy, China "has the power to lead the world and the necessity to break away from Western influence." Seeking to ride the tide of Chinese patriotism, the book says China should have the ambition to take a preeminent position in the world and re-establish the world order.

"Looking at the history of human civilization, we are most qualified to lead this world and Westerners should be in a secondary position," a passage in the book reads.

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