By returning to its role as a champion and reformer of international institutions and rules, as the Obama administration has done, the United States will ensure it has the clout and diplomatic capacity within institutions to push back on Chinese initiatives that harm U.S. interests. It will take concerted efforts by American diplomats to regain trust and leverage within international institutions, but that is needed to ensure that institutions will serve U.S. national interests. Rules and institutions can make it easier for the United States to steer China toward a responsible path because they create a momentum that others reinforce, and, in some cases, it can be more difficult for China to turn down a whole regime, as opposed to just turning down Washington. But that only works if the United States has the clout and allies within international institutions and processes to apply pressure.
For example, in some cases, the United States may want to disengage China from the caucus of developing nations with which it huddles. With China’s large-scale investments in many developing countries, this will require deft maneuvering by our diplomats. On climate, in particular, China sticks closely to the bloc of developing nations. But China is an exponentially larger offender than most, with exponentially larger means to invest in alternatives. The truly poor developing nations ought to be made to see that their cause is often harmed by the inclusion of China in their negotiating bloc and they should get political credit in the United States for stepping up themselves. Indonesia’s decision to set binding targets on emissions, for example, should be heralded.
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