When Robert Zoellick recently announced that he won’t seek a second term as president of the World Bank, representatives of numerous emerging-market countries issued a flood of statements decrying America’s 66-year lock on the position. Meanwhile, the Chinese went out of their way within the organization to express their firm desire to have a commanding say in who succeeds Zoellick. Insiders are predicting that an American will still win the spot and that the Chinese simply want to exercise a showy veto over the proceedings. That would be too bad, because there are a host of good reasons why Washington should presently burden Beijing with the job of running the World Bank.
It would force China to be a “responsible stakeholder.” The symmetry here would be spectacular, as it was Zoellick himself who, as deputy secretary of state under President George W. Bush, coined the phrase in describing the administration’s desire that China start pulling its weight in a global leadership role. If Washington wants China to assume such stake-holding leadership, then it needs to lure Beijing into positions of genuine responsibility. And this is a perfect one, given China’s increasingly outsized role in the global economy.
It would put a spotlight on China’s “free riding.” For years now, China and the United States have engaged in a silent and limited liability strategic partnership, with America pulling the trigger in police actions and the Chinese quietly stepping in to supply much of the “reconstructing” foreign direct investment. America shoots up Iraq, and then Chinese national oil companies score major deals in both the Arab south and Kurdish north. We drive al-Qaida out of Afghanistan, and Beijing subsequently engineers the biggest FDI deal -- the Aynak copper mine -- in that country’s sad history. Washington sanctions Iran and threatens “all options,” while China quietly sucks out as much Iranian oil as possible -- at bargain basement prices. The list goes on and on, with the common theme being “American blood for Chinese energy and minerals.” Making China the face of the World Bank would be a nice way to make that strategic dynamic far more explicit, hopefully triggering a direct dialogue that for now simply does not exist.