Under Trump, the U.S. Has Become an Irresponsible Stakeholder

Under Trump, the U.S. Has Become an Irresponsible Stakeholder
President Donald Trump speaks after viewing the successful SpaceX launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 23, 2020 (AP photo by Alex Brandon).

Fifteen years ago this September, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick famously challenged the People’s Republic of China to become a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. For too long, he suggested, China had been freeriding on the stable, open world created by the United States and its Western allies, while failing to internalize and embrace some of its most important norms and standards of conduct. It was time, Zoellick argued, for China to become a custodian of the rules-based international order, rather than a mere participant or bystander.

The premise behind Zoellick’s argument was the “Spiderman rule”: With great power comes great responsibility. Nearly three decades after Deng Xiaoping took steps to end China’s isolation, it had become a motor of globalization and a member of multiple international organizations, to the great benefit of its at the time 1 billion inhabitants. What it had failed to do was to abide by international trade rules or help provide global public goods.

Zoellick threw down the gauntlet: To be taken seriously, China had to abandon economic mercantilism and pull its weight in other spheres, from combating nuclear proliferation and terrorism to supporting United Nations peacekeeping.

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