China and the Global Order (Video Interview with Professor Rosemary Foot)

Memo #222

Featuring Rosemary Foot – rosemary.foot [at]

Chinese conceptions of global order are neither well defined nor agreed upon. Many Chinese intellectuals debate what Chinese preferences should be regarding a global order, and the future role of China within it. These scholars are putting forward new ideas often based on Confucianism or Chinese historical experience. However, this academic debate is not reflected in government statements or policy. We see no clear promotion of a coherent concept of a global order, differing from what we currently see, articulated by the Chinese government. What is clear is that China seeks more voice and more representation. Issues such as G20 membership are increasingly important to China. There may be revisions around the edges of Chinese global preferences, but China overall is not demonstrating that it is a dissatisfied power.

The major challenge facing China is currently more domestic than it is international. The domestic reform agenda is demanding. One component of this is being able to sustain an economic performance which continues to lift people from poverty and transforms China from a middle income to a high income country. This is an extraordinarily difficult transition to make, and has been achieved by relatively few countries.

The discipline of international relations has been challenged in its efforts to interpret the rise of China. China’s transformation has led to the development of a perception that certain states have benefitted more from certain globalized processes than others. Ultimately, China’s resurgence has contributed to a sense that there have been dramatic shifts in relative power in the international system, but the novelty of China is that its rise has occurred in a globalized world, where power has diffused..

China, The United States, and Global Order -Foot’s recent book, written with Andrew Walter- puts forward two key points. First, when discussing global norms, and the extent to which states adhere to certain rules of the game, it must be remembered that those rules are not as clear and linear as is sometimes implied. In fact, these norms are complex phenomena. They can be complex and multi-layered. This creates an analytical challenge when attempting to assess state behaviour vis-à-vis those norms.

Second, the book puts forward the idea that when making assessments about state behaviour in reference to norms, it is both inappropriate and unhelpful to label states as either revisionist or status-quo. A range of state behaviours is in fact visible depending on issue area. Differing responses may derive from perceived compatibilities and incompatibilities between global normative requirements and domestic values and goals. Norm-taker and norm-maker dichotomies tend to be too unsubtle and set up false distinctions between states.

China and The Global Order, March, 2013, (4:55 minutes)


Rosemary Foot is Professor of International Relations, and the John Swire Senior Research Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford University.

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