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Author: Wang Jisi
The rapid growth of China’s power and influence has become one of the most salient phenomena in world politics today. Particularly since 2012, when President Xi Jinping became China’s top leader, China has been viewed as increasingly ‘assertive’ in conducting its foreign relations. Henry Kissinger (2014), in his book World Order, devotes an entire chapter to the complex and subtle relations between China and the international order. As he observes,

Beijing has become much more active on the world scene. … By any standard, China has regained the stature by which it was known in the centuries of its most far-reaching influence. The question now is how it will relate to the contemporary search for world order, particularly in its relations with the United States. (Kissinger, 2014: 225–6)

Likewise, John Ikenberry (2011: 343), a prominent professor of international affairs at Princeton University, remarks that ‘China is in critical respects the “swing state” in world politics’, which begs the crucial question: ‘Will China seek to oppose and overturn the evolving Western-centred liberal international order, or will it integrate into and assert authority within that order?’

There are three different answers to this question in China as well as in other parts of the world. The first answer is that for the sake of its own interest, China needs to integrate into the existing international order, rather than overturn it, albeit with some reforms (Da, 2021; see also Chapter 7).

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Bringing together leading scholars from Asia and the West, this book investigates how the dynamics of China’s rise in world politics contributes to theory-building in International Relations (IR).

The book demonstrates how the complex and transformative nature of China’s advancement is also a point of departure for theoretical innovation and reflection in IR more broadly. In doing so, the volume builds a strong case for a genuinely global and post-Western IR. It contends that ‘non-Western’ countries should not only be considered potential sources of knowledge production, but also original and legitimate focuses of IR theorizing in their own right.

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Author: Chengxin Pan

The study of China’s rise in International Relations (IR) is at a crossroads. Every conceivable question about the rise of China seems to have already been asked, and nearly every theoretical perspective has been deployed to shed light on this remarkable phenomenon. In the face of an extremely diverse and still-growing body of literature, one wonders what else may be added to the booming debate on China’s rise. To some, the attention should now focus more on rigorous empirical testing of existing competing perspectives (Kang, 2003/04; Chen, 2012: 71). To others, the rise of China demands nothing less than the search for a new vocabulary (Kavalski, 2014) and the further development of IR theories, perhaps particularly from Chinese perspectives (Zhao, 2009; Qin, 2009; 2010; 2016; 2018). Such emphases on further empirical and theoretical investigations are indeed necessary, and many scholars have already contributed interesting findings and stimulating insights (Kang, 2007; Zhu, 2008; Buzan, 2010; Glaser, 2011; Garlick, 2016; Hameiri and Jones, 2016; Pan and Lo, 2017; He, 2021). In this chapter, I take a different approach and turn attention to a hitherto seldom examined aspect in the China debate, namely its ontological underpinnings.

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Author: Barry Buzan

The idea behind this chapter is that the English School (ES) provides a distinctive perspective on China’s rise, and offers particular insights into the question of whether and how China is a status quo or revisionist power. The ES’s main concern is to differentiate international society (a social structure) from international system (a material structure), and to focus on the former. Its principal analytical tool is the concept of primary institutions, understood as deep, evolved practices shared among states (and other political actors) and defining the criteria for both membership of, and legitimate behaviour within, the society of states (Buzan, 2018; forthcoming). Primary institutions include sovereignty, diplomacy, international law, territoriality, nationalism and several more, and are contrasted with the secondary institutions (instrumental, designed regimes and intergovernmental organizations) studied by liberal institutionalists. Primary institutions constitute the normative framing of international society and can be studied either normatively or structurally or both. States are thus embedded in an international society of their own making, and the degree of order within that society can vary across a spectrum from a thin pluralist logic of coexistence (for example 18th-century Europe) to a thick solidarist logic based on shared values and institutionalized cooperation (for example the European Union). Unlike secondary institutions, which only appeared in the late 19th century, primary ones date back to the beginnings of civilization. In this chapter I will use primary institutions as the principal lens through which to examine the rise of China (Bull, 1977; Buzan, 2004: 161–204; 2014a; Holsti, 2004; Hurrell, 2007; Schouenborg, 2011).

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Author: Hung-jen Wang

The establishment of a Westphalian world order gave rise to universally accepted Western norms for state sovereignty, legal state equality, and non-intervention, among other principles. Today, China is both challenging broadly accepted Western norms and capitalizing on certain Westphalian values. According to Chinese representative Yang Jiechi, who participated in high-level strategic talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on 18–19 March 2021, China’s political discourse emphasizes a defence of the UN Charter’s core principle of respect for the sovereignty of individual countries. During this meeting, Yang presented China as both emphasizing its own characteristics and reminding the United States that it should not use a double standard when applying the UN Charter to international relations and governance. Ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has witnessed a return to traditional forms of self-help sovereignty in cross-state competition. The pandemic is one of several reasons why cooperation and trust between different types of regimes have sharply declined while fragmentation has increased. In China’s case, the more Beijing wants to defend its autonomy when confronting Western powers in areas such as foreign policy, the more it is being treated by the rest of the world as the main international threat, perhaps even bearing responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic itself (Kavalski, 2021). In this chapter I will argue that this view of China is a product of our established way of understanding world affairs according to Westphalian state order principles and their epistemology, both built on assumptions regarding self-help and estrangement among nation states.

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This project started with the aim of reconsidering the effects of China and its rise on the knowledge production of International Relations (IR). In particular, the contributions to this volume have probed why the phenomena and transformations spurred by China’s rise do not seem to have been accorded the requisite attention by IR theory. Both the scholarship on and the history of the discipline indicate that any major junctures in the patterns of world affairs have invariably exhorted urgent reconsideration of IR’s frameworks for explanation and understanding. From the origins of IR in the wake of the First World War, all through the vicissitudes of the ‘long twentieth century’ – the Second World War, the decolonization conflicts, the end of the Cold War, and the ‘war on terror’ (to name only some of the cornerstones) – IR theory has tended to respond quickly to such momentous events in the dynamics of world affairs by offering new perspectives, interpretations and formulations. Even if we were to put aside the narrow focus on warfare as the marker of major change, Japan’s economic – and potential political and military – rise during the 1970s and 1980s provoked substantive critical reflection and theory building. Starting with the so-called ‘neo-neo’ debate and the analytical framework of ‘complex interdependence’, going through the proliferation of perspectives in International Political Economy, and the introduction of concepts such as ‘developmental state’ and ‘soft power’, all these innovations in IR theory developed against the background of either concern about, or consideration of, the question how the West (and, especially, the United States) would fare under possible Japanese hegemony.

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Chinese policy makers, scholars and pundits have attempted to ameliorate fears about China’s rise by portraying China as a new and friendlier kind of great power. It is claimed that this represents a new way of relating which transcends problematic Western understandings of self–other relations, and their tendency to slip into domination and enmity. Claims along such lines can be seen in President Xi Jinping’s official discourse, which portrays the Chinese nation as culturally predisposed to friendly, peaceful and harmonious behaviour abroad, and which lists friendship as one of 12 key terms for his socialist ‘core value system’ at home (People’s Daily Online, 2014; Xi, 2014). These claims have been illustrated in various international nation-branding events, often through the Confucian adage that ‘it is glorious to receive friends from afar’ (Callahan, 2010: 2). They have also been an important part of emerging debates over a possible Chinese School of International Relations (IR) (Noesselt, 2015). Famously, Zhao Tingyang claims that Chinese traditions offer a ‘Chinese ontology, the ontology of relations, instead of the western ontology of things’, which enables the peaceful transformation of enemies into friends (Zhao, 2006: 33, 34; for a discussion, see Nordin, 2016a, 2016b), and researchers discuss ‘China’s self-perceived role of a friend versus the (often Western) exploiter’ (Shih and Yin, 2013: 81).

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Author: L.H.M. Ling

Let me begin with an anecdote. Here is a review from the New York Times on Prakash Jha’s 2010 film, Raajneeti (Politics): ‘Mr. Jha has said he based the dynastic family at the film’s heart on characters from the epic “Mahabharata”, and there are also parallels to the Gandhi clan (generation Sonia). But Mr. Jha’s real touchstone seems to be “The Godfather”’ (Saltz, 2010). The reviewer just did not get it. Because she knew nothing of the Mahabharata (c. 900 BCE), all she could see were Jha’s occasional, filmic gestures to Francis Ford Coppola’s series on mafia politics in 20th-century America. She completely missed the Mahabharata’s key teaching: that is, power comes to naught without a cosmic sense of morality behind it. ‘Raajneeti’ for her thus turned into a cheesy Bollywood derivative of a great Hollywood classic.

Not simply bad or misled, this review reflects a history of ‘epistemic violence’ (Spivak, 1988) perpetrated on the world, amounting to an ‘epistemicide’ (Santos, 2016). Five centuries of colonialism-imperialism have killed knowledge not only in the global South, but also, I add, the global North. The field of International Relations (IR) sets one example. Like the New York Times review, IR suffers from three epistemic blinkers: (1) it fails to access how millions outside of Westphalia World understand power and politics; (2) it cannot benefit from ancient insights, whether these come from the Mahabharata or elsewhere; and (3) it remains ignorant of itself, especially the field’s complicity with hegemony and arrogance from it (Ling, 2017).

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The development of International Relations (IR) theory is closely bound up with significant events and tectonic shifts in world politics (Acharya and Buzan, 2017: 12). Such watershed moments often prompt IR scholars to recalibrate their frameworks of analysis to better make sense of a changing world. In the 1930s, modern realism emerged ‘as a reaction to the breakdown of the post-World War I international order’ (Wohlforth, 1994/95: 91). In the last decade of the 20th century, the abrupt end of the Cold War saw both a fall in realism’s fortune, and the opening of new space for theories from a broadly defined post-positivist persuasion (Lapid, 1989; Smith, Booth and Zalewski, 1996). Emerging out of the ensuing Third Debate between positivist and post-positivist theories (or between what Robert Keohane calls ‘rationalist’ and ‘reflectivist’ approaches, see Keohane, 1988), constructivism has since become a new fixture in the IR theory landscape (Guzzini, 2000). Thus, ‘although indirect, the connection between events and theory was undeniable’ (Wohlforth, 1994/95: 91).

Interestingly, such a supposedly undeniable link is yet to clearly emerge in the case of an ongoing major ‘event’ in contemporary international relations, namely, the rise of China. At one level, there is no denying that China’s rise has been one of the most frequently studied and debated contemporary phenomena (Kang, 2007; Lampton, 2008; Kavalski, 2009; Nathan and Scobell, 2012; Pan, 2012; Shambaugh, 2013; Christensen, 2015; Mahbubani, 2020; Breslin, 2021).

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Author: John Agnew

In much of what goes for international relations (IR) theory, the re-emergence of China as a major power is interpreted largely in terms of familiar categories – from containment and hegemonic succession on the ‘realist’ side to norm acceptance and integration on the ‘liberal’ side (for example Pan, 2012). The particular attributes of Chinese modernity and their contradictions spark little or no interest. We are seemingly trapped between the universals of theory, on the one hand, and the particulars of China, on the other. Never the twain shall meet. Yet, an argument can be made that the Chinese ‘case’ raises important questions about the universality of international relations theory as presently understood (Agnew, 2017). As the Introduction makes clear, and the chapters in this book provide all sorts of evidence, perhaps the ‘rise’ of China with the attendant difficulties of bringing it ‘to theory’ offers an opportunity both to question the very universality claimed by current theory and to reformulate theorizing in light of the Chinese experience.

Today, China occupies a central place in what can be called ‘a prophetic culture’ – the focus of the field of IR theory on predicting future events rather than explaining current practice (Woodside, 1998: 13). This requires applying a universal calculus to cases such as China in which empirical anomalies are viewed as minor particularities. In this vision, China is rising as either or both a miracle and a threat. As William Callahan (2010: 11) says: ‘China’s experience lends itself to hyperbole – both positive and negative.

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