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International relations (IR) moral realism has been mistakenly affiliated with the ‘Chinese School’ and accused of sharing the same defects of that school. Theorists of IR moral realism oppose the idea of constructing an IR theory with a national or cultural identity because they believe IR theories should have universal applicability. The motivation of constructing moral realism is to enrich modern IR theory academically rather than to legitimize Chinese foreign policy politically. IR moral realism is not a theory of Chinese exceptionalism because it explains the strategic preferences of leaders of major powers, both Chinese and foreign; meanwhile, it never asserts that China will provide a global leadership more moral than those of other major powers. The theory is constructed by hybridizing Chinese traditional thought with modern IR theories and it is not affected by Sino-centrism. It is tested by the current changes in international order like all other IR theories.

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Leadership is the relationship between leaders and followers. Interstate and domestic leadership differ in nature because the former is established in an anarchic system while the latter is in a hierarchical one. To answer the question of whether IR moral realism is supposed to address leadership analysis at the individual, state, or system level, I clarify that the theory is an analysis across all three levels by treating leadership of major powers as the independent variable. This chapter explains why the morality of interstate leadership is partial, comparative, and relative and is judged according to historical context. In addition, the popularity and quality of an interstate leadership is quantifiable by the number of followers and their capability respectively. Contrary to institutionalist claims, I also stress that no political institutions, including international ones, can function without the operation of a leadership. Interstate leadership could be studied as either an independent or a dependent variable.

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Debating Moral Realism
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Bringing together eminent International Relations (IR) scholars from China and the West, this book examines moral realism from a range of different perspectives. Through its analyses, it verifies the robustness of moral realism in IR theory.

The first section of the book is written by Chinese scholars and dedicated to debates about how moral realism relates to traditional schools of IR theory. The latter portion, provided by Western contributors, critically investigates both the universal and practical values of moral realism. Finally, Yan Xuetong concludes by responding constructively to all criticisms and further exploring the nature and characteristics of interstate leadership in moral realism.

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The study of international leadership gained momentum when Donald Trump became the president of the United States in 2017. Consequently, international relations (IR) moral realism benefited greatly from those studies. There is a growing consensus that interstate leadership plays a central role in preserving international stability and prosperity even though scholars define leadership through different aspects, such as power, social contracts, and influence. The nine contributors to this book differ in how they define morality and on the methodology of analysing the effects of morality in relation to environmental constraints; nonetheless, they all believe it is important to incorporate the study of morality into IR analysis. I argue for an instrumental definition of leadership morality inspired by the traditional Chinese belief of dedao duozhu, shidao guazhu (a just cause enjoys abundant support while an unjust cause finds meagre support). The other eight authors contribute liberalist, neoliberalist, constructivist, Confucianist, neoclassical realist, institutionalist, and political psychology critiques.

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