Is China a Revisionist Power?

“Understanding Chinese Revisionism in International Affairs”
Matthew Stinson
April 2, 2014

Whenever I start to think I know something about international relations (my major in school three decades ago, and my predilection ever since), I need only read something by Matthew Stinson to send me, humbled and chastened, back to the library.

Stinson, who is on the faculty at Tianjin Polytechnic University in China, is not a paid political scientist, but he writes like one, albeit rather more clearly than most. It pains me to note that much of his output is in the form of Facebook posts, a fine way to engage his friends, but not so much to give him the profile he deserves.

The most recent entry in his blog Like Cooking a Small Fish is a happy exception. In an wide-ranging and highly erudite article, Stinson explains in detail how China is changing the rules of international relations simply by refusing to play by those established by the U.S. and European powers over the last two centuries. He concludes:

In 1996, the popular Chinese nationalist book China Can Say No advanced the concept that China should no longer follow America’s lead in world affairs. Roughly twenty years later, we may be reaching a point where, thanks to Chinese power, authoritarian regimes of the Global South can also “say no” to the West and pay no penalties for it.

Thought-provoking, and for those of us who place value in the international system as it currently stands. What Stinson suggests that we face is not a future of bad actors, but one in which we will have two systems operating by separate rulesets operating side-by-side. It is the perfect recipe for global conflict.

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