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.

Do Washington and Beijing Offer Alternative World Orders?

Between Integration and Coexistence: US-Chinese Strategies of International Order
Liselotte Odgaard
Strategic Studies Quarterly
Spring 2013

The past five years have witnessed much debate as to whether a world order dominated by liberal internationalists institutions (UN, WTA, World Bank, IMF, etc) has reached the end of its era, and whether perhaps the time has arrived for the rise of a new international order that finds its inspiration in China. The rise of the Chinese economy, the nation’s growing assertiveness in international affairs, and its readiness to interpret international agreements to suit its own purposes makes that question real. Is China happy to run rampant across an established world order, or does it sincerely propose to offer a unique international order of its own?

In an article in the just-released edition of Strategic Studies Quarterly, Danish security strategist Dr. Liselotte Odgaard notes that China and America have espoused two visions of the way the world should work, but she suggests that they are incompatible. Why? Because both are based on domestic ideologies that appear to prevent either side coming to a practical accommodation. The real challenge is whether either of these approaches will garner international support. Odgaard takes a bold step by suggesting which side she thinks will prevail and why.

China and the Sanctions Game

China’s Unilateral Sanctions
James Reilly
The Washington Quarterly
Fall 2012

While China has been a longtime critic of economic sanctions as a tool of statecraft, James Reilly at the University of Sydney thinks that in light of its own changing approach to international politics, Beijing perhaps protests overmuch. Now that China has built substantial economic wealth, it has begun using that wealth to influence or coerce other nations.

Reilly brings to light a new strain of thinking in China’s foreign policy establishment that eschews the “non-interference” and multilateralist doctrines of international relations. Given that many of these treasured guidelines are of considerable vintage (dating back to Zhou Enlai at the Bandung Conference in 1955), the new approaches have not been adopted quickly.

At the same time, the author provides a glimpse at a uniquely Chinese way of playing the sanctions game, often imposing the sanctions without declaring the. He also evaluates the effectiveness of unilateral sanctions imposed from Beijing, and while finding results to be wanting, he notes that China appears to be getting better at playing.