Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 10:40 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 10:40 | SYDNEY

China and the sovereignty norm


Andrew Carr


15 December 2011 14:34

Foreign Affairs is hosting a fascinating discussion on China's interaction with Western-established norms:

Ikenberry asks whether China will buy into the prevailing liberal, rule-based international order, which has been promoted and underwritten by the United States ("The Future of the Liberal World Order," May/June 2011). With regard to one key element of this order, however -- the Westphalian norm of sovereignty and nonintervention -- he might have inverted the premise. For here, the West has been seeking major modifications that weaken the norm, whereas China has championed the established rule and the international order based on it.

Ikenberry pushes back, suggesting progressive changes to the norm of sovereignty (humanitarian intervention, R2P etc.) actually pull China further into the international order:

China's disagreement with the responsibility-to-protect norm also needs be put in perspective: that norm represents only a tiny aspect of the larger set of global rules and institutions. Indeed, in pushing back against this norm, China is invoking other norms and ideas in the system -- most important, Westphalian ones about sovereignty. In doing so, China is being driven further into the existing international order. Moreover, the tension that exists within the international order between norms of state sovereignty and the responsibility to protect should not be surprising, and it is more of a virtue than a defect.

It's worth reading the whole thing. I can also recommend Ikenberry's initial essay, which costs $2.95 for a digital copy.

Photo by Flickr user Helen K.