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China’s growing economic and military power has prompted urgent questions about its approach to the rules-based international order, which can be loosely defined as a shared commitment to conduct international affairs in accordance with laws, principles and practices embodied in institutions such as the United Nations, regional security arrangements, trade agreements and multilateral financial institutions. On the one hand, China could be expected to have a stake in maintaining the existing order which, after all, has provided the stability necessary for the country’s rise. On the other hand, it cannot be assumed that China supports all elements of the current order, which Beijing claims it had no hand in creating. Read more
Key components of the rules-based order were established by the United States, as the dominant power after the Second World War. Hopes that China would peacefully integrate into the existing order were boosted when China acceded to the World Trade Organization in 2001. But a much stronger China, led by President Xi Jinping since 2013, has shown increased willingness to disregard international norms, most notably in the South China Sea.
To interpret and explain these issues, we asked a select group of experts about Beijing’s goals for the international order; the changes it seeks and what compromises China might agree to, especially with the United States.
This Lowy Institute feature presents the experts’ responses to these questions and their reactions to one another’s arguments. Collapse
Select an argument or response to see how the debates thread together.
Above all, China’s leaders seek legitimacy and acceptance of an authoritarian political system that provides security, stability, and development.
[Xi Jinping’s initiatives] all speak in one form or another to his desire to transform the rules‑based order.
[Chinese leaders see] the nefarious hand of an enemy who has learned to weaponise values [to] overthrow regimes.
By hiding and biding, China can oppose the United States and avoid bidding to undertake the hegemon’s responsibilities.
The goal is not necessarily to fundamentally restructure the existing institutions, but for them to serve China’s interests.
Rejuvenation requires not simply that Beijing be left alone, but that the party’s governance achievements be actively lauded by the globe.
The CCP now seems convinced that its ideological prognostications are correct, incentivising it to push forward.
Negotiations could begin around issues that do not touch explicitly on China’s core values.
Values and ideology [are] the most intractable sources of conflict between the two powers.
Not appeals to the better angels of each other's nature, but a least-worst strategy that aims for a chess-like draw.
What is left, then, is not compromise but a balance of power.
Rivalry, however, is not the same as confrontation, and need not lead to conflict.