Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Emerging International Norms and State Behavior: Chinese Foreign Policy between "Pluralist Pull" and "Solidarist Push"

Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Emerging International Norms and State Behavior: Chinese Foreign Policy between "Pluralist Pull" and "Solidarist Push"

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The constructivist scholarship in the study of international relations should be praised for contributing significantly to our understanding of the influences that international norms have on the behavior of various international actors, as well as for unpacking the intricate processes lying behind the emergence of these norms. (1) Yet there are many questions in this strand of IR scholarship that require further attention. In general, constructivists tend to focus on the fully-fledged, intersubjective norms and the relatively undisturbed effects that these norms have on the behavior of actors who, in turn, take part in their reproduction. However, many norms which feature prominently in the international arena have not yet, and perhaps never will, reach the point at which the majority of international actors will accept them as legitimate and will choose to act accordingly. Nevertheless, these kinds of "norms" often cause a considerable international stir and, to an extent, are one of the most important ingredients of everyday international politics. Despite these effects, international relations scholarship has largely failed to examine the influence they exert on the behavior of states. Through an examination of the Chinese approach to the "responsibility to protect" principle (R2P), this article endeavors to offer some insights with regard to this issue.

Historically, China's preferred strategy in the UN Security Council has been one of abstention. However, this "passive" approach has recently caused a significant amount of controversy. In March 2011, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1973 with regard to the humanitarian situation in Libya which authorized the UN member states to "take all necessary measures to protect civilians" by acting through "regional organizations". (2) As it had already done many times before, China decided to abstain. However, its abstention in this case had an entirely different meaning since the Resolution was the first Security Council decision that actively endorsed the R2P principle. In this way, China implicitly allowed for a breach of the non-intervention principle. Many observers were fast to interpret this move as a possible indication that the country had renounced its usual attachment to the principle of sovereignty and was instead ready to act as a more responsible international actor. A few months later, however, China contradicted these expectations by casting a veto against the three Security Council Resolutions tackling the situation in Syria. (3) This was unusual since, in its entire history, China had used its veto power only six times. Thenceforth, scholars started offering an entirely different analysis of the country's behavior whereby it was depicted as an active and assertive power prepared to stand by the non-interference principle even if this meant annoying Western powers eager to see the R2P develop into a new international norm.

The R2P principle has featured prominently in the international discussions and discourse for almost fifteen years now; however, in spite of some initially optimistic promises, it has failed to acquire a legislative status equivalent to that of an amendment to the UN Charter, Chapter VII or international treaty. (4) Yet, as we can see from the example of China, the country which showed a substantial reservation towards this new principle, the R2P has become an important component of its foreign policy calculations, thereby indicating that even if a certain international norm has not yet acquired a fully-fledged international status, it still has the ability to exert influence on the behavior of states. What is more, the R2P has the ability to influence the behavior of powerful states which do not yet accept it as a prevailing standard of international conduct. By using the concept of legitimacy to make a distinction between emerging and fully-fledged international norms, this article endeavors to advance a particular understanding of the mechanism by which emerging norms affect state behavior. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.