Order and Justice in International Relations

By Rosemary Foot; John Gaddis et al. | Go to book overview

8 An Uneasy Engagement: Chinese Ideas of Global Order and Justice in Historical Perspective

Rana Mitter

'When China has contact with foreigners', warned the Chinese official Li Hongzhang in 1863, 'we should first understand their ambitions, be aware of their desires, and thoroughly know their points of strength and weakness, honesty and dishonesty, before we can expect to secure just treatment.' 1 In the modern era, China has always found engagement with the international system a frustrating experience. In the dying decades of the imperial era and the Republican period of the early twentieth century, China struggled to be seen as an equal in a structure that seemed designed to deny the value of the political culture that had sustained China for centuries, if not millennia. During the high period of Maoist rule, China was keen to project itself as a revisionist power, at war with the complacent and stagnant Western-dominated order. Even in the contemporary era, the strong adherence of Chinese foreign policy-makers to the classical international legal norms of respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states has left China seeming inadequate in the face of increasingly dominant solidarist approaches to international questions of order and justice in international society, approaches driven by concern for issues such as human rights and the environment.

Yet the issues arising from the relationship between order and justice in international society are highly relevant to China. It is notable that the debate on the link between concepts of order and justice in international society is

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