China's International Socialization: The Role of International Organizations

By Kent, Ann | Global Governance, July-September 2002 | Go to article overview

China's International Socialization: The Role of International Organizations


Kent, Ann, Global Governance


The many questions surrounding China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its potential compliance with WTO rules direct scholarly attention toward the record of its compliance with the norms, rules, and treaties of other international organizations and the role of these bodies over the past three decades in facilitating China's international socialization. Managerial theorists like Abram and Antonia Chayes contend that international organizations contribute significantly to the socialization of participating states. International organizations and their treaties not only ensure transparency, cut transaction costs, build capacity, and enhance dispute settlement, but also, through a process of "jawboning," persuade states parties to "explore, redefine and sometimes discover" their own, and mutual, interests. (1) They subject states to a process of interaction and mutual pressure for consensus that helps regulate their conduct. Particularly in the less political and more publicly discreet and les s political forums, international organizational participation may blunt the sharp edges of nationalistic stances. In this sense, international organizations may be understood broadly as the institutional representations of interdependence, constituting a "collective organizing response to a multiplicity of 'traffic' control problems in a world of contradictory trends." (2) Moreover, they bring to bear a wide range of pressures that may appeal as much to a state's short-term interests as to its ideals. (3)

International organizations also represent a challenge to the state, at once confirming sovereignty and constraining it. Management of the challenge of participation is thus a highly complex matter. For each state it is a question of steering between the benefits for sovereignty that membership in international organizations and regimes entails and the potential threat to sovereignty that it implies. (4) For these reasons, when scholars seek a benchmark of China's international socialization in the post-Cold War era, nothing could be more appropriate than to look to the nature of its participation in international organizations and their rules and treaties. The crucial question is whether such participation, while promoting China's interests and status, has also inculcated in it a corresponding sense of accountability, reflecting respect for the norms of the international community and an awareness of interdependence.

International socialization has been defined as "the process that is directed toward a state's internalization of the constitutive beliefs and practices institutionalized in its international environment." (5) In other words, socialization is not only a process but also an outcome. As a process, it may be assessed by comparing China's instrumental purposes and motivations in participating in international organizations against its practical readiness over time to make concessions and accept costs as a result of organizational participation. As an outcome, it may be evaluated on the basis of China's international behavior and the extent of its implementation of international norms in domestic legislation and social practice. Also relevant are questions of consistency and uniqueness. To what extent does China's participation reflect a linear development and learning process, and how is China different in its participation from other states?

In this article, I briefly outline China's attitude to international organizations and its reasons for joining them. I then discuss evidence of socialization in its participation and practice and assess whether international organizations have influenced China to accept the requirements of cooperation, respect for international rules, and accountability in today's globalized world.

China's Approach to International Organizations

The importance of international organizations in China's foreign relations cannot be overestimated. …

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