Beyond Compliance: China, International Organizations, and Global Security/Social States: China in International Institutions, 1980-2000

By Chan, Gerald | The China Journal, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Beyond Compliance: China, International Organizations, and Global Security/Social States: China in International Institutions, 1980-2000


Chan, Gerald, The China Journal


Beyond Compliance: China, International Organizations, and Global Security, by Ann Kent. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2007. xviii + 334 pp. US$65.00 (hardcover).

Social States: China in International Institutions, 1980-2000, by Alastair Iain Johnston. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008. xxx + 251 pp. US$60.00/£35.00 (hardcover), US$24.95/£14.95 (paperback).

These two books represent some of the best scholarship to date on the subject of China and international organizations. Ann Kent's book covers a broader scope, while Iain Johnston's book provides a sharper focus. Kent's book is more descriptive and narrative in nature, while Johnston's uses both qualitative and quantitative analyses. The former is likely to attract a wider general readership, while Johnston's is directed at more specialist readers. In many ways, the two books complement each other nicely.

Kent's book consists of five chapters, with an introduction and a conclusion. Chapter 1 is a history of China's participation in international organizations, from initial alienation to eventual integration. Chapters 2 to 5 are case-studies, covering in succession: China and the international security regime, focusing on the Conference on Disarmament; China and the international political economy regime, focusing on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; China and the atmospheric environment, focusing on the United Nations Environmental Programme; and China and international human rights, focusing on the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Committee against Torture. Each of these chapters can be read individually. Together they provide the empirical basis for Kent to assess the two concepts of compliance and cooperation.

The introduction presents these two concepts, with an emphasis on compliance, which helps to link up the various chapters. Compliance is an interesting but complicated idea, with different interpretations according to different people. Kent is not completely satisfied with how China complies with the existing norms and rules of the international institutions of which it is a member. She is keen to go beyond compliance to seek an answer to the question of whether and to what extent China cooperates with other states and with international institutions, arguing that, "while a compliance test was an important indicator of a state's integration into the international system, the measure of its cooperation offered a more comprehensive test of its internalization of international norms" (p. 3). Compliance and cooperation are seen as two different issues: while China normally "complies" with international norms and rules, it may not cooperate with them (p. 5). Cooperation is not deep compliance alone; it is a broader political concept defined in more general terms as "collaboration, coordination, joint action and mutual support" (p. 17).

To operationalize the concept of cooperation, Kent lists such indicators as "the readiness of a state to ratify treaties without introducing excessive reservations, to assume non-mandatory obligations, to promote the object and purpose of an organization and its associated treaties, and to encourage other states to do likewise. By contrast, non-cooperation is reflected in self-interested attempts to block, stymie, or otherwise impede attempts to promote the object and purpose of the organization and its treaties" (p. 222).

These indicators, though useful, do not seem to have been used to test China's cooperative behavior vigorously in the case-study chapters, although Table 3 in the concluding chapter does provide a summary of China's deep international compliance and cooperation levels by organization and treaties across the issue areas and international institutions covered in the case studies. Comparing the situation in 2005 with that in 1980, China has made substantial improvements in all fields except the area of human rights. …

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