Constructing a Chinese School of International Relations: Ongoing Debates and Sociological Realities

By Phar Kim Beng
Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena
Twitter: @indo_pan

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“Constructing a Chinese School of International Relations: Ongoing Debates and Sociological Realities” constitute one of the many first salvos from China’s academia and political arena. Over the last decade, China has described its ascent as “peaceful rise” only to quickly change it to “peaceful development” and “Chinese soft power” under President Hun Jin Tao. Other Chinese scholars have also put forward the concept of “Tian-Xia” or all under heaven; which seems to imply a world living in harmony with China and vice versa, operating within the paradigm of non-intervention, as first enunciated by China in the 1950s, also known as the “Five Principles of Co-Existence.” Under President Xi Jinping, he has called for a “new type of great power relationship” with the US and other great powers too.

The truth of the matter is, with or without the Chinese academia’s support, China has a tendency to project its power abroad. It was Chairman Mao who declared in the 1960s that he stood with the “third world”, at a time when the concept of the “third world” was not apparent at all. Subsequently, the “third world” became associated with the poor, and underdeveloped world. One wonders if China is still with the third world, since it is fast becoming the first. To the degree it is associated with the “third world” perhaps the focus is on operationalizing the One Maritime Belt, One Maritime Road.

That said, in order to create its own school of international relations, the Chinese scholars are trying to re-appropriate the relevance of the Western vocabulary and concepts in international relations. Hence, this book marks a serious and systematic attempt to pose provocative questions on the West. But the questions are posed not without a certain degree of Chinese self interest too. For example, realism posits that all rising powers will challenge the status quo. The scholars wonder if this is necessarily a geopolitical fact, since China has been known to co-exist with smaller countries before.

But the interesting chapter in this book is by far the one by CLM Ling, who invoked the examples of “Sanguo Yenyi”, or widely known in the West as the “Romance of Three Kingdoms”, to understand the differences between the Hobbesian world of international relations with the ones in the “Romance”. In the Hobbesian world, order is necessitated by the creation of a disciplinary actor known as the state, or, Leviathan.

In “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, the power of Chinese international relations lies in strong trust, emotional bondage, and the willingness to thrive and die together. Ultimately, Chinese international relations can triumph over democracy promotion of the West, if Chinese speaks insistently on the need to redeem the honor and interest of others; not unlike how China helped Pakistan. The relationship of the latter is known as the “Iron Brothers”.