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China and the International System in the Context of the Great Changes Unseen in a Century

百年变局下的中国与国际体系

Introduction

Note: The following translation is one of six entries in a roundtable discussion convened by two state think tanks in the spring of 2019.Participants were all eminent Chinese academics. Their task was to analyze the slogan “Great Changes Unseen in a Century.” A general introduction to the seminar and the slogan it discusses can be found here.

Wei Ling begins her discussion of the slogan “great changes unseen in a century” with a crucial question: “What does the ‘great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’ that we propose to realize actually entail for the international system?”

General Secretaries of the Communist Party of China have described the central mission of their Party as “national rejuvenation” since the Thirteenth Party Congress in 1987. Their wording intentionally echoes the language used by Sun Yat-sen and the nationalist revolutionaries who overthrew the Qing Dynasty at the cusp of the modern era.1 Those revolutionaries dreamed of restoring a broken nation to its traditional station at the center of civilization. Though he lives a century after Sun Yat-sen’s death, there is hardly a speech where Xi Jinping does not endorse the same goal.2 Wei Ling’s question thus connects the phrase “great changes unforeseen in a century” with a mission already one hundred years old. In making this connection, Wei implies that for the first time in a century China can realistically plan for achieving this goal.  

Wei, then Director of the Zhou Enlai Diplomatic Research Center at China Foreign Affairs University,3 describes academic discussion of China’s rise as consumed by debates over whether China should be classified as a revisionist or a status quo power. Wei does not favor either label.  Westerners who describe China as a status quo power imagine “a passive process, a process of learning, internalizing and being accepted, a process in which the West teaches and we learn.” Wei rejects the argument that China must “internalize” Western ways to achieve a more“befitting position” in world politics. Westerners who expect China to meekly submit to the norms of the existing order are guilty of universalizing a unique historical experience. The mores of “the modern Westphalian system,” she argues, “arose from the lived experience of Europe… [and] expanded along with the global expansion of European power.” This order was the product of historical contingency, not of historical laws. The Western order “does not possess any claim to natural universality.”

Yet if Wei describes “the process of rejuvenation” as “the process of seeking a fair and befitting position” in an international system that denies China this role, she insists that this does not mean that China is a revisionist power. As Wei sees things, it is wiser to speak of China and the international system “co-evolving together.” While the rise of China is“an important driving force in stimulating the evolution of the international system” it is also “a constituent part of the international system that is continuously adjusting itself as the system evolves.” Thus even a China that has reclaimed its lost greatness will not have full control over the structure of world politics.

The better measure of whether China has regained a “fair and befitting position” in global affairs is whether it has authored norms and institutions critical to workings of the emerging world order. Wei’s conception of what these future institutions and norms might look like is vague. Wei’s scholarly expertise lies in Asian regional relations,and she is quick to cite the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank and the “ASEAN Way” as examples of institutions and norms better suited for Asia than their Western equivalents. This introduces an unresolved tension to Wei’s argument. Wei wants China to provide the plumbing for an evolving international order, but the only template she can offer for this order are ideas and institutions which she believes are distinctively Asian. Wei is aware of this tension—she calls on Chinese academics to develop Chinese ideas with greater “universality”—but offers few concrete solutions to it. Ultimately Wei’s comments are less a blueprint of the world order Chinese want to build than a guide map to Chinese frustrations with the world order they currently have.

THE EDITORS

1 Jacqueline Newmyer Deal, “China’s Nationalist Heritage,” The National Interest, no.123 (2013): 44–53; Orville Schell and John Delury, Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century (New York: Random House, 2014), 15-16.For the centrality of this phrase to Xi’s program, see Dan Tobin, “How Xi Jinping’s ‘New Era’ Should Have Ended U.S. Debate on Beijing’s Ambitions”(Washington DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 2020).
2 For a recent example, the word ‘rejuvenation’ (复兴) appears 20 times in Xi’s Political Report to the 20th Congress.
3 Wei Ling currently serves as a professor of international relations at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.
Author
Wei Ling
魏玲
original publication
Asia Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs
《亚太安全与海洋研究》
publication date
March 3, 2019
Translator
Samuel George
Translation date
October 2022
Tags
Tag term
Tag term

如何理解和认识“百年未有之大变局”?一个重要的视角是中国自身的定位,中国与国际体系的关系。我们常说,改革开放40年是中国融入国际体系的过程,西方学界和政策界这些年来也一直在辩论,中国相对于国际体系是一个修正主义国家还是一个维持现状国家?

百年变局中一个具有重要体系意义的变量就是中国,中国的崛起。我们提出要实现中华民族的伟大复兴,究竟意味着什么?修正主义国家或者维持现状国家也许都不能准确描述中国在国际体系中的定位,也许可以说我们是在演进的国际体系中谋求正当地位的国家。 

以下从体系、制度和规范三个维度进行简要分析。 

1.体系秩序  

如何理解演进中的国际体系?在“实现中华民族伟大复兴”的话语中,复兴于兹的体系是什么体系?在很大程度上,这应该是一个改良的体系,与变化的国际实力结构相匹配、在界定性规则和利益分配方面更具代表性的国际体系。复兴的过程是在改良的国际体系中谋求正当地位的过程,代表着中国与演进中的国际体系间一种新型的互动方式,是二者同时变化、共同演进的过程。中国既是促进国际体系演进的重要推动力量,本身也是国际体系的组成部分,随着体系演变不断进行自我调整。因此,融入、修正或维持现状也许都不能准确描述百年变局下中国与国际体系的关系。 

融入体系和维持现状主要是被动的进步过程,是学习、内化和被接受的过程,是西方教、我们学的过程。修正则意味着改变现有体系。一方面,过去40年来中国在国际体系中实现了人类历史上前所未有的大规模高速增长,因此应该不具有从根本上改变现有国际体系的战略目标或意图;另一方面,从20世纪70年代初恢复联合国合法席位到2008年国际金融危机之后历史性地走近世界舞台的中央,中国与国际体系的关系已经发生了重大变化。

近年来,随着新兴国家的群体性崛起和全球化的加速发展,国际关系学界也日益重视对非西方国家关系理论的研究。其中很重要的一部分,就是讨论不同时空和社会文化背景下的国际体系。基于中国和大东亚地区的历史经验,学者们研究过天下体系、秦大一统体系、以中国为中心的东亚等级体系、关系主义国际体系等等。

这些体系都不同于现代威斯特伐利亚国际体系。也就是说,从欧洲实践中产生的现代威斯特伐利亚体系,实际上也是一个次级体系,具有内在的地方特性,是随着欧洲力量的全球扩张而扩张的,并不具备天然的普适性。

从二战后的东亚地区秩序也可以看出,为什么亚洲没有“北约”,这是一个双向认同问题。美国的自由霸权秩序在东亚的社会文化情境中实际上并没有完全落实下来。随着国际力量对比的变化,国际秩序和国际体系的演变是必然的,在这个过程中,是否有可能在大国之间进行“大议价”(grand bargain),照顾彼此核心关切,改良体系秩序,实现利益平衡?这个有可能首先出现在地区和次级国际体系中。 

2.国际制度 

从制度上看,中国塑造和引领国际制度的实践主要出现在周边和大东亚地区,该地区有其独特的制度主义特点,也有制度建设的成功实践。

东亚制度主义是软性制度主义,具有很强的务实性,制度化程度相对较低,在民族国家与国际制度之间存在相对较大的张力。过去20多年来的东亚一体化进程,以东盟为制度中心,以最小制度化的“东盟方式”为基本规范,不仅维护了地区稳定与和平,还推动了地区合作与发展,充满活力。

中国是东亚地区制度进程的参与者、维护者和贡献者,通过地区制度合作分享增长,实现了大国崛起与地区一体化进程的并行发展。 

中国倡议成立的亚洲基础设施投资银行,成为学界和政策界公认的国际制度创设的成功案例。为什么它能够在短期内获得国际认可?作为中国倡议建立的国际制度,实际上亚投行的快速发展是中国与国际体系互动并实现共同演进的结果,是议价和相互协调适应的结果。成立亚投行的倡议是中国发起的,主要是因为世界银行和亚洲开发银行等现有国际制度无法满足基础设施建设需要,而且国际制度改革滞后,中国无法发挥与其力量相匹配的作用。从最初的设想到正式提出倡议,再到最终成立,亚投行经历了很长时间的曲折过程。

最初中方提出的有些议案和设想也引起过不小的争议。但是,中方迅速进行了调整,借鉴了现有相关国际制度的成功实践,接纳了现有开发银行的一些制度建设提案,并很快与世界银行和亚开行等建立了合作伙伴关系。所以,整个发展过程是规则、利益和身份的相互调适过程。中方通过灵活务实的策略和战术调整,保证了长远战略目标的实现。这个战略目标就是通过规则和制度建设塑造体系,并同时谋求在体系中的正当位置。 

(3) 理念规范 

从观念、规范和价值体系来看,美国主导的国际体系和美式全球化的价值体系,是否有可能与东亚本土价值体系实现一定程度上的和而不同、和合共生?有学者做过一个规范研究,指出以中国为代表的东方的规范和话语能够成功进入西方规范和理论体系的最佳案例是《孙子兵法》。其成功的原因主要有两点: 

一是《孙子兵法》没有过度的地方性,二是在规范上和话语上没有自我与他者的区分。它既体现了社会文化积淀,也具有普适性。《孙子兵法》这个案例也许可以给我们提供一些启示,去思考如何实现地方规范和话语体系,与西方主导的国际规范和话语价值体系的相互接近和融合。 

另外,还有一个本土规范与西方主导的国际规范互为补充、共同作用的案例,即中国和很多东亚国家所认可的发展和平,与西方普遍推崇的自由和平规范。有学者以联合国维和行动为案例,做过两种规范的比较研究。中国主导的维和行动一般先稳定局势,然后重点推动地方的相关发展项目,以经济发展促进长治久安。

而西方国家主导的维和行动,以制度建设为重点,在稳定局势后,首先进行民主制度建设,以制度保和平。实践表明,在两种规范同时作用的地方,维和与建和的成效是最好的。最近几年缅甸的发展也是一个很好的例子。 

一方面,缅甸开启了历史性的民主政治转型进程;另一方面,在稳定缅北局势过程中又主要遵循了发展和平理念,并积极争取中国支持,在中缅经济走廊建设中争取实实在在的发展利益。 

总而言之,从体系秩序、国际制度到理念规范,如何找到并实现中国在国际体系中的正当定位,如何实现中国与国际体系的共同演进,是我们在“百年大变局”中要解决的核心问题。 

How should we explain and understand the “great changes unseen in a century”? One important perspective [considers] how China defines itself [in the context of] China’s relationship with the international system. We often describe the 40 years of Reform and Opening as the process of China’s integration into the international system. Over these years, Western academic and policy circles have constantly debated whether China is a revisionist power or a status-quo power in relation to this international system.

China and China’s rise are variables with important systemic relevance to the changes unseen in a century. What exactly does the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” that we propose to realize actually entail [for the international system]? Perhaps neither the terms ‘revisionist power’ or ‘status quo power’ can accurately describe China’s position in the international system; perhaps we may say that we are a nation that seeks a fair and befitting position in the evolving international system.4

Below [I] undertake a simple analysis [of this issue] from three dimensions: the system, institutions, and norms. 

One: Systemic Order

How can we understand the evolving international system? In the expression “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” what is the system that present-day rejuvenation aims to achieve?" To a large degree, this should be a reformed system that matches the altered structure of international power. It should be a more representative international system in the manner it defines rules and allocates benefits. [China’s] process of rejuvenation is the process of seeking a fair and befitting position in a reforming international system; it represents a new type of interaction between China and this evolving international system, a process in which the two are simultaneously changing and co-evolving. China is both an important driving force in stimulating the evolution of the international system, and is also a constituent part of the international system that is continuously adjusting itself as the system evolves.  Therefore, perhaps [words like] “integration,” “revisionist,” and “maintenance [of the status-quo]” cannot be used to accurately describe China’s relationship with the international system against the backdrop of “great changes unseen in a century.”

Integrating into the system and maintaining the status quo are primarily a passive process, a process of learning, internalizing and being accepted, a process in which the West teaches and we learn. Revisionism means that there are changes to the existing system. On the one hand, over the past forty years the large scale and rapid growth China has achieved within the international system is unprecedented in the history of mankind, and therefore [we] should not have the strategic goal or intention to fundamentally change the international system; on the other hand, from [the PRC] legally recovering its seat at the United Nations in the early 1970s to the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2008,5 China’s historic advance towards the center of the world stage already represents a major change in the relationship between China and the international system.

In recent years, following the collective rise of emerging nations and the accelerating development of globalization, the academic international relations community increasingly prioritizes research on theories of relations among non-Western countries. An important component of this research is discussing international relations in the context of different eras, places and social cultures. Based on the historical experience of China and Greater East Asia, scholars have conducted research on the “Tianxia” system, the system of Great Unity under the Qin Empire, the hierarchical East Asian system with China at its center, an international system based on relationalism, and so on.⁶

These systems are all different from the modern Westphalian international system. That is to say, the modern Westphalian system that arose from the lived experience of Europe is, in fact, a secondary system that contains internalized regional characteristics; it expanded along with the global expansion of European power and does not possess any claim to natural universality.

From the post-World War II regional order in East Asia, one can also see why Asia does not have its own version of NATO: this is an issue of mutual recognition [and aceptance]. The American liberal hegemonic order has in fact not completely taken root in the context of the culture of East Asian societies. As the international balance of power changes, it is inevitable that the international order and international system will evolve. In this process, is it possible for great powers to strike a “grand bargain,” accommodate each other’s core concerns,7 improve the order of the system, and bring their interests into balance? These phenomena may first appear in regional and secondary systems of international relations. 

Two: International institutions

From an institutional perspective, China’s experience in shaping and leading international institutions has occurred primarily in its neighboring region and Greater East Asia. This region’s approach to institutions has its own distinctive characteristics and [has] successful experience in constructing institutions.

The East Asian approach to institutions is a sort of soft institutionalism possessed with a strong sense of pragmatism; the extent of institutionalization is relatively limited and there exists a relatively greater tension between nation-states and international institutions. The process of Asian integration that has occurred over the past 20 years, with ASEAN as the central institution and the minimally institutionalized “ASEAN Way” as the basic norm, has not only preserved regional stability and peace, but also promoted cooperation and development, injecting great vitality into the region.⁸

China is a participant in, defender of, and contributor to the institutional process in East Asia. Through regional institutional cooperation, the region collectively shared in growth and China successfully realized its rise as a great power in parallel with the process of regional integration.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) that China proposed and established is now recognized in academic and policy spheres alike as a successful case study in creating a [new] international institution. Why was the AIIB able to obtain international recognition within a short period of time? As a China-led and established international institution, the reality of AIIB’s rapid development is a result of the interaction and co-evolution of China and the international system; it is the result of bargaining and mutually coordinated adaptation. The proposal to establish the AIIB was initiated by China, primarily because the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and other existing international institutions were unable to cater to the demand for infrastructure development, and also because the reform of international institutions lagged behind [the new configuration of global power] and China was unable to play a role commensurate with its power.

From its earliest conception, to the formal proposal [stage] and then to its ultimate establishment, the AIIB has traveled a long and complicated course. At the beginning, China put forward some proposals and tentative plans that stirred up significant controversy. But the Chinese side swiftly made adjustments, drew on the successful practices of relevant and already existing international institutions, accepted some of the suggestions on institution building from the existing development banks, and quickly established cooperative partnerships with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and others. Thus, the entire process of AIIB’s development was a process involving the mutual adaptation of rules, interests and status. China ensured the long-term achievement of its strategic goals through flexible and pragmatic adjustments to its strategy and tactics. This strategic goal is to shape the [international] system through the establishment of rules and institutions and, at the same time, to seek a fair and befitting position within the system. 

Three: Concepts and Norms 

From the perspective of ideas, norms and value systems, is it possible for the American-led international system and the value system of American-style globalization to realize a certain level of 'peaceful coexistence in spite of difference'⁹ with local East Asian value systems? A recent study on norms undertaken by some scholars suggested that the best example of “Eastern” norms and discourse, in this case represented by Chinese [concepts], successfully entering into the Western system of norms and concepts was Sunzi’s The Art of War. There are two primary reasons for its success:

First, The Art of War does not have an excessive level of regional specificity; second, in relation to norms and discourse, it does not draw a distinction between the self and the other. It both embodies the accumulation of [a specific] society and culture, but also has universality. The case of Sunzi’s The Art of War can perhaps inspire us to contemplate how to realize a regional system of norms and discourse and how to draw closer to and integrate with the Western-led values system in a mutually interactive way.

In addition, there is an example of a local norm [i.e., local to the region] that complements and seeks the same outcome as a Western-led international norm. The concept, affirmed by China and many Asian nations, is  “peace through development.” [It finds its analogue in] a norm revered in the West,  “peace through freedom.” Using the case study of UN peacekeeping missions, some scholars undertook research comparing these two norms. Generally speaking, UN peacekeeping missions led by China first stabilize the situation, then focus on promoting regionally specific development programs, using economic development to bring about lasting peace and stability.

In contrast, peacekeeping missions led by Western nations focus on institution building: the first thing they do, after stabilizing the situation, is build democratic institutions [with the intention of] safeguarding peace through these institutions. Practical experience shows that peacekeeping and peacebuilding are most effective when these two norms work in concert. The development of Myanmar in recent years is an excellent example.

On the one hand, Myanmar instigated a historic process of democratic political transformation; on the other hand, the process of stabilizing northern Myanmar primarily followed the concept of “peace through development” and [the Myanmar government] actively sought out China’s support, seeking material development gains from the construction of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor. 

In summary: to [discover] how to find and realize a position in the international system that is fair and befitting to China, to [discover] how to best realize the co-evolution of China and the international system, [we] must proceed from the order of the system, international institutions, and concepts and norms. These are the core questions of  “great changes unseen in a century.”

4 Both Chinese intellectuals and spokespersons for the Chinese party-state speak of China’s desire to occupy a“fairer and more befitting” (正当)position on the international stage. The variations permutations of this phrase(正当定位,正当位置. 正当立场,  正当地位, etc) capture the common Chinese belief that the post-WWII configuration of world politics was an expression of Western, and especially American, neo-imperialism. In this sense, it is not“fair”. The phrase also conveys that this configuration is outdated and does not reflect the change in China’s economic and military strength, as well as the unique contribution the Party believes it is making to world history and politics. In this sense, it is not “befitting” China’s current circumstances and role in world affairs.
5 These two important points of inflection in China’s prospects for growth and power are often referred to by Party and Party-proximate documents. Analysts have referred to the 2008 financial crisis as the beginning of the end of American hegemony. See, for example, this 2009 essay by Yuan Peng, now President of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), the think-tank linked to the Ministry of State Security. 袁鹏 [Yuan Peng], “金融危机与美国经济霸权:历史与政治的解读” [“The Financial Crisis and American Hegemony: Interpreting the History and Politics],” 《更新时间》[Renewal Times], available at
http://www.aisixiang.com/data/88470.html
7 This alludes to the concept of “core interests” and “major concerns” common in Chinese diplomatic discourse.  See the glossary entry for CORE INTERESTS (核心利益).
8 ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,  was founded  in 1967 with the signing of the Bangkok declaration. The original signatories (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia,Singapore, and the Philippines) were united mostly by their opposition to growing Communist influence in Southeast Asia. After the conclusion of the Cold War, ASEAN  expanded to include Brunei,Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. From its earliest days ASEAN has been defined by a commitment to economic co-operation and non-interference in the internal affairs of other ASEAN states. ASEAN decisions must be unanimous,leading to a consensus seeking style of politics that emphasizes personal relationships between ASEAN leaders and behind-the-scenes negotiations carried out away from the public eye.  

This “ASEAN Way” has been extremely useful to Chinese diplomats, who rely on smaller countries in ASEAN dependent on Chinese largess–like Laos and Cambodia–to veto proposals that conflict with Chinese interests.
9 This is an allusion to Analects 13.23: “君子和而不同,小人同而不和”  In the Edward Slingerland translation, the passage reads as: “The Master said, ‘The gentleman harmonizes, and does not merely agree (tong ). The petty person agrees, but he does not harmonize.’

The passage is usually interpreted to mean that a virtuous man can disagree with another’s perspective, but still respect him and co-exist peacefully.

如何理解和认识“百年未有之大变局”?一个重要的视角是中国自身的定位,中国与国际体系的关系。我们常说,改革开放40年是中国融入国际体系的过程,西方学界和政策界这些年来也一直在辩论,中国相对于国际体系是一个修正主义国家还是一个维持现状国家?

百年变局中一个具有重要体系意义的变量就是中国,中国的崛起。我们提出要实现中华民族的伟大复兴,究竟意味着什么?修正主义国家或者维持现状国家也许都不能准确描述中国在国际体系中的定位,也许可以说我们是在演进的国际体系中谋求正当地位的国家。 

以下从体系、制度和规范三个维度进行简要分析。 

1.体系秩序  

如何理解演进中的国际体系?在“实现中华民族伟大复兴”的话语中,复兴于兹的体系是什么体系?在很大程度上,这应该是一个改良的体系,与变化的国际实力结构相匹配、在界定性规则和利益分配方面更具代表性的国际体系。复兴的过程是在改良的国际体系中谋求正当地位的过程,代表着中国与演进中的国际体系间一种新型的互动方式,是二者同时变化、共同演进的过程。中国既是促进国际体系演进的重要推动力量,本身也是国际体系的组成部分,随着体系演变不断进行自我调整。因此,融入、修正或维持现状也许都不能准确描述百年变局下中国与国际体系的关系。 

融入体系和维持现状主要是被动的进步过程,是学习、内化和被接受的过程,是西方教、我们学的过程。修正则意味着改变现有体系。一方面,过去40年来中国在国际体系中实现了人类历史上前所未有的大规模高速增长,因此应该不具有从根本上改变现有国际体系的战略目标或意图;另一方面,从20世纪70年代初恢复联合国合法席位到2008年国际金融危机之后历史性地走近世界舞台的中央,中国与国际体系的关系已经发生了重大变化。

近年来,随着新兴国家的群体性崛起和全球化的加速发展,国际关系学界也日益重视对非西方国家关系理论的研究。其中很重要的一部分,就是讨论不同时空和社会文化背景下的国际体系。基于中国和大东亚地区的历史经验,学者们研究过天下体系、秦大一统体系、以中国为中心的东亚等级体系、关系主义国际体系等等。

这些体系都不同于现代威斯特伐利亚国际体系。也就是说,从欧洲实践中产生的现代威斯特伐利亚体系,实际上也是一个次级体系,具有内在的地方特性,是随着欧洲力量的全球扩张而扩张的,并不具备天然的普适性。

从二战后的东亚地区秩序也可以看出,为什么亚洲没有“北约”,这是一个双向认同问题。美国的自由霸权秩序在东亚的社会文化情境中实际上并没有完全落实下来。随着国际力量对比的变化,国际秩序和国际体系的演变是必然的,在这个过程中,是否有可能在大国之间进行“大议价”(grand bargain),照顾彼此核心关切,改良体系秩序,实现利益平衡?这个有可能首先出现在地区和次级国际体系中。 

2.国际制度 

从制度上看,中国塑造和引领国际制度的实践主要出现在周边和大东亚地区,该地区有其独特的制度主义特点,也有制度建设的成功实践。

东亚制度主义是软性制度主义,具有很强的务实性,制度化程度相对较低,在民族国家与国际制度之间存在相对较大的张力。过去20多年来的东亚一体化进程,以东盟为制度中心,以最小制度化的“东盟方式”为基本规范,不仅维护了地区稳定与和平,还推动了地区合作与发展,充满活力。

中国是东亚地区制度进程的参与者、维护者和贡献者,通过地区制度合作分享增长,实现了大国崛起与地区一体化进程的并行发展。 

中国倡议成立的亚洲基础设施投资银行,成为学界和政策界公认的国际制度创设的成功案例。为什么它能够在短期内获得国际认可?作为中国倡议建立的国际制度,实际上亚投行的快速发展是中国与国际体系互动并实现共同演进的结果,是议价和相互协调适应的结果。成立亚投行的倡议是中国发起的,主要是因为世界银行和亚洲开发银行等现有国际制度无法满足基础设施建设需要,而且国际制度改革滞后,中国无法发挥与其力量相匹配的作用。从最初的设想到正式提出倡议,再到最终成立,亚投行经历了很长时间的曲折过程。

最初中方提出的有些议案和设想也引起过不小的争议。但是,中方迅速进行了调整,借鉴了现有相关国际制度的成功实践,接纳了现有开发银行的一些制度建设提案,并很快与世界银行和亚开行等建立了合作伙伴关系。所以,整个发展过程是规则、利益和身份的相互调适过程。中方通过灵活务实的策略和战术调整,保证了长远战略目标的实现。这个战略目标就是通过规则和制度建设塑造体系,并同时谋求在体系中的正当位置。 

(3) 理念规范 

从观念、规范和价值体系来看,美国主导的国际体系和美式全球化的价值体系,是否有可能与东亚本土价值体系实现一定程度上的和而不同、和合共生?有学者做过一个规范研究,指出以中国为代表的东方的规范和话语能够成功进入西方规范和理论体系的最佳案例是《孙子兵法》。其成功的原因主要有两点: 

一是《孙子兵法》没有过度的地方性,二是在规范上和话语上没有自我与他者的区分。它既体现了社会文化积淀,也具有普适性。《孙子兵法》这个案例也许可以给我们提供一些启示,去思考如何实现地方规范和话语体系,与西方主导的国际规范和话语价值体系的相互接近和融合。 

另外,还有一个本土规范与西方主导的国际规范互为补充、共同作用的案例,即中国和很多东亚国家所认可的发展和平,与西方普遍推崇的自由和平规范。有学者以联合国维和行动为案例,做过两种规范的比较研究。中国主导的维和行动一般先稳定局势,然后重点推动地方的相关发展项目,以经济发展促进长治久安。

而西方国家主导的维和行动,以制度建设为重点,在稳定局势后,首先进行民主制度建设,以制度保和平。实践表明,在两种规范同时作用的地方,维和与建和的成效是最好的。最近几年缅甸的发展也是一个很好的例子。 

一方面,缅甸开启了历史性的民主政治转型进程;另一方面,在稳定缅北局势过程中又主要遵循了发展和平理念,并积极争取中国支持,在中缅经济走廊建设中争取实实在在的发展利益。 

总而言之,从体系秩序、国际制度到理念规范,如何找到并实现中国在国际体系中的正当定位,如何实现中国与国际体系的共同演进,是我们在“百年大变局”中要解决的核心问题。 

How should we explain and understand the “great changes unseen in a century”? One important perspective [considers] how China defines itself [in the context of] China’s relationship with the international system. We often describe the 40 years of Reform and Opening as the process of China’s integration into the international system. Over these years, Western academic and policy circles have constantly debated whether China is a revisionist power or a status-quo power in relation to this international system.

China and China’s rise are variables with important systemic relevance to the changes unseen in a century. What exactly does the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” that we propose to realize actually entail [for the international system]? Perhaps neither the terms ‘revisionist power’ or ‘status quo power’ can accurately describe China’s position in the international system; perhaps we may say that we are a nation that seeks a fair and befitting position in the evolving international system.4

Below [I] undertake a simple analysis [of this issue] from three dimensions: the system, institutions, and norms. 

One: Systemic Order

How can we understand the evolving international system? In the expression “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” what is the system that present-day rejuvenation aims to achieve?" To a large degree, this should be a reformed system that matches the altered structure of international power. It should be a more representative international system in the manner it defines rules and allocates benefits. [China’s] process of rejuvenation is the process of seeking a fair and befitting position in a reforming international system; it represents a new type of interaction between China and this evolving international system, a process in which the two are simultaneously changing and co-evolving. China is both an important driving force in stimulating the evolution of the international system, and is also a constituent part of the international system that is continuously adjusting itself as the system evolves.  Therefore, perhaps [words like] “integration,” “revisionist,” and “maintenance [of the status-quo]” cannot be used to accurately describe China’s relationship with the international system against the backdrop of “great changes unseen in a century.”

Integrating into the system and maintaining the status quo are primarily a passive process, a process of learning, internalizing and being accepted, a process in which the West teaches and we learn. Revisionism means that there are changes to the existing system. On the one hand, over the past forty years the large scale and rapid growth China has achieved within the international system is unprecedented in the history of mankind, and therefore [we] should not have the strategic goal or intention to fundamentally change the international system; on the other hand, from [the PRC] legally recovering its seat at the United Nations in the early 1970s to the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2008,5 China’s historic advance towards the center of the world stage already represents a major change in the relationship between China and the international system.

In recent years, following the collective rise of emerging nations and the accelerating development of globalization, the academic international relations community increasingly prioritizes research on theories of relations among non-Western countries. An important component of this research is discussing international relations in the context of different eras, places and social cultures. Based on the historical experience of China and Greater East Asia, scholars have conducted research on the “Tianxia” system, the system of Great Unity under the Qin Empire, the hierarchical East Asian system with China at its center, an international system based on relationalism, and so on.⁶

These systems are all different from the modern Westphalian international system. That is to say, the modern Westphalian system that arose from the lived experience of Europe is, in fact, a secondary system that contains internalized regional characteristics; it expanded along with the global expansion of European power and does not possess any claim to natural universality.

From the post-World War II regional order in East Asia, one can also see why Asia does not have its own version of NATO: this is an issue of mutual recognition [and aceptance]. The American liberal hegemonic order has in fact not completely taken root in the context of the culture of East Asian societies. As the international balance of power changes, it is inevitable that the international order and international system will evolve. In this process, is it possible for great powers to strike a “grand bargain,” accommodate each other’s core concerns,7 improve the order of the system, and bring their interests into balance? These phenomena may first appear in regional and secondary systems of international relations. 

Two: International institutions

From an institutional perspective, China’s experience in shaping and leading international institutions has occurred primarily in its neighboring region and Greater East Asia. This region’s approach to institutions has its own distinctive characteristics and [has] successful experience in constructing institutions.

The East Asian approach to institutions is a sort of soft institutionalism possessed with a strong sense of pragmatism; the extent of institutionalization is relatively limited and there exists a relatively greater tension between nation-states and international institutions. The process of Asian integration that has occurred over the past 20 years, with ASEAN as the central institution and the minimally institutionalized “ASEAN Way” as the basic norm, has not only preserved regional stability and peace, but also promoted cooperation and development, injecting great vitality into the region.⁸

China is a participant in, defender of, and contributor to the institutional process in East Asia. Through regional institutional cooperation, the region collectively shared in growth and China successfully realized its rise as a great power in parallel with the process of regional integration.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) that China proposed and established is now recognized in academic and policy spheres alike as a successful case study in creating a [new] international institution. Why was the AIIB able to obtain international recognition within a short period of time? As a China-led and established international institution, the reality of AIIB’s rapid development is a result of the interaction and co-evolution of China and the international system; it is the result of bargaining and mutually coordinated adaptation. The proposal to establish the AIIB was initiated by China, primarily because the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and other existing international institutions were unable to cater to the demand for infrastructure development, and also because the reform of international institutions lagged behind [the new configuration of global power] and China was unable to play a role commensurate with its power.

From its earliest conception, to the formal proposal [stage] and then to its ultimate establishment, the AIIB has traveled a long and complicated course. At the beginning, China put forward some proposals and tentative plans that stirred up significant controversy. But the Chinese side swiftly made adjustments, drew on the successful practices of relevant and already existing international institutions, accepted some of the suggestions on institution building from the existing development banks, and quickly established cooperative partnerships with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and others. Thus, the entire process of AIIB’s development was a process involving the mutual adaptation of rules, interests and status. China ensured the long-term achievement of its strategic goals through flexible and pragmatic adjustments to its strategy and tactics. This strategic goal is to shape the [international] system through the establishment of rules and institutions and, at the same time, to seek a fair and befitting position within the system. 

Three: Concepts and Norms 

From the perspective of ideas, norms and value systems, is it possible for the American-led international system and the value system of American-style globalization to realize a certain level of 'peaceful coexistence in spite of difference'⁹ with local East Asian value systems? A recent study on norms undertaken by some scholars suggested that the best example of “Eastern” norms and discourse, in this case represented by Chinese [concepts], successfully entering into the Western system of norms and concepts was Sunzi’s The Art of War. There are two primary reasons for its success:

First, The Art of War does not have an excessive level of regional specificity; second, in relation to norms and discourse, it does not draw a distinction between the self and the other. It both embodies the accumulation of [a specific] society and culture, but also has universality. The case of Sunzi’s The Art of War can perhaps inspire us to contemplate how to realize a regional system of norms and discourse and how to draw closer to and integrate with the Western-led values system in a mutually interactive way.

In addition, there is an example of a local norm [i.e., local to the region] that complements and seeks the same outcome as a Western-led international norm. The concept, affirmed by China and many Asian nations, is  “peace through development.” [It finds its analogue in] a norm revered in the West,  “peace through freedom.” Using the case study of UN peacekeeping missions, some scholars undertook research comparing these two norms. Generally speaking, UN peacekeeping missions led by China first stabilize the situation, then focus on promoting regionally specific development programs, using economic development to bring about lasting peace and stability.

In contrast, peacekeeping missions led by Western nations focus on institution building: the first thing they do, after stabilizing the situation, is build democratic institutions [with the intention of] safeguarding peace through these institutions. Practical experience shows that peacekeeping and peacebuilding are most effective when these two norms work in concert. The development of Myanmar in recent years is an excellent example.

On the one hand, Myanmar instigated a historic process of democratic political transformation; on the other hand, the process of stabilizing northern Myanmar primarily followed the concept of “peace through development” and [the Myanmar government] actively sought out China’s support, seeking material development gains from the construction of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor. 

In summary: to [discover] how to find and realize a position in the international system that is fair and befitting to China, to [discover] how to best realize the co-evolution of China and the international system, [we] must proceed from the order of the system, international institutions, and concepts and norms. These are the core questions of  “great changes unseen in a century.”

4 Both Chinese intellectuals and spokespersons for the Chinese party-state speak of China’s desire to occupy a“fairer and more befitting” (正当)position on the international stage. The variations permutations of this phrase(正当定位,正当位置. 正当立场,  正当地位, etc) capture the common Chinese belief that the post-WWII configuration of world politics was an expression of Western, and especially American, neo-imperialism. In this sense, it is not“fair”. The phrase also conveys that this configuration is outdated and does not reflect the change in China’s economic and military strength, as well as the unique contribution the Party believes it is making to world history and politics. In this sense, it is not “befitting” China’s current circumstances and role in world affairs.
5 These two important points of inflection in China’s prospects for growth and power are often referred to by Party and Party-proximate documents. Analysts have referred to the 2008 financial crisis as the beginning of the end of American hegemony. See, for example, this 2009 essay by Yuan Peng, now President of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), the think-tank linked to the Ministry of State Security. 袁鹏 [Yuan Peng], “金融危机与美国经济霸权:历史与政治的解读” [“The Financial Crisis and American Hegemony: Interpreting the History and Politics],” 《更新时间》[Renewal Times], available at
http://www.aisixiang.com/data/88470.html
7 This alludes to the concept of “core interests” and “major concerns” common in Chinese diplomatic discourse.  See the glossary entry for CORE INTERESTS (核心利益).
8 ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,  was founded  in 1967 with the signing of the Bangkok declaration. The original signatories (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia,Singapore, and the Philippines) were united mostly by their opposition to growing Communist influence in Southeast Asia. After the conclusion of the Cold War, ASEAN  expanded to include Brunei,Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. From its earliest days ASEAN has been defined by a commitment to economic co-operation and non-interference in the internal affairs of other ASEAN states. ASEAN decisions must be unanimous,leading to a consensus seeking style of politics that emphasizes personal relationships between ASEAN leaders and behind-the-scenes negotiations carried out away from the public eye.  

This “ASEAN Way” has been extremely useful to Chinese diplomats, who rely on smaller countries in ASEAN dependent on Chinese largess–like Laos and Cambodia–to veto proposals that conflict with Chinese interests.
9 This is an allusion to Analects 13.23: “君子和而不同,小人同而不和”  In the Edward Slingerland translation, the passage reads as: “The Master said, ‘The gentleman harmonizes, and does not merely agree (tong ). The petty person agrees, but he does not harmonize.’

The passage is usually interpreted to mean that a virtuous man can disagree with another’s perspective, but still respect him and co-exist peacefully.

Cite This Article

Wei Ling, “China and the International System in the Context of the Great Changes Unseen in a Century.” Translation by Samuel George. San Francisco: Center for Strategic Translation, 2022.  

Originally published in 张蕴岭,楊光斌,等 [Zhang Yunling, Yang Guangbin, et. al.],  “Ruhe lijie yu renshi bainian dabianju如何理解于認識百年大變局 [How to Understand and Recognize Great Changes of the Century]”,  Yatai Anquan Yu Haiyang Yanjiu 亚太安全与海洋研究 2, no. 24 (2019): 1-15.

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