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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,” 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
November 2022
Tags
Tag term
Tag term
Advancing Towards The Center of The World Stage
走近世界舞台中央

Chinese officials and diplomats often describe China’s return to national greatness as a process of “advancing towards the center of the world stage.” As with other aspirational aims associated with China’s NATIONAL REJUVENATION, this “advance towards the center of the world stage” is intended to be completed by 2049, the centennial anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Most of the central leadership’s aspirations for 2049 concern domestic affairs: this phrase is one of the rare statements of what a fully rejuvenated China means for the rest of the world. 

The phrase “advancing towards the center of the world stage” was introduced in a 2011 People’s Daily editorial and saw periodic use in the early days of Xi Jinping. Xi elevated the slogan’s importance in his report to the 19th Party Congress. There he tied the claim that “our country advances ever closer to the center of the world stage” [我国日益走近世界舞台中央] to his declaration that the Party had entered a NEW ERA [新时代] in its history. As Mao gave China independence, and Deng made China prosperous, so would Xi Jinping help China “become strong.”  This stronger, more assertive China could then turn its eyes outside of China’s borders to “make greater contributions to mankind” [为人类作出更大贡献]. In Xi’s judgment, growing Chinese influence over the future of the species is an integral part of moving China to the world’s “center stage.” 

Phrases like “advancing towards the center of the world stage” and “making greater contributions to mankind” suggest the global scope of Chinese ambition while obscuring its ultimate object. An official Xinhua commentary on the 19th Congress provides an unusually forthright description of what this advance entails:

China has stood up, grown rich and become strong. It will advance  toward center stage and make greater contributions for mankind. By 2050, two centuries after the Opium Wars, which plunged the “Middle Kingdom” into a period of hurt and shame, China is set to regain its might and re-ascend to the top of the world.
…China’s success proves that socialism can prevail and be a path for other developing countries to emulate and achieve modernization. China is now strong enough, willing, and able to contribute more for mankind. The new world order cannot be just dominated by capitalism and the West, and the time will come for a change (Xinhua 2017).

Xinhua associates the “advance towards the center of the world stage” with a world order that is no longer capitalist nor Western-led; the less circumspect writing of Chinese academics and public intellectuals use the phrase in a similar fashion. The slogan should thus serve as a reminder that China’s leadership believes that the road to NATIONAL REJUVENATION demands structural changes to the world outside of China’s borders.


See also:   CENTURY OF NATIONAL HUMILIATION; COMMUNITY OF COMMON DESTINY FOR ALL MANKIND; GREAT REJUVENATION OF THE CHINESE NATION; GREAT CHANGES UNSEEN IN A CENTURY;

Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation
中华民族伟大复兴

General Secretaries of the Communist Party of China have described “national rejuvenation” [民族复兴] as the central mission of their Party 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. Those revolutionaries dreamed of restoring a broken nation to its traditional station at the center of human civilization.Though he lives a century after Sun Yat-sen’s death, Xi Jinping rarely gives a speech without endorsing the same aspiration. As Xi describes it, national rejuvenation is a “strategic plan” for “achieving lasting greatness for the Chinese nation” (Xi 2022). The formal term for this plan is the “National Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation,” a term that could be alternatively translated as the “National Rejuvenation of the Chinese Race.”

The work of a Leninist party is inherently goal oriented. Chinese governance depends on a  “high pressure system” [压力型体制] that uses a mix of campaign tactics and career incentives to focus the work of millions of cadres on a shared set of tasks, all of which are nested in a hierarchy of overarching goals. During the Maoist era China’s leadership identified the  “the realization of communism” as the “ultimate aim of the Party,” and proposed “victory in class struggle” as the path for reaching this end (Perrolle 1976). The CPC of today still endorses the“realization of communism” as the “highest ideal and ultimate aim” of the Party, but argues that “the highest ideal of communism pursued by Chinese Communists can be realized only when socialist society is fully developed and highly advanced,” a historical process that will “take over a century” to achieve (Constitution of the CPC 2022). In contrast, the “lasting greatness” associated with national rejuvenation can be accomplished on a more feasible timescale. The Party expects to lead the Chinese race to this desired end state by 2049, the centenary of the People’s Republic of China. Achieving the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation by this date is the overarching goal of the Chinese party-state.

To attain national rejuvenation, party leadership has argued that China must become a “great and modern socialist state” [社会主义现代化强国]. In Xi Jinping’s NEW ERA this imperative has been broken down into five aspirational end states: prosperity and strength [富强],democracy [民主], advanced culture [文明], social harmony [和谐], and beauty [美丽]. The first category emphasize the Party’s drive to build a country whose COMPOSITE NATIONAL POWER is commensurate with a civilization at the leading edge of modernity; the next three identify the desired relationship between the Communist Party and a unified Chinese nation; the last is associated with campaigns to reduce pollution and forge a healthier relationship between industrial development and the natural environment. 

With sub-components as broad as these, almost any policy promoted by THE CENTER falls under the remit of “national rejuvenation.” The breadth of this mandate is intentional. As communist utopia retreats ever further into the future, Party leadership has bet that reclaiming lost Chinese greatness is the one cause “the entire Party and all the Chinese people [will] strive for” (Xi 2022). 

See also: ADVANCING TOWARDS THE CENTER OF THE WORLD STAGE; CENTURY OF NATIONAL HUMILIATION

Core Interests
核心利益

The term “core interests,” often written as the longer “core interests and major concerns” [核心利益与 重大关切] , is used by Party officials as a shorthand for the set of issues so central to the GREAT REJUVENATION OF THE CHINESE PEOPLE  that the official position on them is not subject to negotiation or compromise. The term entered the Party lexicon in 2003 in a discussion of Taiwanese independence, but subsequent party commentaries have identified these interests as falling into three broad categories: sovereignty, security, and development. 

Each category is paired with a series of corresponding threats. Threats to China’s sovereignty interests originally referred to “splittism” in Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang, but in the Xi Jinping era the term has expanded to include opposition to Chinese claims in the South China Sea and challenges to state control over Chinese cyberspace. China’s security interests are challenged both by the type of threat that can be handled with traditional military deterrence and less traditional threats to China’s “political security”—that is, threats to the stability of China’s socialist system and legitimacy of the CPC leadership's over it. Defending development interests means safeguarding China’s economic model from outside interference. Originally conceived in terms of securing trade routes and access to key natural resources, the Sino-American trade war of the late 2010s has prompted Party leaders to reframe threats to China’s development in terms of technology controls and tariffs. Diplomats of the Xi era are instructed to take the protection of these interests as the “starting point and end point” [出发点和落脚点] of Chinese diplomacy (Yang 2018).

Great Changes Unseen in a Century
百年未有的大变局

The phrase “Great Changes Unseen in a Century,” sometimes translated by official party media as “Profound Changes Unseen in a Century,” was first used by Chinese academics following the Great Recession. The phrase is associated with the dangers and opportunities posed by American decline, and has been adopted by THE CENTER as a programmatic assessment of a changing world order. 

“Great Changes” was officially elevated into the party lexicon in 2017, when then-State Councilor Yang Jiechi described it as a guiding tenet of Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy. Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy was formally adopted by the Party in a 2018 Central Foreign Affairs Work Conference, where Xi informed the collected leadership of the Chinese diplomatic corp and state security apparatus that

China now finds itself in the best period for development it has seen since the advent of the modern era; [simultaneously], the world faces great changes unseen in a century. These two [trends] are interwoven, advancing in lockstep; each stimulates the other. Now, and in the years to come, many advantageous international conditions exist for success in foreign affairs (Xi 2020).

Xi’s comments followed a tradition laid out in innumerable Party documents, speeches, and regulations, which present declarations of  policy, especially foreign policy, as following from an  assessment of the “overall landscape” [全局] “inherent tendencies” [大势], or “the great trends” [大趋势] of the historical moment in which the Party finds itself. “Great changes unseen in a century” is a shorthand for the central leadership’s current assessment of the future trajectory of the international order.

The slogan invokes a slew of great changes that shook global politics one century ago: the collapse of British hegemony and the European imperial system following WWI and the concurrent rise of the United States and the Soviet Union as the predominant powers of world politics. The slogan implies that a similar power transition is now underway, with America playing the role of faltering hegemon, and China the rising  power.  

More substantive discussions of the slogan by Chinese academics and state affiliated scholars trace this power transition to myriad causes: the growing wealth of the developing world, the rise of right-wing populism in Western countries, the debilitating effects that neoliberalism and identity politics have on American power, the resurgence of nationalism across the globe, advances in novel technologies not pioneered by the West, and the proliferation of non-traditional security threats (such as pandemics and terrorist attacks) are all common explanations for the crumbling of the American-led international order. 

Though the phrase was introduced in a rather triumphal tone, the slogan has taken on a darker valence as Sino-American relations have worsened and China has grown more isolated in the international arena. Party propagandists and Chinese academics alike now pair the phrase “great changes unforeseen in a century” with increasingly dire warnings about the unique risks and dangers China faces in the final stage of NATIONAL REJUVENATION. Thus the slogan has come to also signify a warning that China sails into uncharted waters. As Xi Jinping reported in his address to the 20th Congress:

Great changes unseen in a century are accelerating across the world… the once-in-a-century pandemic has had far-reaching effects; a backlash against globalization is rising; and unilateralism and protectionism are mounting… The world has entered a new period of turbulence and change… [where] external attempts to suppress and contain China may escalate at any time.

Our country has entered a period of development in which strategic opportunities, risks, and challenges are concurrent and uncertainties and unforeseen factors are rising... We must therefore be more mindful of potential dangers, be prepared to deal with worst-case scenarios, and be ready to withstand high winds, choppy waters, and even dangerous storms (Xi 2022).

See also: ADVANCING TOWARDS THE CENTER OF THE WORLD; COMMUNITY OF COMMON DESTINY FOR ALL MANKIND; GREAT REJUVENATION OF THE CHINESE NATION

National Rejuvenation
民族复兴

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,6 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.7

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”8 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 peace-building 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], “Jīnróng wéijī yǔ měiguó jīngjì bàquán: Lìshǐ yǔ zhèngzhì de jiědú 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], http://www.aisixiang.com/data/88470.html.
6 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).
7 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.
8 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,6 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.7

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”8 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 peace-building 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], “Jīnróng wéijī yǔ měiguó jīngjì bàquán: Lìshǐ yǔ zhèngzhì de jiědú 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], http://www.aisixiang.com/data/88470.html.
6 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).
7 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.
8 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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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

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
November 18, 2022

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,” 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.

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,6 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.7

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”8 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 peace-building 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], “Jīnróng wéijī yǔ měiguó jīngjì bàquán: Lìshǐ yǔ zhèngzhì de jiědú 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], http://www.aisixiang.com/data/88470.html.
6 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).
7 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.
8 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。 

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