In this Centre of Gravity paper, Professor Emeritus Rosemary Foot, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, outlines the evolution of China’s engagement with the dominant global norms of responsible behaviour. Professor Foot notes that scholars and policy makers have long been preoccupied with ascertaining whether China is intent on overturning or supporting the dominant norms of global order. Maoist China appeared as a revolutionary challenger to global order norms, whereas Deng Xiaoping’s China came predominantly to be seen as adapting to international society and beginning to act as a ‘responsible state’ in world politics. This view of China was reinforced not only by its behaviour but also by the academic understanding of how global norms could act to shape the responses of a state concerned about its international image. Under President Xi Jinping we witness a China more willing to determine for itself what represents ‘responsible behaviour’ in global politics. This is reinforced by Beijing’s sense that the West is in decline while it is economically and politically resurgent. We have moved into a strongly enabling environment for China.
Professor Foot argues that countries outside of China need to develop a more nuanced understanding of Beijing’s relationship with dominant global norms. On some policy issues, China seeks a larger voice and role within existing institutions and thus does not constitute a major challenge. In other areas, it is working to aid the decline in certain normative values, arguing that it is the strong and developed state that is the best guarantor of world order and the security of the individual. The West should act to counter China’s arguments where they are weak, inconsistent and retrogressive, and reinvigorate its support for the values of human rights and democracy.