19 Feb 2008

China as a Normative Foreign Policy Actor

Brantly Womack

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Although China’s foreign policy behaviour is often judged in terms of its compliance with Western norms, the evolution of China’s own norms merits serious attention. From early times to the present day, China’s international action has been structured in terms of norms. When China’s recent behaviour is described in terms of the normative structure proposed by Tocci, its unique perspective is highlighted, though tentative questions concerning the structure are also raised. Moreover, the case of China challenges the general interpretation of norms because it emphasises relationships as essentially interactive. From the Chinese perspective, international relations are not an area for the application of abstract norms to cases, but rather a set of particular international relationships, with concrete obligations defined within the context of each relationship. The cardinal virtue of normative interaction is respect for the other. By focusing on this Chinese interpretation of normative action this working paper analyses eight case studies in Chinese foreign policy, discerning whether when and why China behaves as a normative foreign policy actor.