|Abstract as per original application
Today, China occupies a position of ever-increasing importance in the global economy, transnational policy, and international institutions. As a result, there is lively debate in academic and political circles as to whether China will prove to be a “status quo” power, which endorses the existing international system, or a “revisionist” one, which seeks to transform that system. However, existing discourse tends to focus solely on China’s experience and behavior in the course of its economic rise following the start of the “Reform and Opening-Up” era in 1979. This is particularly true in the case of the relatively few works analyzing China’s relationship with public international law, which often portray it as a kind of recent newcomer (and potential disruptor) to a preexisting Western international legal system.
This project challenges that prevailing model, proposing instead that a longer view of the international legal system, and the global governance networks in which it is embedded, reveals that China has long exercised extensive theoretical and practical influence on their development. More specifically, it uses analysis of legal documents, diplomatic communications, and archival sources to clarify: 1) how different conceptions of sovereignty have historically developed in China, and how these have exerted impact on its domestic and international legal activities; 2) how China’s theorization and practice of sovereign power have affected the key transformations of modern positive international law from the early 17th century through today; and 3) the ways that China’s unique international role has historically contributed to the development of specific concepts such as border sovereignty, substantive obligations in international treaties, individual responsibility in international criminal law, and ethnic self-determination.
As the project will show, China’s history of diplomatic and legal engagement with outside states features many existing and potential contributions to the understanding of state sovereignty and international order. China’s influence today, via its multilateral initiatives such as the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project, Asian International Investment Bank (AIIB), and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), similarly carry broader implications for the role of sovereign states in an interconnected world. Rather than a “newcomer” to public international law, China is best seen as a longtime active participant in the latter’s historical development and current operation. This carries implications not only for how China’s international role can be better understood, but also for developing a more nuanced theoretical account of “international law” itself, as an inherently multipolar system based on pluralistic influences.