Many scholars and policymakers in the United States accept the narrative that China is a revisionist state challenging the U.S.-dominated international liberal order. The narrative assumes that there is a singular liberal order and that it is obvious what constitutes a challenge to it. The concepts of order and challenge are, however, poorly operationalized. There are at least four plausible operationalizations of order, three of which are explicitly or implicitly embodied in the dominant narrative. These tend to assume, ahistorically, that U.S. interests and the content of the liberal order are almost identical. The fourth operationalization views order as an emergent property of the interaction of multiple state, substate, nonstate, and international actors. As a result, there are at least eight “issue-specific orders” (e.g., military, trade, information, and political development). Some of these China accepts; some it rejects; and some it is willing to live with. Given these multiple orders and varying levels of challenge, the narrative of a U.S.-dominated liberal international order being challenged by a revisionist China makes little conceptual or empirical sense. The findings point to the need to develop more generalizable ways of observing orders and compliance.


A central question in the U.S. debate over the implications of the rise of China is whether or not China is challenging the rules-based international order led by the United States. In the wake of China's coercive diplomacy in maritime disputes around its periphery, more and more voices have claimed that China has become a revisionist state challenging this order.1 Since 2015, there has been a rapid increase in English-language media references in the United States and around the world to China's challenge to the rules-based order.2 This characterization of China's approach to international order culminated in late 2017 in the U.S. National Security Strategy and in early 2018 in the U.S. National Defense Strategy. Both documents labeled China a “revisionist” state trying to undermine and replace the international order.3

If this characterization of China's relationship to international order is accurate, then it suggests a set of policy responses to China's rise that stress deterring, denying, containing, and perhaps even rolling back gains in China's power and influence around the world. If this characterization is wrong, or premature, or incomplete, then it suggests that less coercive responses, or perhaps a more targeted mix of coercive and reassurance responses, to Chinese power may be more appropriate.

Like many emerging narratives in both the United States and China describing the purposes and practices of the other side, there has been little rigorous empirical testing of the validity of this characterization of China's relationship to international order. Yet, the speed with which this narrative about a cross-domain revisionist challenge to a rules-based order has come to dominate U.S. discourse about China and international order seems unrelated to any such dramatic changes in overall Chinese foreign policy. The first uses of the term “revisionist” were mainly in reference to the degree of China's coercive diplomacy in the South China Sea, which did indeed pick up in 2012–13. It is unclear, however, whether there were similarly major and rapid shifts in revisionist directions in all other domains of Chinese diplomacy (e.g., trade, climate, arms control, and finance). Moreover, the first official references to a Chinese challenge to the term “rules-based order” were limited to the Asia Pacific. Indeed, the first use of the term by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in 2010 (borrowing from Australia's then-foreign minister, Kevin Rudd). She referred to the Asia Pacific rules-based order as something to be built, not something that existed. As she noted in a 2011 speech about the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the rules-based order was aspirational: “We have to create a rules-based order, one that is open, free, transparent, and fair … A rules-based order will also be critical to meeting APEC's goal of eventually creating a free trade area of the Asia Pacific.”4 Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell similarly noted in 2012, “Our strategy strives to set a context for peaceful approaches to disputes in the region, with the long-term goal of supporting a rules-based order, undergirded by agreements and strong institutions, that can support the management and, ultimately, resolution of the disputes.”5 Within a year or two, U.S. officials and pundits were referring to a regional and/or global rules-based order that had been around for sixty to seventy years and that China had begun to challenge. Thus, some conceptual confusion exists over what precisely constitutes this liberal international order and what constitutes a Chinese challenge to it.6

It is useful, therefore, to test how revisionist Chinese foreign policy has become. Any such test, however, requires returning to an even more basic question: How should “international order” be defined? Answering this question then allows one to determine how to operationalize and measure compliance with, or challenge to, international order. To my knowledge, thus far little scholarly, let alone governmental, effort to operationalize the concept of order or compliance/challenge has taken place, at least not when it comes to a net assessment across a wide range of issue areas, institutions, and norms. My conclusion is simple: given the lack of operationalization of key concepts such as order, compliance, challenge, and revisionism, it is very difficult to answer the question about how much of a challenge China poses to the U.S.-led liberal international order. In fact, depending on different operationalizations of order and compliance with order, one can arrive at very different answers. Different answers have different policy implications. Thus, if the definition and operationalization of order and compliance leads to empirically inaccurate characterizations of China's relationship to order—if the dependent variable is poorly specified and measured—the risks of policy failure from a mischaracterization of the nature of the China challenge can increase.

This article describes a research agenda for how scholars, pundits, and policy practitioners can better analyze order, and challenges to order, in a real-world policy context. I start by outlining a few ways in which common uses of the concepts of “order” and “compliance” can be operationalized and how these operationalizations can be applied to gauging China's relationship to order. The common usage tends to assume that order and the interests of the hegemon or dominant state are mutually constitutive. I suggest that the operationalizations of China's challenge based on this common notion of order do not easily support the current narrative about the rising threat to the rules-based order.

I then suggest an alternative notion of order as the emergent property of the interactions of multiple state and nonstate actors. Inductively, this exercise yields a world of multiple orders in different domains (e.g., military, human rights, trade, the environment, and information), rather than a single, U.S.-dominated liberal order. Some of these orders are internally contested, and some are in tension with others. The empirical evidence across these different orders, presented in an admittedly broad-brush way, suggests that China is not challenging the so-called liberal international order as much as many people think. My argument is not that the current liberal international order is in better shape than many analysts claim,7 and therefore that it is more resilient in the face of China's challenge. It is, rather, that there is less to the liberal international order than many believe, and that at present China's challenge to order is less deep and/or wide than the current narrative suggests. The picture is far more complicated. China interacts differently with different orders, supportive of some, unsupportive of others, and partially supportive of still others.8 I present a descriptive analysis of, not an explanation for, this variation, as I think it is useful to describe the details of China's relationship to order before jumping to generalizations about the relationship itself.

Three Examples of Operationalization of Order and Compliance

The policy, think tank, and academic communities in the United States overwhelmingly assume, implicitly or explicitly, that international order comprises an array of institutions, rules, and norms that more or less reflect the dominant state's interests. This definition cuts across policy preferences and theoretical orientations.9 Thus, using this definition, measuring whether a state is challenging or complying with international order ought to be, in principle, relatively straightforward: To what degree do potential challengers or contenders cooperate with the dominant state in the system? How might this cooperation be operationalized? Below, I offer three plausible operationalizations of the notion of “challenge.” These three ways of measuring challenge to the hegemon's interests should give the benefit of the doubt to the common description of China as a growing challenger to U.S. interests and thus international order. In all three cases, however, the data do not easily support this most common description.


The first way to measure challenge/compliance might be to look at the frequency of cooperation between the hegemon and the rising power. The current narrative would claim that China's cooperation with U.S. interests has been declining rapidly since the mid-to-late 2000s. However, perhaps the most reliable data on day-to-day cooperative actions across a wide range of issues, the Integrated Crisis Early Warning System (ICEWS) dataset, suggests otherwise.10Figure 1 shows that Chinese statements and actions toward the United States as reported in multiple media sources are consistently and overwhelmingly cooperative.11 Variation has occurred within a relatively narrow band, but the overall level of cooperativeness has not changed dramatically over the past couple of decades, particularly since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.12 Of course, the problem with this measure of compliance is that it needs to be weighted ex ante by some consensus about which areas of cooperation are more important than others. Should cooperation on combating climate change be weighted more heavily when judging how compliant China is with the U.S.-dominated order than, say, security cooperation? Or vice versa? These are normative judgments, of course. Much of the literature on China as a rising revisionist state tends to uncritically default to the traditional security domain as deserving the most weight, even though one could make a utilitarian case that the most pressing threat to the well-being of Americans, not to mention humanity at large, comes from climate change, not from traditional interstate security competition (nuclear war excepted).

Figure 1.

Reports on China's Cooperative Actions Directed toward the United States as a Percentage of All Reports

Figure 1.

Reports on China's Cooperative Actions Directed toward the United States as a Percentage of All Reports


A second measure for challenge/compliance might be the degree of voting congruence with the dominant power in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Here again, a common conceptualization suggests that order reflects the collection of normative preferences expressed by the dominant state in the system—in this case, as manifest in voting preferences in the dominant international organization created under the auspices of U.S. power. To the extent that UNGA voting reflects states' wishes and hopes for how interstate relations should be managed, voting congruence with the United States could proxy as a measure of compliance with international order. One could use, for example, a newly developed dataset composed of states' ideal points as revealed by UNGA voting. Conceptually, these data use methods, developed for the study of the U.S. Congress and judiciary, to measure ideological distances between actors based on positions taken on prior votes.13 As the developers of the dataset note, the UNGA ideal point data “consistently capture the position of states vis-à-vis a U.S.-led liberal order.”14 Thus, challenge to, or compliance with, international order could be measured by the absolute distance between a country's ideal point and the ideal point of the United States. Figure 2 shows that the absolute distance between the United States' ideal point and China's ideal point has varied across time in ways consistent with what is known about changes in U.S.-China relations: the distance was narrower during the 1970s and 1980s, when the two cooperated strategically against the Soviet Union, and widened after the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 and heightened tensions over the Taiwan issue in the mid-1990s. Since then, the distance has closed somewhat. At present, the data for ideal points on specific issue areas (e.g., economic vs. security vs. human development) do not exist, so it is unclear whether this ideal point distance varies by issue area. At a minimum, however, this indicator suggests that compared to the 1990s, the gap between U.S. and Chinese ideal points as of 2015 has narrowed somewhat, rather than widened as the revisionist China narrative predicts.

Figure 2.

Trends in Ideal Point Distance between the United States and China in United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Voting

Figure 2.

Trends in Ideal Point Distance between the United States and China in United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Voting

The UNGA ideal point data, however, also show that the United States is often an outlier in the UNGA. As figure 3 indicates, for example, in 2015 China was much closer to the mean ideal point (the vertical line) than the United States was. Compared to the ideal points of other countries, only the ideal points of European states are generally more congruent with the United States. This distribution of ideal points suggests either that the preference for a U.S. liberal order is mainly a transatlantic one or that UNGA voting is a poor proxy for the observing the preferences of states for international order, or something in between.

Figure 3.

Distribution of United Nations Voting Ideal Points by Country in 2015

Figure 3.

Distribution of United Nations Voting Ideal Points by Country in 2015


A third way of measuring the degree of a state's challenge to or compliance with international order is to examine support for or opposition to the international institutions and norms preferred by the dominant state. For simplicity's sake, suppose that the dominant state and the rising power (or any other state for that matter) either support or oppose an international institution and its associated norms. Thus, one can think of the relationship between the two actors as a 2×2 matrix. The notional distribution of support in figure 4 would capture the rising power's perfect opposition to international order as defined by the dominant state.15Figure 5 would capture perfect support for international order as defined by the dominant state. Figure 6 would reflect a mixed picture where the dominant order is unclear and, thus, where the degree of challenge/compliance with order is also unclear. The distributions of support/opposition across these four cells could be charted across time to get a picture of changing levels of challenge/compliance.

Figure 4.

Rising Power's Perfect Opposition to the International Order as Defined by the Hegemon

Figure 4.

Rising Power's Perfect Opposition to the International Order as Defined by the Hegemon

Figure 5.

Rising Power's Perfect Support for the International Order as Defined by the Hegemon

Figure 5.

Rising Power's Perfect Support for the International Order as Defined by the Hegemon

Figure 6.

Mixed Support for the International Order as Defined by the Hegemon

Figure 6.

Mixed Support for the International Order as Defined by the Hegemon

As figure 7 suggests, however, it is hard to see when using this operationalization how China constitutes a challenge to a single, U.S.-dominated order when there are so many institutions distributed across all four cells of the matrix. Some of the core institutions of the liberal international order (the UN system, the International Monetary Fund [IMF], the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization [WTO]) are more or less supported by both the United States and China. Other core institutions have been more or less opposed by both countries (e.g., the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court [ICC]).16

Figure 7.

China's Support for the International Order as Defined by the United States

Figure 7.

China's Support for the International Order as Defined by the United States

In macrohistorical terms, if one took a “video” of change in the distribution of institutions in these four cells from 1949 onward, it would arguably look like a transformation from the distribution in figure 4 to the distribution in figure 6, with more rapid movement from the 1980s onward—in other words, a movement from the more purely revisionist toward the more mixed distribution. Supporters of the revisionist China narrative have to be able to show that one of two things has happened within the last decade or so: either a clear movement from the kind of distribution in figure 5 to something resembling the distribution in figure 4, or a clear movement from the distribution in figure 6 to the distribution in figure 4.

Assuming that figure 7 is still a reasonable representation of reality, the distribution of institutions underscores why defining international order in terms of the dominant state's normative interests is problematic. There are a number of extant institutions and norms that the United States (along with China) has opposed or ignored. It is hard to deduce a coherent set of norms and institutions against which to measure the level of compliance with a liberal international order when the dominant state's own practices seem inconsistent or when it, too, opposes a wide range of extant norms and institutions. In many of the cases, the source of U.S. opposition or discomfort with extant institutions and norms comes from concerns about constraints on sovereignty (e.g., congressional opposition to a range of human rights– or arms control–related agreements on sovereignty grounds has led to instances where the United States signs agreements but fails to ratify them). Concern about sovereignty is the same variable behind much of China's reluctance to endorse certain norms and institutions.

Moreover, it does not make sense to develop an index of international normative practice that, by definition, prevents analysts from using said index to measure the behavior of all states in the system, including the dominant one. Such a move precludes analysts from using the system's customary norms and practices, which are after all produced by the interaction of all social actors in the system, as a baseline order against which to measure challenges from any particular actor. In other words, it would yield a biased measure of the content and degree of order in the system. Using U.S. behavior as the standard, and thus excluding U.S. behavior from measurement, leads to the odd situation where China's building military facilities on disputed land features in the South China Sea that it already occupies would count as a challenge to international norms (certain UN Law of the Sea principles, freedom of navigation), but the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 would not (even though many states viewed it as a violation of the UN Charter).

In short, any analysis of China's compliance with international order needs to recognize the difference between conflicts of interest between the United States and China, on the one hand, and conflicts between China and “international order,” on the other. Many U.S. policy statements and much of the pundit commentary on China and international order blur this distinction.

Deconstructing International Order

Here I sketch out a fourth, much messier, though hopefully more conceptually valid, operationalization of order and compliance that requires further unpacking of the concept.

Not surprisingly, conceptualizations of order have evolved over time. In one of the earliest interrogations of the concept of world order, at a 1965 conference organized by Raymond Aron, the conceptualization of order was narrow, focusing on the mechanisms by which great powers could impose restraint or limitation on the use of force.17 This conceptualization was developed further by Stanley Hoffmann: “World order is, or rather would be, the state in which violence and economic disruptions are tamed; it is, or would be, a state of moderation among the actors, plus … economic progress … plus collective institutions.”18 Thus, order was an institutionalization of the normative practice of moderation. Around this time, Hedley Bull also suggested that order was constituted by rules and institutions aimed at some normative purposes shared by states and manifested in “patterns of behavior.” The purposes were, presumably, wider than just reducing the probability of violence.19 James March and Johan Olsen referred to order as organized around “well-defined boundaries, common rules and practices, shared causal and normative understandings, and resources adequate for collective action.”20 Janice Bially-Mattern suggests that order consists of states' “shared understandings of expectations and behaviors with respect to one another.”21 In general, though, scholarship has tended to define (or infer) order as interstate agreement over the norms, rules, and institutions that regulate interstate behavior.

These definitions, however, elide the degree to which norms, rules, and institutions are consistent with each other (formal rules embodied in formal institutions may be different from informal norms). They also elide the idea that many patterns of behavior are, as Ted Hopf notes, habituated practices and thus not consciously created or maintained.22 Randall Schweller hints at this possibility when he refers to order as “emergent properties” (in a complex adaptive systems' sense of the term) that emanate from the social interaction of actors—those patterns of behavior that are not the product of any particular actor with any particular normative goals.23 I am sympathetic to the implications of Hopf's and Schweller's thinking about order—it shifts the analysis of order from whose order (e.g., U.S. liberal) to what order (e.g., does it exist? how would we know?), and from the declared intentions of the dominant state(s) to the daily practices of all actors, state and nonstate alike.

The notion of order as emergent properties that are (partly) habituated does, however, raise the difficult problem of operationalizing order if there are inconsistencies between consciously designed rules, norms, and institutions, on the one hand, and unconscious or practice-constructed patterns of behavior, on the other. Which should analysts take as order, and thus the basis for measuring compliance with order? Perhaps it will depend on the distribution of agency. When agency for creating new norms is concentrated in a few states, the order will reflect a more conscious set of preferences and actions by these states. Analysts would then focus more on the formal rules, declared norms, and organized institutions that undergird this order. When normative agency is dispersed rather than concentrated, the order will reflect more emergent properties. Analysts would then focus more on the informal rules, habituated practices, and taken-for-granted regimes.

For the moment, assume that given the complexity and intensity of economic, informational, and cultural globalization processes in the post–Cold War era, normative agency is more dispersed today than it was in the immediate post-1945 period. Also, set aside the not-so-useful artifice that a state qua state is an actor and assume, more realistically, that the key actors in an international system are subnational actors and organs with special responsibility for (and interests in) particular policy domains. Substate, nonstate, transnational, and international institutional actors in a growing number of policy domains will proliferate the more globalized the international system. It is therefore highly likely that, across a range of domains, different emergent properties come from social interaction between these different types of actors. I would even suggest that these emergent properties may be different, indeed contradictory, in different domains of state activity. States' substate agents have multiple goals, some of which are often inconsistent with each other (e.g., sovereignty vs. welfare) or are pushed by different substate actors. Additionally, states operate in multiple issue areas at the same time. For example, military actors (e.g., defense ministries, arms control bureaucracies, epistemic communities, and arms control treaty bureaucracies) produce a set of emergent properties in the military coercion domain that may reinforce the sovereignty and territoriality of states. Human rights actors (e.g., nongovernmental organizations, state bureaucracies in charge of human rights, international treaty bureaucracies, and individual ideas entrepreneurs) produce a set of emergent properties that generally challenge sovereignty and territoriality in the domain of political development.

Thus, there are arguably simultaneously existing emergent properties, and to aggregate them into one U.S.-dominated liberal order misses the tensions and contradictions across different clusters of activity. To paraphrase Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye's notion of “issue-specific power,”24 there are likely to be different, even contradictory, “issue-specific orders” operating at the same time, in the same geographical spaces, and involving the same states. In some of these orders, the emergent property may be liberal institution building (e.g., a liberal trade order or a pooling of sovereignty among liberal states). In others, it may be balancing (e.g., a realpolitik military order). In still others, it may be aggressively building hierarchy (e.g., a hegemonic ideological order). To the extent that any particular order is internally contested, this is a measure of the degree of order.25

In short, it is useful to start with the assumption that there is no single international order that defines whether a state is a challenger/revisionist or not. It seems likely that the number and types of orders existing simultaneously is an empirical question. As an inductive first cut, I propose that there are at least eight simultaneously existing orders in different issue areas. Some of these are dominated by liberal institutions and rules; some are not inherently liberal; some are contradictory; and some are highly contested internally. I expand on these possibilities below.26


The most fundamental order might be called the “constitutive order”—the norms and institutions that constitute the main actors and their primary interests. The fundamental emergent properties in the modern state system are sovereignty and territoriality produced by the shared desire of states to exist qua states.27 The constitutive order defines and naturalizes who actors are (sovereign states with defined territorial boundaries) and thus the distinction between the international and domestic. It creates citizens and national identities, and closes off much of domestic politics to interference from other states.

The key norms of the constitutive order are sovereignty and territoriality. Without these, states do not exist, and the sovereign state order does not exist. The key institutions (re)creating these norms include the UN system, international treaties, the UN Charter, the International Court of Justice—indeed, all the international governmental organizations in which membership requires sovereign state status. Other norms and practices such as national anthems, flags, civics courses, and passports help constitute and normalize this order.

China has been and remains one of the strongest state supporters of the constitutive order. Indeed, arguably of the two variables that account for the largest amount of variation in Chinese foreign policy today, one would be the preservation of sovereignty (the other the preservation of Communist Party rule). China is therefore a strong supporter of keeping the current UN system intact, especially the current UN Security Council (along with the United States, which is not especially keen on major UNSC reform either).28 China strongly prefers that any international or multilateral action has UN sanction. China's leaders have emphasized of late their support for the UN-centric order,29 going so far as to claim that China (not the People's Republic of China or the Republic of China) was present at the creation of the UN in 1945, and thus that China has a stake in its existence and strengthening.30

Beijing does not support all of the institutions that explicitly or implicitly reinforce the constitutive order. It is distrustful, for instance, of third-party mediation of sovereignty disputes, and thus it is suspicious of the International Court of Justice (though it is not opposed to third-party mediation for all interstate disputes as its participation in the WTO dispute resolution mechanism attests). The United States, too, has an ambivalent view of the ICJ, particularly after the Nicaraguan harbor-mining ruling in the 1980s rejected the legality of this U.S. effort to put military pressure on the Nicaraguan government. This is one reason why the United States has conspicuously not called for claimants in maritime disputes in East Asia to use the court to resolve sovereignty disputes.

It is unclear whether the constitutive order can be called a “liberal order” per se. The order is currently sustained by international institutions, but its origins obviously predate the post–World War II UN system and emerged across times and spaces where liberal elements—cooperation, capitalism, democracy, and tolerance, according to John Ikenberry—were not especially prevalent. Arguably sovereignty-like constitutive order appeared in non-Western systems as well (e.g., certain interstate periods in premodern Chinese history such as the Warring States or the Northern Song). This particular order can also be the basis of non-liberal practices by states, such as the use of war to defend territory and sovereignty, and war can reinforce this order.


Another order is the “military” or “coercive” order—the norms and institutions related to the distribution and employment of military capabilities. Some scholars might simply refer to this order as polarity, because polarity is an obvious emergent property of the distribution of power across states in the system. This order, however, also includes the norms and institutions that interpret the meaning of military capabilities (e.g., taken-for-granted ways of defining weapons of mass destruction [WMD]) and, on this basis, regulate the employment of military force within different polarities. Some of the current norms of this order include the right to self-defense, but also norms against naked cross-border aggression. Institutions that uphold or reinforce the military order include alliances, the UN Charter, the UNSC, and a slew of arms control agreements particularly aimed at limiting the spread and use of WMD (e.g., the Nonproliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the Missile Technology Control Regime). UN peacekeeping operations might also be included in this order.

Some of the elements of the military order may be liberal, but not all. Polarity as an emergent property is not a liberal concept. Agreements to limit the capabilities and/or practices of warfare are not the monopoly of liberal times or places. The concept of arms control goes back well before the emergence of liberal ideology and complex multilateral arms control institutions.

What is China's approach to this military order? In a word, conflicted. On the one hand, a key feature of China's approach to this order since the era of Mao Zedong has been increasing participation in the institutions that regulate coercion. Some analysts argue that the UNSC is the most legitimate international security institution in modern history.31 If so, a good indicator of states' orientation toward the military order might be their attitudes toward the organization and decisions of the UNSC. In this regard, as noted above, China is a staunch defender of the current UNSC system. China has also become much more active in peacekeeping operations at the behest of the UN, most recently deploying combat forces for the first time.32

As for China's participation in other major arms control institutions, there is not a lot of evidence of backsliding after its rapid move into a number of arms control institutions from the 1980s to 2000s. China is currently in most of the arms control institutions that it is eligible to join. It remains formally outside some institutions related to WMD control (e.g., the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Australia Group), but it played an important role in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (helping redesign a key reactor to reduce Iran's future plutonium output). It agreed to impose some sanctions on North Korea and Iran in the last several years—not enough to keep the United States completely happy or to cripple either regime, but more than in the past. The main problems in China's approach to WMD proliferation are missile-related technology transfers to Iran. Yet, the trend in the frequency of such transfers (as measured by the frequency of U.S. sanctions against Chinese entities) has not increased since the early 2000s.

In some cases, both the United States and China oppose or have not ratified arms control commitments endorsed by the vast majority of states in the system. For example, neither has ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and both opposed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that was concluded in 2017 and supported by more than 60 percent of UNGA members. China has supported (for obvious self-interested free-riding reasons) some arms control institutions that the United States has recently rejected (e.g., the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty).

In short, despite gaps in China's performance, it would be inaccurate to conclude that, compared to the past, China is now less participatory in, or more noncompliant with, norms and institutions that regulate the military order.

On the other hand, China is dissatisfied with certain distributions of territory, a dissatisfaction that has led it to engage in coercive diplomacy around its periphery. In particular, China is unhappy with its lack of “actual control” (shiji kongzhi) over Taiwan and over all of the land features it claims in the East China and South China Seas.33 This dissatisfaction is not new and cuts across periods of strong opposition to, and support for, U.S.-supported institutions and norms. New capabilities, however, now allow China to improve its actual control and reduce the actual control of other claimants. In the South China Sea, China has used coercive diplomacy mainly to consolidate actual control over land features it currently occupies. In contrast, in the 1970s to 1990s, China used naval power to violently push other claimants off of territorial features (the Parcels in 1974, Johnson South Reef in 1988) or to establish a new presence on unoccupied features (Mischief Reef in the early 1990s). In the East China Sea, in response to Japan's nationalization of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in 2012 (which Beijing interpreted as an enhancement of Japan's actual control over disputed territory), China has used its coast guard to routinely but symbolically challenge Japan's actual control.34

The U.S. claim is that China's strategy of enhancing actual control challenges the long-standing norm of freedom of navigation. This may be China's purpose, or the by-product of its activities in maritime space, when it comes to the military freedom of navigation for the U.S. Navy. It is less clear, however, that China intends to use its claims to these disputed land features to challenge commercial navigation through the main sea lines of communication in the South China Sea, if only because China relies so heavily on commercial shipping through the area.

On the question of resolving these territorial disputes, China has opposed third-party arbitration, preferring instead bilateral negotiations. Even though the resolution of territorial disputes through bilateral negotiations tends to be less durable than resolutions resulting from third-party arbitration, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of territorial disputes around the globe are handled bilaterally.35 Beijing's preferences in this regard do not make China an outlier. That said, in a major international legal arbitration in 2016 concerning the nature of China's claims in the South China Sea,36 China rejected the decision of the arbitral tribunal, thus challenging the customary reading of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to resolve the disputes in the South China Sea.

More fundamentally, when it comes to the distribution of coercive capabilities, China is not supportive of unipolarity and calls for the multipolarization of international politics. Realists may argue that this particular challenge to the military order trumps examples of support for extant orders and norms. According to various realist theories, dissatisfaction with the basic distribution of power is a key element in the constitution of a revisionist state (the other necessary condition being the use of force to redistribute power). This is also not a new preference for China, however. Indeed, China's public call for multiple power centers dates back to the Maoist period and the idea of “three worlds” (where the rising developing countries will assert their interest vis-à-vis the U.S./Soviet hegemonic condominium and the capitalist second world). It is also unclear how optimistic China is about the likelihood of a greater degree of multipolarity. Its assessment of the imminence of multipolarity—as embodied for instance in the biannual White Paper on National Defense—has not changed much in recent years. The 2010 White Paper was the most positive about the prospects for multipolarity, but since then—perhaps because of the revival of the U.S. economy after the global financial crisis—the analysis has returned to a more standard and less optimistic assessment of multipolarity.37 Compared to the past, China's military is more capable of inflicting costs on U.S. military operations around China's periphery. This suggests that a regional military bipolarity may be emerging.38 At the moment, this does not translate into a global military bipolarity, however. For that to happen, China would have to work much harder than in the past to challenge U.S. unipolarity—for instance, by mobilizing and militarizing its economy to produce the kinds of power projection capabilities that the United States takes for granted. In addition, China would have to radically transform its relationships with a large number of states to achieve a level of basing rights and global access similar to that currently enjoyed by the U.S. military. In stark contrast to the range of alliances and partners that have sustained the United States as a superpower, the absence of close allies is another obstacle to China's emergence as a more or less equal pole.


A third order is the political development order—how states aggregate political interests in society. One could argue that the rise in concern about human rights and domestic political practices over the past few decades has created a political development order that is, to some extent, in tension with the constitutive order as embodied in the UN system (which defends the sovereign equality of states). This emergent political development order is, arguably, more clearly liberal than, say, the constitutive or military orders. Some of the norms of this order include political democratization and the protection of individual political and civil liberties. The core institutions that promote a liberal vision of political order might include the various UN human rights conventions, the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action on human rights, the ICC, the European Union (EU), and nongovernmental organizations focused on politics and civil rights. The emergence after the Cold War of a small majority of states that are political democracies of some variety reinforces this order.39 A more recent normative development, namely the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), also reinforces this emergent political order to the extent that the concept legitimizes intervention in sovereign states where populations are threatened by mass violence and physical harm.40 In short, this emerging order seems to be based on the notion that states should support liberal political change inside other sovereign states under certain (still contested) conditions and, of course, should also organize themselves as democracies.41

China is one of the major states that does not support the liberal elements of this order. That said, China's outlier status is mitigated to some degree by contestation within the political order itself. There is a strong normative argument in former colonized states that states have a sovereign right to choose their own political systems.42

In addition, Beijing has not wholly rejected R2P. Rather, it argues that humanitarian intervention should be highly conditional. It should be conducted under UN auspices or under regional institutions dominated by sovereign states. It should be done with the assent of all state actors involved, including the target of intervention. The process of post-conflict peacebuilding should stress reconstructing social stability and economic development rather than necessarily pushing for democratic institutions and processes. Finally, a clear line has to be drawn between R2P and regime change.43 Although China has generally opposed the ICC (as has the United States, though for different reasons), on a couple of occasions it did not block the UNSC's reference of cases to the ICC.

Some media/pundit and U.S. government commentary claims that China not only opposes democratization around the world, but has subverted it through its economic or military support for non-democracies. China has, of course, used diplomacy to counter the centrality of liberal political values in the human rights domain. For example, in 2017 it organized the South-South Human Rights Forum, which issued the Beijing Declaration. The core of the declaration was twofold: to use the importance of national conditions to push back on the notion that political human rights are universal, and to emphasize the importance of social and economic rights over political rights.44 Both have been long-time themes of China's diplomacy, however. In fact, probably the more consequential impact that China has had to this point on the evolution of human rights norms was its role in organizing the Bangkok Declaration in 1993, putting together an “Asian” position on human rights prior to the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in 1993.45 In part as a result of China's activism behind the Bangkok Declaration, the Vienna conference's Declaration and Program of Action codified the equality of individual political and collective social and economic rights, the latter pushed by China, the former by Western democracies.46 The United States signed on to this document. China's effort long-preceded its more recent diplomacy in the UN to diminish the relative status of political rights.47

Still, recent aggregate evidence suggests that the fear that China's foreign policies have been challenging democratic governance around the world may be overblown. One somewhat dated quantitative study finds no relationship between Chinese diplomatic interactions, its arms sales, or its development aid, on the one hand, and autocratic longevity, on the other.48 Another study shows that, in the aggregate, both Chinese and U.S. arms transfers have been negatively related to the democracy level of the target state (measured by Polity IV). That is, arms sales from both countries have been detrimental to the norm of political democratization—except in Africa, where only U.S. arms sales are negatively associated with political democracy.49 A 2012 study of the differential impact of Russian and Chinese economic presence in Central Asia suggests that there may be a positive relationship between doing business with China and improved government accountability in the region.50 A more recent study of the political effects of Chinese overseas development assistance finds that the regime type of African recipients is irrelevant in determining Chinese aid. Although China is not actively supporting democratic and rule-of-law states with its aid, it is not actively opposing them either, nor is it singling out non-democracies as targets of aid. Instead, in addition to the poverty of the recipient state, a relevant variable in determining the target of aid is a long-time parochial, but critical, concern in Chinese foreign policy—namely, which states recognize Taiwan instead of China. Less concessionary and more market-influenced “other official flows” are more likely to reflect Chinese commercial and resources interests compared to overseas development assistance, but these too are not especially targeted at authoritarian regimes.51 A 2018 large-scale study of 3,500 policy elites from more than 120 developing countries showed that China's status as a preferred development donor, though rising, is still far behind those of the United States and the European Union. This finding suggests that, in the aggregate, China may be handicapped in promoting authoritarian values, if it is trying to do so through aid.52 Finally, a 2018 study of the effect of Chinese aid in Africa suggests that it does not alienate populations from their governments or undermine good governance.53

More detailed case-study analysis suggests that China is not concerned about the spread of democratic values or institutions abroad unless these constitute a perceived threat to the regime's security (e.g., the idea of “color revolutions”).54 In other words, the focus on protecting one-party rule in China does not necessarily translate into promoting single-party authoritarianism abroad. One study shows that, on balance, China maintains closer economic and institutional ties with democratic Chile and Costa Rica than with authoritarian Cuba and Venezuela, contrary to the “authoritarian nexus” meme.55 In addition, a study of Angola and Ethiopia suggests that China's economic presence in these two countries does not hinder U.S. and EU democracy promotion.56

In terms of its own internal performance, China obviously remains a single-party authoritarian regime with virtually no protection of political and civil rights and a highly circumscribed media. To ensure its continued political control, the regime uses all tools of state power to ensure that no organized political opposition can develop.57 A major goal of ideological campaigns under the current regime appears to be to snuff out any possibility of support for color revolutions, particularly from within the CCP, and to prevent the military from defecting from supporting the party.

Historically, the CCP has engaged in four main types of repression: repression of small numbers of human rights or political activists; the tightening of inner-party discipline; crackdowns on perceived ethnic separatism; and spikes in the arbitrary abuse of the legal system aimed at the general population. In the first category, there has been a greater effort of late by the CCP to suppress and intimidate human rights activists (as evident in the arrest and then release of a few hundred human rights activists in 2015). In the second category, Xi Jinping does appear more determined than previous leaders to use inner-party discipline and sanctions to improve the ideological conformity and public propriety of party members.58 In the third category, under Xi there has been a clear increase in repression aimed at Muslim populations in Xinjiang. There are a number of motivations. One has been the party's perception of growing violence by Uighur militants, as well as concerns about a cadre of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria–trained Uighur fighters returning to China. Another is a concern that unrest in Xinjiang could become better organized, thus challenging party control of the region. The solution, according to the party, is the internment of at least several hundred thousand individuals and forced ethnic assimilation of millions more. In addition, the party has arrested Uighur intellectuals to prevent any organized cultural leadership in the Uighur community. China's actions in Xinjiang violate at least three major UN human rights treaties or declarations concerning ethnic minority rights.59 In the final category, one could argue that the abuse of due process against ordinary citizens has probably not worsened of late. Certainly there were periods earlier in the post-Mao period when so-called strike-hard campaigns against alleged criminals and other socially undesirable behavior led to widespread legal abuses, torture, and the arbitrary application of the death penalty. These campaigns were particularly severe in 1996 and 2001. Arguably, then, repression under Xi has clearly increased in three of these four categories.

It is still an open question, however, as to how long term and dramatic the repression under Xi is compared to overall trends in political rights in the post-Mao period. Perhaps the most granular and up-to-date dataset on political liberalization, the VDem dataset, provides a mixed picture. On the one hand, as one might expect in a Leninist single-party system, the VDem “liberal democracy” index shows essentially no change after the death of Mao.60 As one might also expect with the recent crackdowns on dissent under Xi, the VDem “freedom of expression” index shows a decline from the Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao periods to a level similar to that of the early Deng Xiaoping period. On the other hand, reflecting the effects of some legal reforms and rising social diversification, the VDem “equality before the law and individual liberty” index shows a very slight increase from the Deng period to the Xi era.61

It is useful to note that while the CCP's policies of political repression violate numerous international human rights institutions and norms, the regime has tried to increase the responsiveness and accountability of government particularly at the local level.62 There is also some evidence that experiments in village-level elections have, in the aggregate, reduced some of the more flagrant political and economic abuses by local officials.63 The regime may also be trying to borrow from the Singapore model, where the legal system is perceived to be more autonomous when it comes to commercial, criminal, and civil law, but subordinate to the CCP's preferences on political issues.64


A fourth order is the social development order—how states treat the welfare of individuals and groups within national societies. Arguably, the emergent properties of this order are also fundamentally liberal insofar as they generally refer to nondiscrimination against, and tolerance for, diverse social, gender, and religious preferences. Social development norms also include the provision of basic welfare needs regardless of social difference.

Key institutions promoting these norms include the European Union and the policies of modern welfare states, as well as the treaties and conventions that uphold the right to basic means of survival and respect for identity practices. Transnational activists in these domains are also an important source in the evolution of this order. Over time, the scope of international agreement on these norms has expanded into new areas such as the rights of women, the protection of children, the rights of the disabled, and to a lesser degree sexual orientation. The basic normative driver of all these rights is equality in opportunity and treatment compared to traditionally favored social or gender groups. Like the political development order, however, this order is contested, as witnessed by opposition to some of these norms from religious conservatives (e.g., Christian evangelicals lobbying for discrimination against homosexuality in Africa, conservative Muslim–majority states, and the Vatican) or from market fundamentalists (e.g., supporters of minimizing state protection against exploitative labor practices) in various countries.

In terms of legally recognizing and/or protecting many of these rights, and certainly in enforcing them, China is behind many of the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. One index of social rights codes states' constitutional language. It finds that China ranks twenty-eighth out of sixty-eight states where constitutions are coded for the recognition of social rights (e.g., right to housing, health, and education).65 That said, in recent years China has taken some steps to codify greater protections for women and for social minorities such as homosexuals, the mentally ill, the disabled, and to some limited degree for certain religious groups.

Enforcement and compliance, of course, are different issues. Still, there is some evidence that China is closing the gap with liberal states in the treatment of the groups mentioned above. For example, the United Nations Development Program Gender Inequality Index shows a decline in overall gender inequality in China from 2000 to 2015.66 According to the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index, China's overall performance in terms of reducing the economic, educational, health, and political gap between women and men has improved slightly since 2006. China does best in providing equit-ability of educational and health outcomes and worst in providing equitable political empowerment. Overall, the composite gender gap index for China is slightly better than that for Japan and South Korea.67 China has also taken a number of legal steps to standardize the treatment and rights of the mentally ill.68

To some extent, China has also moderated its past policy of actively repressing homosexuality. Since the late 1990s, homosexuality has, in most cases, no longer been illegal; and in 2001, it was no longer ruled a mental illness. Although much of the Chinese population expresses conservative opposition to same-sex relationships, urbanization, education, and international image have modified some government policies in this regard.69 Most recently, in an unprecedented decision, a Chinese court appears to have recognized that the gender fluid are legally protected from job discrimination. As the court stated: “An individual's gender identity and gender expression falls within the protection of general personality rights, [everyone] should respect others' rights to gender identity and expression … Workers should not experience differential treatment based on their gender identity and expression.”70 Still, the regime's approach seems conflicted, as recently censors have restricted the depiction of homosexuality along with drug addiction and prostitution in online videos.

On the question of the protection of religious minorities, the regime has veered dramatically between extremes. On the one hand, it tolerates more traditional Chinese syncretic religious expression than in the past.71 On the other, in the name of sovereignty, social stability, and counterterrorism, it has adopted much more heavily repressive policies toward the practice of Islam in Xinjiang and Buddhism in Tibet. The crackdown on unofficial Christian churches of late seems to reflect the regime's concern about the development of large, popular organizations.

In general, however, one can argue that—with the glaring exceptions of the treatment of Islam in Xinjiang and Buddhism in Tibet and, most recently, “underground” Christian churches unapproved by the government—Chinese society is more pluralistic than at any time since the 1950s. This is particularly the case when it comes to gender identity, lifestyle choices, and individual personal belief systems, though China is, as noted, still well behind western and northern Europe with regard to social diversity.


A fifth order is the trade order—how states manage cross-border trade in goods and services. More so perhaps than any of the orders discussed thus far, the emergent properties of this order fall within the liberal rubric. The predominant norm is freer trade, namely the reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers. In addition, there are ancillary norms that help promote free trade (e.g., freedom of navigation). The key institutions constituting this order include the WTO, the Group of Twenty (G20), APEC, regional free trade agreements, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the European Union, and perhaps one might even count the U.S. Navy and its defense of sea lines of communication.72

If one uses the Mao period as a baseline, then relatively speaking China has more strongly endorsed the free trade order than at any point since the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC).73 This is also true if one uses the Deng period as a baseline. It is also likely true if one uses the China's pre-WTO entry as the baseline.

The current narrative about China's challenge to the trade order tends to ignore that China has reduced formal tariff barriers in preparation for, and after entry into, the WTO. In 1992, the weighted mean applied tariff rate was more than 30 percent. By 2017, it was below 4 percent. This substantial decline, among other reasons, helps explain the other neglected fact—the dramatic growth in U.S. exports to China after its entry into the WTO (see figure 8).

Figure 8.

Trends in U.S. Exports to China before and after China's Entry into the World Trade Organization

Figure 8.

Trends in U.S. Exports to China before and after China's Entry into the World Trade Organization

In addition to reducing formal tariffs, China has been relatively proactive within the world's premier trade institution, the WTO. Much like other major economies, China is routinely involved in the WTO dispute settlement mechanism (DSM), as either a complainant or a respondent, to protect its economic interests. Like Japan, it tends to free ride as a third party to disputes, partly to continue to learn the legal ropes of the DSM and partly to ensure that its interests are considered in dispute resolution negotiations. Often its official complaints against other countries—mainly the United States—are joined by many other more open economies. In other words, China's trade complaints are often shared by a wide range of other countries. And like other states, it will sometimes use the DSM for political purposes. In general, there does not seem to be any evidence of late that China is abandoning or sabotaging the DSM in any fundamental way.74 Indeed, the Center for China and Globalization, a think tank that has influenced Xi Jinping's thinking on global governance, calls for China to enhance its use of the WTO. China's recent proposals for reform of the WTO are mostly anodyne and vague ideas for improving the efficiency of existing rules. The most important proposal, however, is a conservative one to prevent change in WTO rules in ways that might lead to more discriminatory treatment of state-owned enterprises.75

Much of China's trade diplomacy is focused on setting up bilateral or multilateral free trade agreements (FTAs). Although these FTAs are not considered to be as “high quality” as the original Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was, they are nonetheless barrier-reducing agreements.76 Moreover, the quality of China's FTAs does not appear to be declining, even under Xi's leadership. A recent FTA, concluded with Australia, opens up some previously sensitive and closed service sectors in China to competition and ownership (e.g., medical care and insurance). The FTA also includes a new investor dispute mechanism and most favored nation treatment to Australia in relation to future Chinese FTAs with other countries. Australian exports to China grew 25 percent in the year after the agreement was concluded.77 More generally, according to a new dataset that codes the design features of FTAs according to the depth or quality of the agreement, as measured by the range of non-tariff issues included in the agreement, FTAs involving China have become higher quality over time (see figure 9), not lower quality as one might expect given the current narrative about China's challenge to the free trade order.78

Figure 9.

Depth of China's Foreign Trade Agreements Over Time

Figure 9.

Depth of China's Foreign Trade Agreements Over Time

Important swathes of the Chinese economy remain protected from competition, where the government strategically violates free trade norms—restricting foreign bidding on government procurement, leaving in place local regulations that are inconsistent with WTO rules, engaging in intellectual property theft,79 and so on. Nonetheless, according to a recent Trade Facilitation Indicators report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), from 2015 to 2017, in five of eleven indicators China's performance improved; in two it regressed; and in four there was no change.80 The OECD has also recently judged that China has become, on average, more open since 2014 in trade in services. Although China is still more closed in many services compared to OECD countries, on average the service trade barriers index has declined somewhat since 2014.81

In short, China's trade policy today may not be marketizing as quickly as other countries would prefer, but the evidence does not suggest that China's basic approach to the core values of the international trade order has shifted in a substantially more hostile or subversive direction of late.82 Ironically, the rise of economic nationalism in the United States and some European countries may lead to emergent properties in the trade order that make China's performance look relatively more consistent with the current order than it would otherwise.83


A sixth order is the international financial/monetary order—how states manage domestic and international policies affecting cross-border capital flows— including sovereign lending, investment, and balance of payments issues. Much of what one can say about China's approach to the trade order can be said about its approach to the financial order. This order is more liberal economically (though not necessarily liberal politically given the non-democratic distribution of voting rights within many of these institutions and the historical exclusion of civil society from lending decisions). Still, it is probably less contested than many of the other orders. Its fundamental norms include investment liberalization, the internationalization of currencies, central bank independence, and transparency/accountability in lending and borrowing. Among the key institutions that help constitute these norms are the IMF, the Asia Development Bank (ADB), market-oriented national development banks, many central banks, and stock markets.

In macrohistorical terms, it is probably safe to say that China's relationship with the international financial order is one of increased, if slow, integration. This includes the gradual opening up of the domestic economy to foreign investment. China remains one of the most closed major economies in the world. There are strategic areas where investment has consistently been excluded (e.g., energy, telecommunications, and media). The range of these areas is gradually being narrowed, however, by higher-quality FTAs and bilateral investment treaty (BIT) negotiations. It was considered a conceptual breakthrough a few years ago when China agreed to negotiate a BIT with the United States on the basis of negative lists (lists of areas where investment was limited). Prior to this, China's BITs were based on positive lists (lists of areas where investment was permitted). These negative lists seem to be shrinking slowly (certainly for the experimental free trade zones the PRC has set up). In 2015, China announced the use of negative lists to cover investment in the economy as a whole. The lists were updated in 2019.84

China is involved in a number of the institutions that protect the interests of investors vis-à-vis sovereign states such as the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, and a large number of BITs.85 According to the OECD FDI Regulatory Restrictiveness Index, restrictions on foreign direct investment in China have been dropping continuously since 1997, with a 25 percent decline under Xi Jinping.

China is also slowly internationalizing its currency (it is already in the Special Drawing Rights basket), and increasing the use of the renminbi in trade settlements. Along the way, the government has reduced some barriers to the movement of capital (interestingly the World Bank itself has cautioned China against too rapid a move toward capital account liberalization). At the moment, it is unclear how far China will take renminbi internationalization, and thus it is unclear the degree to which it will challenge the dominance of the U.S. dollar and the current monetary order.86

Other indicators suggest some stagnation in elements of monetary and fiscal liberalization. The fifteen-point Central Bank Transparency Index, for instance, shows an improvement in the early 2000s, but little change thereafter.87

In terms of compliance with the important Basel III standards on banking and capital regulations, China has been rated overall as “compliant,” and “compliant” with ten out of twelve standards (the other two it has been rated as “largely compliant”).88 China has been moderately active in the Basel process in designing financial governance standards, and to this point has not been pushing norms or ideas that challenge these standards.89 Evidently, China is encouraging its own small and medium-sized banks to meet Basel III standards.90

As for China's behavior as a lender, the U.S. media and pundit world has presented a confusing picture. Sometimes China is blamed for trying to control smaller countries through no-strings-attached development lending (threatening the U.S. preference for attaching privatization and government reforms to lending). Other times it is blamed for putting borrowers into debt through lending with excessively tough conditionality (thus practicing neocolonialism).

Not surprisingly, the reality is more complicated. Perhaps the most important Chinese lender (for development) is the China Development Bank (CDB). The CDB's annual lending far outstrips the planned lending of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and it lends at two to three times as much on an annual basis than does the World Bank. Yet, new research on the CDB suggests that it is mainly a profit-driven institution, raising funds from capital markets, managed by pro-market bankers, and imposing conditionality modeled off of standards developed by the German development bank, the Reconstruction Credit Institute (KfW). Indeed, China appears to have bought into—at least in principle—new models of public-private lending through “marketized development financial instruments” that emerged largely because of the KfW.91 This focus on commercial conditionality in lending is consistent with findings that show a positive relationship between conditionality of Chinese “other official flows” and the credit worthiness of the recipient (with regard to Africa).92 Given its practices and the sources of its lending templates, the CDB does not appear to be much of a threat to the norms of the international financial order.

Another institution that has featured in much of the commentary on China's challenge to the financial rules-based order is the AIIB. Some observers have suggested the AIIB is a “parallel” institution to the Bretton Woods institutions, the implication being that it is designed to replace or challenge the World Bank and the ADB.93 This claim, however, misses the institutional and normative structure of the AIIB. In fact, the design of the AIIB prevents China from vetoing new members or lending decisions. Lending decisions require a majority vote, but China controls only 26 percent of the voting rights. The governance structure ensures input from foreign experts, thus guarding against politicized initiatives from Beijing. Moreover, lending standards will also likely be similar to those of the World Bank.94 Most experts acknowledge that the AIIB could help fill important holes in infrastructural development in Asia—thereby being a complement to, rather than a challenger of, the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank (indeed, the ADB recently indicated its willingness to work with the AIIB to co-lend).95 International confidence in the AIIB's functioning as a legitimate source of development capital is evidenced by its triple A rating.96

As China's global investment stake has increased, according to many experts familiar with Beijing's practices, the Chinese have become tougher lenders and defenders of the interests of capital, applying financial conditionality templates that are often borrowed from Western lenders. In light of increases in Chinese aid, lending, and investment, however, a popular meme in U.S. commentary is that China is practicing an exploitative debt diplomacy, whereby it imposes heavy borrowing costs on developing countries such that they are eventually forced to swap debt for equity. The evidence for this type of economic exploitation, however, is limited. Indeed, as of this writing, of all the reports in the Factiva database that refer to Chinese debt equity swap arrangements and that give concrete examples, more than 90 percent refer to only one case of an actual debt swap—Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka. According to AIDData.org, China is involved in about 4,300 aid projects in about 140 countries. The ratio of actual cases to potential cases is therefore miniscule. It is hard to determine a trend on the basis of 1/4300 or 1/140 examples.97 Like most members of the global south, China is seeking adjustment in global financial governance commensurate with its economic size. Its demands in this regard do not, however, seem to be inconsistent with the purposes of these institutions, and indeed they are not new, dating back to the 1980s, when China first joined these institutions.98 The IMF agreed to raise China's voting rights from just below 4 percent to just above 6 percent, still well short of the United States at 17 percent. In other words, China's voting rights have risen to only about one-third of the U.S. share even though China's economy is more than half the size of the United States'.

Finally, China stresses the value of the G20 for global economic governance. The G20 watered down the influence of the Group of Seven, but it was a creation, initially, of the West (the EU and the United States) with strong Chinese support, and has been a conduit for Europeans to promote a managed globalization process.99 In the G20, China's overall interests are in better monitoring of, or improving policy surveillance over, the monetary and fiscal policies of all major economies (not just China's or those of the developing world) given how important these are for, say, preserving the value of China's debt holdings. In short, in macrohistorical terms, the Chinese government's fundamental preference is not, say, a return to the anti-market New International Economic Order ideas of the 1970s.


A seventh order might be the environmental order—how states manage cross-border pollution flows and the regulation of resources. A major norm in this order, arguably, is the precautionary principle. That is, given the severity of the consequences, states should mitigate transborder pollution that threatens human health and welfare even before the science is certain.100 Another, perhaps longer-standing norm has been differentiated responsibility on the basis of cumulative contributions to pollution. Key environmental agreements include the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montreal Protocols, the Convention on Transboundary Transport of Hazardous Materials, and the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution.

The international environmental order is perhaps more contested than the trade and financial orders, and it is often contested by some of the strongest advocates of the free trade and finance orders. Free marketers in the United States frequently dispute the precautionary principle because of its potential impact on economic growth. They also argue that differentiated responsibility is illegitimate now that the developing world emits more greenhouse gases (GHGs) annually than does the United States. Indeed, some supporters of both the precautionary and the differentiated responsibility principles worry that the principles of the international trade and financial orders threaten the environmental order (for instance, environmentalists are among the strongest critics of so-called high-quality free trade agreements such as TPP).

In China, there has been a slow but increased level of support for controlling China's own GHGs. From the 1990s through to the 2010s, China's position was relatively static. Invoking its developing state identity, China insisted—consistent with the differentiated responsibility principle—that major financial and technical commitments to reduce GHGs should first come from older industrialized economies. More practically, it did not want be bound by concrete, multilaterally negotiated ceilings and timetables. The underlying interest was to develop economically as quickly as possible regardless of the effects on global climate. Since the early 2010s, however, China has slowly moved off of its development-first policy and toward unilateral commitments to ceilings and timetables for mitigation of climate change. In addition, it has made some concessions on the international monitoring of national performance on the mitigation of GHGs.101 The change is likely driven, in part, by growing awareness of the potential costs of climate change to China's economy, as well as by a growing awareness that, for legitimacy purposes, the regime has to respond to the growing concern of China's urban middle class about pollution.

Much of this evolution in China policy has been a result of bilateral negotiations and agreements with the United States, not multilateral treaties (though, after the Copenhagen meeting in 2010, China's traditional policies came under much more widespread international criticism in multilateral forums than ever before). Arguably by 2014/15, changes in China's policy turned U.S.-China cooperation into the main vehicle for applying the precautionary and differentiated responsibility principles to climate change mitigation.102 Until Donald Trump's election, both the U.S. and Chinese governments appeared to be relatively satisfied with their bilateral cooperation, and both countries viewed it as central to global climate change mitigation. The Trump policy to unilaterally withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, however, has removed this area of cooperation in U.S.-China relations. In other words, Trump's move highlighted how a state can be both a challenger of U.S. interests as defined by U.S. policymakers and a (moderate) supporter of an order.103


An eighth order is the international information order—how states manage the cross-border flow of information. This order may be the least developed, most complex, and most highly contested of all the orders listed here. It contains a number of contested issues, though the two most obvious ones appear to be internet governance and the legitimacy of commercial espionage. No clear norms or institutions seem to capture the dominant emergent properties or patterned activities in these orders.

One of the main axes of contestation is between China and the United States. On governance, China prefers that the United Nations International Telecommunication Union takes the lead in regulating the internet. There are many other countries—mostly from the developing world, and not all of which are non-democracies—that are sympathetic to the Chinese position. The United States prefers the current patchwork of multi-stakeholder governance processes that interacts with government, technology companies, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations. Thus, in the realm of cyber governance, arguably China is challenging existing norms and informal institutions. That said, fundamentally Beijing is using the international constitutive order— sovereignty and noninterference in internal affairs—to challenge the multi-stakeholder governance of the information order.

In this regard, coding the disputes over the information order in the cyber arena as one between supporters of a liberal order versus its opponents reveals the slipperiness of the concept of liberal order. The U.S. position focuses on limiting state interference in information flows (consistent with a liberal order), but also empowers nondemocratic, nonrepresentative, and insufficiently transparent business, social media, and technology interests in internet governance.104 The Chinese position focuses on using the core U.S.-created international institution—the UN and its elements of sovereign equality (also consistent with a liberal order)—to limit information flows (a non-liberal outcome). Ironically, the Chinese argument that governments should be able to restrict internet access draws explicitly on Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which recognizes the rights of governments to restrict information for reasons of national security, public order, and morality.

As for commercial espionage, the reality is that until recently the United States has been the normative outlier. Indeed, senior U.S. officials admitted as much in their adamancy that the United States is the only major power that does not use government intelligence resources to steal proprietary commercial information from foreign firms and distribute this information to U.S. firms that compete with foreign firms. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated: “The difference is, and it's hard for people to believe this, but you'll have to take my word for it. We nearly are alone in the world in not using our intelligence services for competitive advantage of our businesses.”105 Put differently, the United States has been the only major power to make a clear, normative distinction between the legitimacy of cyber-enabled political-military espionage and the illegitimacy of cyber-enabled commercial espionage. Thus, China has actually followed the dominant behavioral norm on cyber commercial espionage. This is why international opprobrium does not work against China on this particular issue. The United States cannot assemble (yet) a large enough coalition of like-minded states to generate image costs for the Chinese government.

The behavioral norm of cyber espionage of intellectual property for commercial gain may be changing, however. The first step was the September 2015 U.S.-China joint statement agreeing not to engage in this kind of activity.106 Shortly thereafter, China and the United Kingdom concluded a similar statement, and China and Germany agreed to work on a statement as well.107 Then, in November 2015, the G20 summit formally endorsed a norm against cyber-enabled commercial theft.108 If or when even more states publicly criticize cyber commercial espionage, then any continued government-supported cyber commercial theft would put China much more clearly outside this element of the information order.109 Thus far, however, the norm against cyber-enabled commercial theft is underdeveloped and contested. Arguably, cyber commercial theft does not violate extant behavioral norms, nor, according to the authoritative Tallinn manual on cyber-related international law, does cyber-enabled commercial theft per se violate international law,110 though it does challenge U.S. preferences.


I have argued that, in characterizing China as a revisionist state challenging a unitary liberal international order, the policy and pundit worlds have generally avoided operationalizing both “order” and “challenge.” As I have suggested, there are many ways to do this. How it is done has clear policy implications and thus affects the perceived stakes in U.S.-China relations. Because of this failure to operationalize these core concepts, policy and public discourse, especially in the last five or so years, has generally missed the fairly dramatic variation in China's approach to different orders—from strong support (e.g., the constitutive order embodied in the UN system) to medium support (e.g., the international trade order) to very low support (e.g., the political development order). Table 1 summarizes my back-of-the-envelope coding of China's approach toward these different orders.

Table 1.

Summary of China's Support for Different Orders

OrderDomainKey NormsKey InstitutionsContestation among Actors within the OrderChina's Support
constitutive defines main actors and their identities sovereignty, territoriality UN, international governmental organizations low high 
military regulation of military capabilities non-aggression, limits on certain weapons UN Charter, arms control treaties, UN peacekeeping operations medium? medium? 
political development how states aggregate domestic interests liberalization, democratization, human rights, responsibility to protect UN human rights conventions, International Criminal Court medium? low 
social development how states treat welfare of groups and individuals right to development, nondiscrimination, greater protection of individual choice UN human rights conventions on social and economic rights; treaties on women, children, the disabled low to medium? low to medium 
trade how states manage cross border flows of goods and services free trade World Trade Organization, Group of Twenty, regional foreign trade agreements low medium 
financial how states manage cross border flows of capital liberalization, transparency, accountability International Monetary Fund/World Bank, national development banks, stock markets low medium 
environmental how states manage cross border pollution flows precautionary principle; developed/developing Montreal Protocols, Kyoto, Paris Agreement medium to high (after Trump election) medium to medium high? 
information how states manage cross border flows of information state dominance versus multi-stakeholder; commercial espionage; sovereign control vs. free flow; privacy International Telegraph Union, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers high strong support for UN-centric governance 
OrderDomainKey NormsKey InstitutionsContestation among Actors within the OrderChina's Support
constitutive defines main actors and their identities sovereignty, territoriality UN, international governmental organizations low high 
military regulation of military capabilities non-aggression, limits on certain weapons UN Charter, arms control treaties, UN peacekeeping operations medium? medium? 
political development how states aggregate domestic interests liberalization, democratization, human rights, responsibility to protect UN human rights conventions, International Criminal Court medium? low 
social development how states treat welfare of groups and individuals right to development, nondiscrimination, greater protection of individual choice UN human rights conventions on social and economic rights; treaties on women, children, the disabled low to medium? low to medium 
trade how states manage cross border flows of goods and services free trade World Trade Organization, Group of Twenty, regional foreign trade agreements low medium 
financial how states manage cross border flows of capital liberalization, transparency, accountability International Monetary Fund/World Bank, national development banks, stock markets low medium 
environmental how states manage cross border pollution flows precautionary principle; developed/developing Montreal Protocols, Kyoto, Paris Agreement medium to high (after Trump election) medium to medium high? 
information how states manage cross border flows of information state dominance versus multi-stakeholder; commercial espionage; sovereign control vs. free flow; privacy International Telegraph Union, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers high strong support for UN-centric governance 

The summary table is for heuristic value only. A more systematic operationalization of compliance and support for order(s) that can capture the obvious complexity of a state's relationship to multiple orders is required, however. As one example, when the IMF measures compliance with anti-money laundering commitments, it looks at n number of general areas, then n number of criteria in each area (for a total of 235 criteria each rated on a four-point scale). In applying this method to compliance with international orders, one might construct a scale of n orders, with n major norms and/or institutions in each order, where a state's compliance would be rated on an n-point scale. These would then be summed across orders. Of course, people with different normative perspectives might weight the importance of each order differently.

An alternative might borrow from James Morrow's index on compliance with international laws of war. Morrow uses a 4×4 matrix bounded by a four-point scale for the magnitude of violation and a four-point scale for the frequency of violation. Thus there are sixteen levels of compliance, anchored at one extreme by no violations in terms of both magnitude and frequency, and at the other extreme by massive violations (magnitude) and lots of them (frequency).111 For the purposes here, one could then imagine coding a state's practices concerning the norms within each order along these two dimensions of degree and frequency of compliance. A highly revisionist state would show lots of large-scale violations of norms across all orders;112 a highly status quo state would show no violations of any scale across all orders. These two extremes would likely be rare.

The advantage of these operationalizations is that the dominant or hegemonic state's compliance with various orders would also be measured, which frees us from the problem of trying to use the inconsistent practices of the dominant state alone as the baseline for the definition of order. The disadvantage is that these operationalizations assume that the norms and institutions within each order are internally consistent, and that there is normative consistency across the various orders themselves. I have suggested that there is often a high degree of contestation within and across orders. One would therefore also have to code each order on its degree of coherence or contestation, and weight the aggregation of compliance with norms and institutions within an order by the degree of contestation of that order. All of this would have the advantage of creating a much more conceptually valid, reliable, and generalizable continuum for observing degrees of challenge to various orders than the current status quo versus revisionist binary. This binary make no conceptual sense in a world of multiple and often inconsistent orders.113

Still, all of this requires coding a tremendous amount of complex empirical data (e.g., coding the decisions and actions of the quasi-formal state groups that determine rules for the WTO or coding the hallway conversations behind UNSC sanctions negotiations). It means assembling a large research team composed of three or more types of experts: (1) experts in qualitative and quantitative index construction; (2) experts in each institution and norm in a particular order to conduct interviews, ethnographic research, and behavioral data analysis to develop scales of compliance;114 (3) and experts in the behavior of specific states with regard to each institution and norm within a particular order to then take the data about their particular country and apply the coding rules developed by the other two sets of experts.

I am the first to admit that my characterization of the core institutions and norms of these different orders may be inaccurate. Or there may be other norms or institutions that are inconsistent with my characterizations. Or there may be more or fewer orders than I have postulated. This is, of course, my point. When it comes to a state's relationship to international order(s), the uncertainties about the number, content, and degree of consistency within and across these various orders suggests that analysts first need to focus on developing common valid and reliable indicators. Getting the measurement of the dependent variable wrong has major policy implications. For example, if China is challenging more of these orders more fundamentally than it has in the past, and other countries miss this, then the relevant players may end up trying to accommodate a truly system-challenging/rule-breaking state. On the other hand, if on balance China is not challenging all these orders nearly as much as the dominant narrative claims, and other countries miss this, then their reactions may end up contributing to an avoidable intensification of security dilemma dynamics. In the face of vexing policy questions academics have a tendency to call for more research first before providing an answer. But if ever there were a foreign policy problem that required the use of rigorous social science methods in a large-scale research program to answer basic descriptive questions first before jumping to policy conclusions, it is this question of China's relationship to world orders.


The author thanks the participants in the following events for their constructive criticisms of earlier versions of this article: the Symposium on Prospects and Challenges in U.S.-China Relations, University of Michigan, October 2014; the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 2015; the State Department/National Intelligence Council workshop on China in the international order, September 2015; the German Institute of Global and Area Studies seminar on challenges to the international order, December 2015; the Carleton University Global and International Studies program, January 2016; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, June 2017; Göttingen University's Center for Modern East Asian Studies, May 2018; CENTRA Technologies, July 2018; and the Columbia-Harvard China and the World Program annual conference, February 2019. The author also thanks Rawi Abdelal, Adele Carrai, Timothy Cheek, Paul Evans, Rosemary Foot, Bjorn Jerden, Peter Katzenstein, Alanna Krolikowski, Allan Layug (who suggested the phrase a “world of orders”), Natalie Lichtenstein, Nicola Nymalm, Jonna Nyman, Margaret Pearson, Adam Segal, Yeling Tan, Wang Hongying, and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and criticisms.



Former U.S. Undersecretary for Defense Michèle A. Flournoy writes that China “is willing to unilaterally change the status quo and violate the rules-based international order.” Flournoy, “Nine Lessons for Navigating National Security” (Washington, D.C.: Center for a New American Security, February 2016), p. 3, www.cnas.org/publications/reports/nine-lessons-for-navi-gating-national-security. Congressman Randy Forbes noted that China “poses the most direct challenge to the global rules-based order.” Quoted in Merri M. Shaffer, “Air Force World,” Airforce Magazine, August 2013, p. 20, http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Documents/2013/August%202013/0813world.pdf. Michael Auslin lumps China and Russia together as “revisionist authoritarian states” in “Washington's Chance to Back Up Rhetoric in Asia,” Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2014. Richard Weitz from the Hudson Institute refers to China and Russia as revisionist states that are “dissatisfied with the U.S.-led ‘global order'.” Weitz, “The U.S. Faces Rival Powers Waging Hybrid Warfare,” YaleGlobal, January 12, 2016, https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/us-faces-rival-powers-waging-hybrid-warfare. Andrew F. Krepinovich from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments summarizes this meme, “China has proclaimed itself a revisionist power with expanding territorial claims that rejects the rules-based international order that has produced an era of peace and prosperity for all Indo-Pacific states.” Krepinovich, “Darwin Port Deal an Unforced Error for Regional Stability,” Australian, November 17, 2015. See also a report by Julianne Smith, Erik Brattberg, and Rachel Rizzo that explicitly links China's coercive diplomacy in the South China Sea to a challenge to the “international rules-based order.” Smith, Brattberg, and Rizzo, “Transatlantic Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific: Recommendations for the Next U.S. Administration” (Washington, D.C.: Center for a New American Security, October 2016), p. 8, https://s3.amazonaws.com/files.cnas.org/documents/CNAS-Report-TransatlanticSecurityCooperation-Finalc.pdf. See also Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner, “The China Reckoning: How Beijing Defied American Expectations,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 97, No. 2 (March/April 2018), pp. 60–70.


See Adam Breuer and Alastair Iain Johnston, “Memes, Narratives, and the Emergent U.S.-China Security Dilemma,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs, Vol. 32, No. 4 (August 2019), pp. 429–455, doi.org/10.1080/09557571.2019.1622083. Unless otherwise indicated, I use “liberal international order,” “international order,” and “rules-based order” interchangeably, though the term that tends to be used most with reference to China is rules-based order.


National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, D.C.: White House, December 2017); and 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military's Competitive Edge (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Defense, February 2018).


Hillary Rodham Clinton, “America's Pacific Century,” speech at East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, November 10, 2011, U.S. Department of State, https://2009-2017.state.gov/secretary/20092013clinton/rm/2011/11/176999.htm.


Maritime Territorial Disputes and Sovereignty Issues in Asia: Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, 112 Cong., 2nd sess. (2012) (statement of Kurt M. Campbell, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs), https://2009-2017.state.gov/p/eap/rls/rm/2012/09/197982.htm.


For an analysis of the emergence of the “rules-based order” meme and its connection to the metanarrative of China as a revisionist power, see Breuer and Johnston, “Memes, Narratives, and the Emergent U.S.-China Security Dilemma.”


G. John Ikenberry, “Liberal Internationalism 3.0: America and the Dilemmas of Liberal World Order,” Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 7, No. 1 (March 2009), pp. 71–87, doi.org/10.1017/S1537592709090112.


In recent years, there has been some very insightful discussion over the content and scope of the liberal order and challenges to it. Some start from the premise that a universal order (liberal) essentially reflects the interests of the hegemon (the United States), but that it is increasingly ragged and unstable. See Naazneen Barma, Ely Ratner, and Steven Weber, “The Mythical Liberal Order,” National Interest, March/April 2013, pp. 56–67; and John J. Mearsheimer, “Bound to Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Liberal International Order,” International Security, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Spring 2019), pp. 7–50, doi.org/10.1162/isec_a_00342. Others start from the premise that the U.S. liberal order is less universal and more geographically limited than many believe. See Amitav Acharya, The End of American World Order (Cambridge: Polity, 2014); and Charles L. Glaser, “A Flawed Framework: Why the Liberal International Order Concept Is Misguided,” International Security, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Spring 2019), pp. 51–87, doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00343. Still others argue that there is a U.S.-led order, but that it is not particularly liberal in form or function. See Patrick Porter, “A World Imagined: Nostalgia and Liberal Order,” Policy Analysis No. 843 (Washington, D.C.: CATO Institute, June 5, 2018), https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/world-imagined-nostalgia-liberal-order. Finally, some suggest that the U.S.-led liberal order is universal, but not especially in danger of being replaced by other orders supported by other potential hegemonic contenders. See Bentley B. Allan, Srdjan Vucetic, and Ted Hopf, “The Distribution of Identity and the Future of International Order: China's Hegemonic Prospects,” International Organization, Vol. 72, No. 4 (Fall 2018), pp. 839–869, doi.org/10.1017/S0020818318000267; and Stacie E. Goddard, “Embedded Revisionism: Networks, Institutions, and Challenges to World Order,” International Organization, Vol. 72, No. 4 (Fall 2018), pp. 763–797, doi.org/10.1017/S0020818318000206. Most of these interpretations would agree that a revisionist state challenges the core institutions and norms of the extant order (Goddard's sophisticated typology of revisionist actors being the exception). As I argue below, I take still another position—there are multiple functional orders whereby the revisionist versus status quo binary is not useful for categorizing or explaining any particular state's relationship to a world of orders.


See, for example, Deputy National Security Adviser Avril D. Haines, “The Importance of Treaties,” speech at Yale Law School in New Haven, Conneticut, October 15, 2016; statement of Philip Davidson, Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, before the House Armed Services Committee, 116th Cong., 1st sess. (2019); Kristine Lee and Alexander Sullivan, “People's Republic of the United Nations: China's Emerging Revisionism in International Organizations” (Washington, D.C.: Center for a New American Security, May 2019), p. 2; Rebecca Friedman Lissner and Mira Rapp-Hooper, “The Day after Trump: American Strategy for a New International Order,” Washington Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Spring 2018), pp. 7–25, doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2018.1445353; Naazneen Barma et al., “A World without the West? Empirical Patterns and Theoretical Implications,” Chinese Journal of International Politics, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Winter 2009), p. 527, doi.org/10.1093/cjip/pop013; Goddard, “Embedded Revisionism,” p. 765; Allan, Vucetic, and Hopf, “The Distribution of Identity and the Future of International Order,” pp. 844–845; and Mearsheimer, “Bound to Fail,” p. 9.


The ICEWS data cover media reports from 1995 to the end of April 2015. The observations in the dataset are reports on an action or event, not discrete actions or events.


The graph aggregates actions and statements that ICEWS codes as cooperative. Because ICEWS uses media reporting to code state behavior, and because the media are likely to overreport threats and conflicts, one could assume that cooperative behavior is underrepresented in the dataset.


Event datasets dating back to the Cold War show that most states cooperate most of the time.


On the calculation of ideal points using United Nations General Assembly voting data, see Erik Voeten, “Clashes in the Assembly,” International Organization, Vol. 54, No. 2 (Spring 2000), pp. 185–215, doi.org/10.1162/002081800551154; and Michael A. Bailey, Anton Strezhnev, and Eric Voeten, “Estimating Dynamic State Preferences from United Nations Voting Data,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 61, No. 2 (February 2017), pp. 430–456, doi.org/10.1177/0022002715595700.


Bailey, Strezhnev, and Voeten, “Estimating Dynamic State Preferences from United Nations Voting Data,” p. 431.


The institutions in the lower left cell of figure 5 would be revolutionary institutions supported by the rising power and rejected by the dominant state.


I did not use a systematic method for sampling the universe of extant institutions. These are just examples. There are many more that could be distributed in each of the four cells, and I do not know what the final distribution would look like if one used a random sample or just distributed the universe of cases. My point is that the distribution is likely very messy and probably will not indicate any particular status quo versus revisionist distribution.


See the articles in the special issue on “Conditions of World Order” in Daedalus, Vol. 95, No. 2 (Spring 1966).


Stanley Hoffmann, Primacy or World Order: American Foreign Policy since the Cold War (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978), p. 188.


Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (London: Macmillan, 1977).


James G. March and Johan P. Olsen, “The Institutional Dynamics of International Political Orders,” International Organization, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Autumn 1998) pp. 943–944, doi.org/10.1162/002081898550699.


Janice Bially-Mattern, Ordering International Politics: Identity, Crisis, and Representational Force (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 30.


Ted Hopf, “The Logic of Habit in International Relations,” European Journal of International Relations, Vol. 16, No. 4 (December 2010), pp. 539–561, doi.org/10.1177%2F1354066110363502.


The discussion below is inspired by Randall L. Schweller, “The Problem of International Order Revisited: A Review Essay,” International Security, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Summer 2001), especially pp. 170–171, doi.org/10.1162/016228801753212886.


Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition (Boston: Little and Brown, 1977).


I am not being original here. I learned a great deal from a number of trenchant critics of oversimplified notions of a globalized liberal order. For example, Rosemary Foot and Andrew Walter draw from Andrew Hurrell's problematization of order, suggesting that one needs to disaggregate “order” so as to better understand China's approach to international institutions and norms. As is evident below, their list and my list of these orders differs, however. See Foot and Walter, China, the United States, and Global Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). Zhang Yongjin, also influenced by Hurrell, points out the internal contradictions in the liberal order. See Zhang, “China and Liberal Hierarchies in Global International Society: Power and Negotiation for Normative Change,” International Affairs, Vol. 92, No. 4 (July 2016), pp. 795–816, doi.org/10.1111/1468-2346.12652. Andrew J. Nathan argues that there is a liberal order, but it is composed of multiple regimes, with variation in the degree of support for different regimes. See Nathan, “China's Rise and International Regimes: Does China Seek to Overthrow Global Norms?” in Robert S. Ross and Jo Inge Bekkevold, eds., China in the Era of Xi Jinping (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2016), pp. 165–195. See also Peter Katzenstein, “Will the Liberal International Order Survive? In Crazy Times, Firemen to the Fore,” paper presented at the “From the Western-Centric to a Post-Western World: In Search of an Emerging Global Order in the 21st Century” international conference, Taipei, Taiwan, June 2–3, 2018; Tang Shiping, “China and the Future International Order(s),” Ethics & International Affairs, Vol. 31, No.1 (Spring 2018), pp. 31–43, doi.org/10.1017/S0892679418000084; Acharya, The End of American World Order; Bially-Mattern, Ordering International Politics, p. 31; Simon Reich and Richard Ned Lebow, Good-Bye Hegemony! Power and Influence in the Global System (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2014); and Matthew D. Stephen and Michael Zürn, eds., Contested World Orders: Rising Powers, Non-Governmental Organizations and the Politics of Authority beyond the Nation-State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).


For a notional summary of these orders and a back-of-the-envelope coding of China's approaches, see table 1. The coding is based on my reading of the data and secondary literature. It is not designed to be an authoritative or rigorous coding. Rather, it illustrates how one might unpack the notion of order and how China's approach to order can plausibly differ across these orders.


I am influenced here by Anthony Giddens's notion of ontological security. Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 1990). See also Alexander Wendt, “Driving with the Rearview Mirror: On the Rational Science of Institutional Design,” International Organization, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Autumn 2001), p. 1034.


The level of Chinese interest in United Nations Security Council reform was revealed by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei in a conversation with a senior U.S. embassy official in 2009 that was reported in the Guardian. The gist of He's remarks were as follows: “China was concerned by ‘momentum’ that was building on UN Security Council reform, which was ‘not good’ for the P-5, VFM He said. China wanted the United States to maintain its position on UNSC reform and not be ‘proactive’ on the matter, which the PRC feared could result in a UN General Assembly resolution on the subject. The P-5 ‘club’ should not be ‘diluted,’ VFM He said. If we end up with a ‘P-10,’ both China and the United States would ‘be in trouble'.” “U.S. Embassy Cables: China Reiterates ‘Red Lines',” Guardian, November 29, 2010, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/204917.


Interestingly, so have the Europeans: “The EU will promote a rules-based global order with multilateralism as its key principle and the United Nations at its core.” European External Action Service, A Global Strategy for the European Union's Foreign and Security Policy (Brussels: European Union, June 2016), p. 8., https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/eugs_review_web_0.pdf.


“Full Transcript: Interview with Chinese President Xi Jinping,” Wall Street Journal, September 22, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/full-transcript-interview-with-chinese-president-xi-jinping-1442894700; and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, “China's Role in the Global and Regional Order: Participant, Facilitator, and Contributor,” speech at Fourth World Peace Forum in Beijing, June 27, 2015, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjdt_665385/zyjh_665391/t1276595.shtml.


See Vincent Pouliot and Jean-Philippe Thérien, “The Politics of Inclusion: Changing Patterns in the Governance of International Security,” Review of International Studies, Vol. 41, No. 2 (April 2015), p. 211, doi.org/10.1017/S0260210514000175.


Marc Lanteigne and Miwa Hirono, eds., China's Evolving Approach to Peacekeeping (London: Routledge, 2012); Rosemary Foot, “‘Doing Some Things' in the Xi Jinping Era: The United Nations as China's Venue of Choice,” International Affairs, Vol. 90, No. 5 (September 2014), pp. 1085–1100, doi.org/10.1111/1468-2346.12158; and Courtney Fung, “What Explains China's Deployment to UN Peacekeeping Operations?” International Relations of the Asia Pacific, Vol. 16, No. 3 (September 2016), pp. 409–441, doi.org/10.1093/irap/lcv020.


The term shiji kongzhi essentially means exclusive control over access to claimed geographical spaces.


According to Japanese coast guard data, from late 2013 on, China's coast guard settled into a pattern of sending about two to three patrols of two to four vessels each into the twelve nautical miles zone every month. Japanese Coast Guard, “Senkakushotω shūhen kaiiki ni okeru Chūgoku kωsen-tω no dωkω to wagakuni no taisho” [Trends in Chinese government and other vessels in the waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands, and Japan's response] (Tokyo: Japan Coast Guard, July 9, 2019), https://www.kaiho.mlit.go.jp/mission/senkaku/senkaku.html.


Stephen E. Gent and Megan Shannon, “Decision Control and the Pursuit of Binding Conflict Management: Choosing the Ties that Bind,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 55, No. 5 (October 2011), pp. 710–734, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0022002711408012; and Sara McLaughlin Mitchell and Paul R. Hensel, “International Institutions and Compliance with Agreements,” American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 51, No. 4 (October 2007), pp. 721–737, doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5907.2007.00277.x.


Specifically, the arbitration under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled mainly on whether the land features China and other disputants claim in the Spratly Islands are islands entitled to Exclusive Economic Zones. They are not, according to the ruling. The court did not rule on sovereignty or ownership. Thus, with one exception, China's claims to ownership over the Spratly Islands have not (yet) been legally challenged by an international institution. Interestingly, the definition of an island developed by the arbitral tribunal quite possibly undermines U.S. and Japanese claims to large swathes of their exclusive economic zones in the Western Pacific.


The most common term used to describe the progress of multipolarity is “deepening development” (shenru fazhan). Even Xi Jinping's important speech at the 19th Party Congress in November 2017, where he announced China's goal of being at the center of the world stage by 2050, characterized the pace of multipolarization as “deepening development.”


Eric Heginbotham et al., The U.S.-China Military Scorecard: Forces, Geography, and the Evolving Balance of Power, 1996–2017 (Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, 2017), https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR300/RR392/RAND_RR392.pdf.


According to the 2014 Polity IV dataset, about 57 percent of the states in the dataset had a polity score greater than or equal to 6, a standard threshold for political democracy in the literature that uses these data. Monty G. Marshall, Ted Robert Gurr, and Keith Jagger, Polity IV Project (Vienna, Va.: Center for Systemic Peace, 2014), http://www.systemicpeace.org/inscrdata.html.


See Thomas Risse and Kathryn Sikkink, “Conclusions,” in Thomas Risse, Stephen C. Ropp, and Kathryn Sikkink, eds., The Persistent Power of Human Rights: From Commitment to Compliance (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 279.


Ian Hurd suggests that there is a discernible legal and normative tension between R2P and the UN Charter. See Hurd, “Is Humanitarian Intervention Legal? The Rule of Law in an Incoherent World,” Ethics & International Affairs, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Fall 2011), pp. 293–313, doi.org/10.1017/S089267941100027X. On the strategic use of the term “R2P” to reduce the contradiction with the sovereignty norm, see Daisuke Madokoro, “International Commissions as Norm Entrepreneurs: Creating the Normative Idea of the Responsibility to Protect,” Review of International Studies, Vol. 45, No. 1 (January 2019), pp. 100–119, doi.org/10.1017/S0260210518000219.


China's recently demonstrated ability to put together a coalition of states to support its positions on human rights (in this case the repression of Uighurs) may or may not have been a function of its economic influence, but it is certainly not a new phenomenon. See “Spotlight: Ambassadors from 37 Countries Issue Joint Letter to Support China on its Human Rights Achievements,” Xinhua News Agency, July 13, 2019, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-07/13/c_138222183.htm. Throughout the 1990s, China mobilized enough developing countries and former colonized states to prevent the UN Human Rights Commission (now the Human Rights Council) from criticizing China's human rights performance. This was well before it had deep economic ties with the developing world.


See Courtney J. Fung, “Separating Intervention from Regime Change: China's Diplomatic Innovations at the UN Security Council regarding the Syria Crisis,” China Quarterly, September 2018, pp. 693–712, doi.org/10.1017/S0305741018000851; Chris Alden and Daniel Large, “On Becoming a Norms Maker: Chinese Foreign Policy, Norms Evolution, and the Challenges of Security in Africa,” China Quarterly, March 2015, pp. 123–142, doi.org/10.1017/S0305741015000028; Stephen C.Y. Kuo, “Chinese Peace? An Emergent Norm in African Peace Operations,” China Quarterly of International Strategic Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1 (April 2015), pp. 166–172, doi.org/10.1142/S23777400 15500086; and Camilla T.N. S⊘rensen, “That Is Not Intervention; That Is Interference with Chinese Characteristics: New Concepts, Distinctions, and Approaches Developing in the Chinese Debate and Foreign and Security Policy Practice” China Quarterly, published ahead of print, March 4, 2019, doi.org/10.1017/S0305741018001728.


“Full Text of Beijing Declaration Adopted by the First South-South Human Rights Forum,” Xinhua, December 10, 2017, http://p.china.org.cn/2017-12/10/content_50095729.htm.


UN Commission on Human Rights, Final Declaration of the Regional Meeting for Asia of the World Conference on Human Rights, March 29–April 2, 1993, https://www.ru.nl/publish/pages/688605/bangkok-eng.pdf.


UN Commission on Human Rights, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, June 25, 1993, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/Vienna.aspx. See also UN Human Rights Council, draft resolution, The Contribution of Development to the Enjoyment of All Human Rights, A/HRC/35/L.33/Rev.1, June 20, 2017, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/LTD/G17/170/16/PDF/G1717016.pdf?OpenElement. This resolution was cosponsored by China.


On these efforts, see Katrin Kinzelbach, “Will China's Rise Lead to a New Normative Order? An Analysis of China's Statements on Human Rights at the United Nations (2000–2010),” Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, Vol. 30, No. 3 (2012), pp. 299–332. Much of the recent commentary on China's human rights diplomacy in the United Nations has missed the deep antecedents of the diplomacy, and the long-time support among developing countries for China's stress on collective economic and social rights.


Julia Bader, “China, Autocratic Patron? An Empirical Investigation of China as a Factor in Autocratic Survival,” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 1 (March 2015), pp. 23–33, https://doi.org/10.1111/isqu.12148. Unfortunately, the data end in 2008, so it is unclear what the rapid increase in China's economic and military engagement with other countries in the last few years might have on these findings. Bader does find that trade with China is related to autocratic longevity, but this may be a function of the relationship between autocracy and the export of primary products.


Indra De Soysa and Paul Midford, “Enter the Dragon! An Empirical Analysis of Chinese versus U.S. Arms Transfers to Autocrats and Violators of Human Rights, 1989–2006,” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 4 (December 2012), pp. 843–856, doi.org/10.1111/isqu.12028. Unfortunately, the authors' data end in 2006.


Inna Melnykovska, Hedwig Plamper, and Rainer Schweickert, “Do Russia and China Promote Autocracy in Central Asia?” Asia Europe Journal, Vol. 10, No. 1 (May 2012), p. 85, doi.org/10.1007/s10308-012-0315-5.


See Axel Dreher et al., “Apples and Dragon Fruits: The Determinants of Aid and Other Forms of State Financing from China to Africa,” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 1 (March 2018), pp. 182–194, doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqx052.


See Samantha Custer et al., “Listening to Leaders, 2018: Is Development Cooperation Tuned-In or Tone-Deaf?” (Williamsburg, Va.: AidData, College of William and Mary, May 2018), p. 30 fig. 17. Other research finds that African countries are hedging between China and the United States in terms of policy behavior. In other words, Chinese economic relationships are not buying as much influence as is commonly believed. See Pádraig Carmody, Niheer Dasandi, and Slava Jankin Mikhaylov, “Power Plays and Balancing Acts: The Paradoxical Effects of Chinese Trade on African Foreign Policy Positions,” Political Studies, published ahead of print, April 23, 2019, doi.org/10.1177/0032321719840962.


Robert A. Blair and Philip Roessler, “The Effects of Chinese Aid on State Legitimacy in Africa: Cross-National and Sub-National Evidence from Surveys, Survey Experiments, and Behavioral Games,” Working Paper, No. 59 (Williamsburg, Va.: AidData, College of William and Mary, July 2018).


Dingding Chen and Katrin Kinzelbach, “Democracy Promotion and China: Blocker or Bystander?” Democratization, Vol. 22, No. 3 (May 2015), pp. 400–418, doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2014.999322.


Alexander Brand, Susan McEwen-Fial, and Wolfgang Muno, “An ‘Authoritarian Nexus'? China's Alleged Special Relationship with Autocratic States in Latin America,” European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, October 2015, pp. 7–28, doi.org/10.18352/erlacs.9588.


Christine Hackenesch, “Not As Bad As It Seems: EU and U.S. Democracy Promotion Faces China in Africa,” Democratization, Vol. 22, No. 3 (May 2015), pp. 419–437, doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2014.1002476.


Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret E. Roberts, “How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 107, No. 2 (May 2013), pp. 326–343, doi.org/10.1017/S0003055413000014; and Margaret E. Roberts, Censored: Distraction and Diversion inside China's Great Firewall (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2018).


For stricter rules for Chinese Communist Party members covering views and actions contrary to the official line, see “Weifan dang zhang dang gui dang ji he zuofeng jianshe guiding fumian wenti qingdan” [List of negative issues that violate the rules of the Party constitution, regulations, discipline and rules for work style construction], http://www.xzjm.cn/zzrs/info/1096/2772.htm.


See the summary of international standards concerning ethnic minorities from the UN Human Rights Council at “International Standards” (Geneva: Office of the High Commissioner, n.d.), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/SRMinorities/Pages/standards.aspx.


The VDem indexes generally run from 0 to 1, representing low to high levels of democratic rights, freedoms, and practices. For coding rules, see “V-Dem: Quickstart Guide,” V8 (Gothenburg, Sweden: Varieties of Democracy [V-Dem] Project, University of Gothenburg, October 2018), https://www.v-dem.net/files/20/V-Dem%20Startguide.pdf.


Commonly used indexes of political liberalization (e.g., the Political Terror Scale, the CIRI Physical Integrity Rights Index, and Freedom House's Freedom in the World political rights and civil liberties subcategory scores) also show generally flat trend lines from the Deng through Xi periods.


Sebastian Heillman and Elizabeth J. Perry, eds., Mao's Invisible Hand: The Political Foundations of Adaptive Governance in China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011); and Peter Lorentzen, “China's Strategic Censorship,” American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 58, No. 2 (April 2014), pp. 402–414, doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12065. See also Peter L. Lorentzen, “Regularizing Rioting: Permitting Public Protest in an Authoritarian Regime,” Quarterly Journal of Political Science, Vol. 8, No. 2 (2013), pp. 127–158, doi.org/10.1561/100.00012051; Thomas Heberer and René Trappel, “Evaluation Processes, Local Cadres' Behaviour, and Local Development Processes,” Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 22, No. 84 (2013), pp. 1048–1066, doi.org/10.1080/10670564.2013.795315; and Melanie Manion, “Authoritarian Parochialism: Local Congressional Representation in China,” China Quarterly, June 2014, pp. 311–338, doi.org/10.1017/S0305741014000319.


Monica Martinez-Bravo et al., “Political Reform in China: Elections, Public Goods, and Income Distribution,” paper presented at Theoretical Research in Development Economics conference, University of Oslo, June 28–29, 2013, http://thred.devecon.org/papers/2013/2013-025_Padro-i-Miguel_Political_Reform_in.pdf; Monica Martinez-Bravo et al., “Do Local Elections in Non-Democracies Increase Accountability? Evidence from Rural China,” Discussion Paper No. 8368 (London: Centre for Economic Policy Research, April 2011), https://cepr.org/sites/default/files/meets/786/papers/Miquel.pdf; Bruce J. Dickson, “Updating the China Model,” Washington Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Fall 2011), pp. 39–58, doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2011.608335; and Bruce J. Dickson, The Dictator's Dilemma: The Chinese Communist Party's Strategy for Survival (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 164–213.


Stephan Ortmann and Mark R. Thompson, “Introduction: The ‘Singapore Model’ and China's Neo-Authoritarian Dream,” China Quarterly, December 2018, pp. 930–945, doi.org/10.1017/ S0305741018000474. On China's partial legalization, see Yuhua Wang, Tying the Autocrat's Hands: The Rise of the Rule of Law in China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).


Avi Ben-Bassat and Momi Dahan, “Social Rights in the Constitution and in Practice,” Journal of Comparative Economics, Vol. 36, 2008, pp. 103–119, doi.org/10.1016/j.jce.2007.09.002.


This index focuses on maternity mortality, adolescent birth rate, share of parliament seats, population with some secondary education, labor force participant rates, and per capita gross national income. China's performance with regard to gender economic equality, however, may be declining. The gap between earnings for women and men has widened, not closed. See Emily Rauhala, “Despite Real Progress, Chinese Women May Be Losing Ground,” Washington Post, September 26, 2015. There is also evidence that the marriage markets increasingly penalize women financially as a result of social norms that limit their ability to own property. See Leta Hong Fincher, Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China (New York: Zed, 2014). China's demographic aging may also put more constraints on women's social and economic choices should the government decide to compel population increases.


Global Gender Gap Report, 2018 (Cologny, Switzerland: World Economic Forum, n.d.), http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2018/data-explorer/#economy=CHN.


Guy Charlton and Xiang Gao, “Human Rights, Procedural Protections and the Social Construction of Mental Illness: Involuntary Civil Commitment under China's New Mental Health Law,” Australian Journal of Asian Law, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2014), pp. 1–20; and Michael R. Phillips et al., “China's New Mental Health Law: Reframing Involuntary Treatment,” American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 170, No. 6 (June 2013), pp. 588–591, doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.12121559.


See Ying Xie and Minggang Peng, “Attitudes toward Homosexuality in China: Exploring the Effects of Religion, Modernizing Factors, and Traditional Culture,” Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 65, No. 13 (2018), pp. 1758–1787, doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2017.1386025; Kai Deng, “Comparative Study on the Future Developments of Human Rights for Tongzhi in China,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Ottawa, 2014; and Jonathan Kaiman, “‘An Important Step’ for Gay Rights in China,” Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-gay-rights-china-20151124-story.html.


Catherine Lai, “Chinese Court Says Employers Should Not Treat Workers Differently based on Gender Identity,” Hong Kong Free Press, February 8, 2018, https://www.hongkongfp.com/2018/02/08/chinese-court-says-employers-not-treat-workers-differently-based-gender-identity/.


On the bounded, quasi-toleration of religious diversification, see Robert P. Weller, “The Politics of Increasing Religious Diversity in China,” Daedalus, Vol. 143, No. 2 (Spring 2014), pp. 135–144, doi.org/10.1162/DAED_a_00278.


At the most abstract level, one could argue that this order is based on free trade. But, as Rawi Abdelal and Sophie Meunier argue, a more granular perspective shows that there is some contestation within this order between an Anglo-American “ad hoc” globalization, based mainly on deregulation, and a European “managed globalization” based on intergovernmental bargains and rules to guide market liberalization. See Abdelal and Meunier, “Managed Globalization: Doctrine, Practice, and Promise,” Journal of European Public Policy, Vol. 17, No. 3 (April 2010) pp. 350–367, doi.org/10.1080/13501761003662040.


Margaret M. Pearson, “China's Foreign Economic Policies and Relations,” in Saadia Pekkanen, John Ravenhill, and Rosemary Foot, eds., Oxford Handbook of the International Relations of Asia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).


For a thorough comparison of China's participation in WTO governance with that of other development and developed economies, see Wang Hongying and Erik French, “China in Global Economic Governance,” Asian Economic Policy Review, Vol. 9, No. 2 (July 2014), pp. 254–258, doi.org/10.1111/aepr.12068. For an insightful case of Chinese compliance with an unfavorable ruling, see Paul Blustein, “China Inc. in the WTO Dock: Tales from a System Under Fire,” CIGI Paper No. 157 (Waterloo, Canada: Centre for International Governance Innovation, December 2017). See also Jerome A. Cohen, “Law and Power in China's International Relations,” New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, published ahead of print, April 17, 2019, https://ssrn.com/abstract=3373792.


World Trade Organization, China's Proposal on WTO Reform, WT/GC/W/773, May 13, 2019, http://images.mofcom.gov.cn/sms/201905/20190514094326217.pdf.


It remains to be seen how China will approach the new TPP that does not include the United States. Strictly speaking, the fact that the U.S. has unilaterally withdrawn from the TPP puts both powers into the outlier category when it comes to a new “gold standard” for free trade in the Asia-Pacific. Interestingly, the influential Center for China and Globalization (CCG) in Beijing now argues that the standards of the TPP may become global standards, and China should join the TPP before the U.S. rejoins so as to better understand and shape, though not wholly reject, these standards. See the summary of the center's discussion on trade institutions: CCG, “CCG zhuanjia yanzhong de 2018 quanqiu jingmao geju” [The 2018 global trade situation in the eyes of CCG experts] (Beijing: CCG, February 26, 2018), http://www.ccg.org.cn/Research/view.aspx?Id=8479.


“China-Australia Free Trade Agreement Continues to Deliver” (Sydney: Office of the Minister for Trade, Tourism, and Investment, December 2017), https://trademinister.gov.au/releases/Pages/2017/sc_mr_171220a.aspx.


According to the Design of Trade Agreement (DESTA) project, the “depth” variable has seven elements: “The first provision captures whether the agreement foresees that all tariffs (with limited exceptions) should be reduced to zero (that is, whether the aim is to create a full free trade area). The other six provisions capture cooperation that goes beyond tariff reductions, in areas such as services, trade, investments, standards, public procurement, competition and intellectual property rights.” “Project Description” (Bern, Switzerland: DESTA, 2019), https://www.designoftradeagreements.org/project-description/; and “Explanatory Note: Depth” (Bern, Switzerland: DESTA, n.d.), https://www.designoftradeagreements.org/media/filer_public/3a/5b/3a5b6e31-579c-470e-8d2a-82280ad52d81/depth_notes.pdf. I thank Li Xiaojun for pointing me to this dataset.


Recent surveys of U.S. and European businesses operating in China suggests that forced technology transfer (and intellectual property protection) are not as major a problem for their operations as they were in the past. The 2019 American Chamber of Commerce in the People's Republic of China (AmCham China) survey shows that forced technology transfer is much less important to their businesses than, say, transparency of the Chinese regulatory system. See AmCham China, “2019 China Business Climate Survey Report” (Beijing: AmCham China, February 2019), p. 52. The 2019 European Chamber of Commerce in China survey shows fewer companies experienced intellectual property rights (IPR) theft in 2019 than in 2017, and the smallest percentage of businesses since 2009 reported inadequate IPR enforcement. See European Union, “Business Confidence Survey 2019 (Beijing: European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, 2019), pp. 47–48.


“People's Republic of China: Trade Facilitation Performance” (Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], n.d.), http://compareyourcountry.org/trade-facilitation.


“OECD Services Trade Restrictiveness Index: Policy Trends up to 2019” (Paris: OECD, January 2019), p. 7, https://issuu.com/oecd.publishing/docs/stri-policy-trends-2019-web.


Daniel W. Drezner, The System Worked: How the World Stopped Another Great Depression (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp. 103–175.


The Chinese government is acutely aware that, with the election of Donald Trump in the United States and the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe, China can pose as the main defender of economic globalization and integration. See, for example, the comments by former senior Foreign Ministry official He Yafei, “Reglobalization Heralds an Emerging New World Order,” U.S.-China Focus, December 30, 2016, http://www.chinausfocus.com/peace-security/reglobalization-heralds-an-emerging-new-world-order. See also Foreign Minister Wang Yi's comments about China's role in promoting globalization in his article, “Zai shijie bianjuzhong jianding weijin zhongguo tese daguo waijiao” [Resolutely promote great power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics], Qiu Shi, January 1, 2017, http://m.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_1591502.


Ministry of Commerce, “Wai shang touzi zhunru tebie guanli cuoshi (fumian qingdan) (2019 nianban)” [Special management measures for foreign business investment access (negative list) (2019 edition)], http://images.mofcom.gov.cn/wzs/201906/20190629212130154.pdf.


See Wang and French, “China in Global Economic Governance,” pp. 259–261.


For a range of views on the impact of renminbi internationalization, see the essays on monetary policy in Eric Helleiner and Jonathan Kirshner, eds., The Great Wall of Money: Power and Politics in China's International Monetary Relations (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2014). For a careful examination of the liberalization of China's currency policies, see also Hongying Wang, “China and the International Financial System: Challenging the U.S. or the Liberal Order?” in Benjamin J. Cohen et al., “Symposium on Global Monetary Order and the Liberal Order Debate,” International Studies Perspectives, forthcoming.


N. Nerzig Dincer and Barry Eichengreen, “Central Bank Transparency and Independence: Updates and New Measures,” International Journal of Central Banking, Vol. 10, No. 1 (March 2014), pp. 189–253. An alternative measure of central bank independence suggests China is probably not an outlier among other major developing economies or even compared to advanced economies. See Ed Balls, James Howat, and Anna Stansbury, “Central Bank Independence Revisited: After the Financial Crisis, What Should a Model Central Bank Look Like?” M-RCBG Associate Working Paper Nos. 67 and 87 (Cambridge, Mass.: Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, November 2016, updated April 2018), p. 58


See the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, “Regulatory Consistency Assessment Programme (RCAP): Assessment of Basel III Regulations—China” (Basel, Switzerland: Bank for International Settlements, September 2013), http://www.bis.org/bcbs/implementation/l2_cn.pdf.


Hongying Wang, “China and International Financial Standards: From ‘Rule Taker’ to ‘Rule Maker'?” CIGI Paper No. 182 (Waterloo, Canada: Centre for International Governance Innovation, August 2018).


Don Weinland, “Tough Times for Small Chinese Banks Faced with Basel III Compliance,” South China Morning Post, February 1, 2015, http://www.scmp.com/business/banking-finance/article/1698747/tough-times-small-chinese-banks-faced-basel-iii-compliance.


The author thanks Peter Volberding for providing his insights into the functioning of the CDB and its use of “marketized development financial instruments.” See Volbdering, “Marketizing Development: KfW and the Rise of Financial Instruments for Development,” Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, March 2018, pp. 303–304. For a detailed argument about the role of commercial interest in Chinese lending, see also Kevin P. Gallagher and Amos Irwin “China's Economic Statecraft in Latin America: Evidence from China's Policy Banks,” Pacific Affairs, Vol. 88, No. 1 (March 2015), pp. 99–121, doi.org/10.5509/201588199.


Dreher et al., “Apples and Dragon Fruits,” p. 8.


Sebastian Heilmann et al., “China's Shadow Foreign Policy: Parallel Structures Challenge the Established International Order,” China Monitor, Mercator Institute for China Studies, October 28, 2014, https://www.merics.org/sites/default/files/2018-01/China_Monitor_18_Shadow_Foreign_Policy_EN.pdf.


I thank Natalie Lichtenstein, the inaugural General Counsel for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, for insights into how the AIIB will operate. See Natalie Lichtenstein, A Comparative Guide to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018); Hongying Wang, “The New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: China's Ambiguous Approach to Global Financial Governance,” Development and Change, Vol. 50, No. 1 (January 2019), pp. 221–244, doi.org/10.1111/dech.12473; and Bettina Gransow and Susanna Price, “Social Risk Management at AIIB—Chinese or International Characteristics?” Journal of Chinese Political Science, Vol. 24, No. 2 (June 2019), pp. 289–311, doi.org/10.1007/s11366-018-9553-8.


Agence France-Presse, “ADB to Work with China-led AIIB,” Dawn, January 9, 2016, http://www.dawn.com/news/1231694/adb-to-work-with-china-led-aiib.


Natalie Lichtenstein, “Governance of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Comparative Context,” in Peter Quayle and Xuan Gao, eds., AIIB Yearbook of International Law, 2018: Good Governance and Modern International Financial Institutions. (Beijing: Brill, 2018), p. 51.


See also Deborah Brautigam, “Misdiagnosing the Chinese Infrastructure Push,” American Interest, April 4, 2019, https://www.the-american-interest.com/2019/04/04/misdiagnosing-the-chinese-infrastructure-push/.


See William Feeney, “Chinese Policy towards Multilateral Economic Institutions,” in Samuel S. Kim, ed., China and the World: New Directions in Chinese Foreign Relations, 2nd ed. (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1989), p. 250.


Abdelal and Meunier, “Managed Globalization,” p. 364.


UN General Assembly, “Rio Declaration on Environment and Development,” A/CONF.151/ 26, June 3–14, 1992, https://www.un.org/documents/ga/conf151/aconf15126-1annex1.htm.


Jennifer Morgan and Deborah Seligsohn, “What Cancun Means for China and the U.S.” (Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, December 16, 2010), http://www.wri.org/blog/2010/12/what-cancun-means-china-and-us.


For histories of the evolution of China's diplomacy on climate change, see Kelly Sims Gallagher and Xiaowei Xuan, Titans of the Climate: Explaining Policy Process in the United States and China (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2019); and Scott L. Kastner, Margaret M. Pearson, and Chad Rector, China's Strategic Multilateralism: Investing in Global Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), pp. 173–216.


Michael Forsythe, “China Aims to Spend at Least $360 Billion on Renewable Energy by 2020,” New York Times, January 5, 2017, http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/05/world/asia/china-renewable-energy-investment.html; and Gallagher and Xuan, Titans of the Climate, p. 163.


On the debates over a “democratic deficit’ in the multistakeholder concept of internet governance, see Julia Pohle, “Multistakeholderism Unmasked: How the NetMundial Initiative Shifts Battlegrounds in Internet Governance,” Global Policy, January 6, 2015, http://www.global.asc.upenn.edu/multistakeholderism-unmasked-how-the-netmundial-initiative-shifts-battlegrounds-in-internet-governance/; and William J. Drake, ed., The Working Group on Internet Governance: 10th Anniversary Reflections (Johannesburg: Association for Progressive Communications, 2015), https://www.apc.org/en/system/files/IG_10_Final.pdf. On the lack of transparency in evolving online media platform governance, see Hanna Bloch-Wehba, “Global Platform Governance: Private Power in the Shadow of the State,” Southern Methodist University Law Review, Vol. 72, No. 1 (2019), pp. 27–80, https://scholar.smu.edu/smulr/vol72/iss1/9.


Robert Gates, “Russian and Chinese Assertiveness Poses New Foreign Policy Challenges,” interview by Fareed Zakaria (Washington, D.C.: Council on Foreign Relations, May 21, 2014), http://www.cfr.org/defense-and-security/russian-chinese-assertiveness-poses-new-foreign-policy-challenges/p35645. The absence of norms restraining commercial espionage was also admitted by President Barack Obama in his press conference when Xi Jinping visited Washington in late September 2015. Office of the Press Secretary, “Remarks by President Obama and President Xi of the People's Republic of China in Joint Press Conference” (Washington, D.C.: White House, September 25, 2015), https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/09/25/remarks-president-obama-and-president-xi-peoples-republic-china-joint.


Office of the Press Secretary, “Fact Sheet: President Xi Jinping's State Visit to the United States” (Washington, D.C.: White House, September 25, 2015), https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/09/25/fact-sheet-president-xi-jinpings-state-visit-united-states.


Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “UK-China Joint Statement, 2015” (London: Her Majesty's Government, October 22, 2015), https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-china-joint-statement-2015; and Stefan Nicola, “China Working to Halt Commercial Cyberwar in Deal with Germany,” Bloomberg, October 29, 2015, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-10-29/china-working-to-halt-commercial-cyberwar-in-deal-with-germany.


Office of the Press Secretary, “Fact Sheet: The 2015 G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey” (Washington, D.C.: White House, November 16, 2015), https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/11/16/fact-sheet-2015-g-20-summit-antalya-turkey.


Another area of normative contestation concerns the location of information storage and law enforcement access to this information (which is related to different conceptions about privacy around the globe. On this issue, the PRC and PRC companies are as involved in the development of international norms as are the United States and Europe. The author thanks Adam Segal from the Council on Foreign Relations for underscoring the norm contestation on this question as well. Author email correspondence with Segal, February 20, 2016.


Michael N. Schmitt, ed., Tallinn Manual 2.0 on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Operations, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), p. 168.


James D. Morrow, Order within Anarchy: The Laws of War as an International Institution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).


This assumes that all the dominant norms of these orders are consistent with each other. As I have suggested, some orders may be in certain tension with others. So any index would have to take this into account such that, for example, strong support for all orders would in fact reflect an inconsistency in a state's practices. To make matters even more complicated—though precise from an operationalization perspective—one might also differentiate between two types of compliance: first order (joining and participating in an institution) and second order (proactively promoting the values and norms of the institution, and punishing those who do not). For an important statement of this distinction in China's approach to “order,” see Kastner, Pearson, and Rector, China's Strategic Multilateralism.


Randall L. Schweller and Stacie E, Goddard have done pioneering work developing more nuanced typologies of revisionism. See Schweller, “Managing the Rise of Great Powers: History and Theory,” in Alastair Iain Johnston and Robert S. Ross, eds., Engaging China: The Management of a Rising Power (New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 1–31; and Goddard, “Embedded Revisionism: Networks, Institutions, and Challenges to World Order,” International Organization, Vol. 72, No. 4 (Fall 2018), pp. 763–797, doi.org/10.1017/S0020818318000206. Relatedly, Daniel W. Drezner has theorized about the potentially wide range of nuanced strategies that “rational revisionists” may adopt, in contrast to the standard view of revisionist states as engaged in a frontal assault on the hegemon's interests. See Drezner, “Counter-Hegemonic Strategies in the Global Economy,” Security Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3 (June-July 2019), pp. 505–531, doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2019.1604985. Evelyn Goh makes a similar argument that revisionist states do not necessarily need or want to challenge the core values and institutions of an order. Goh “Contesting Hegemonic Order: China in East Asia,” Security Studies, Vol. 28, No. 3 (June-July 2019), pp. 614–644, doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2019.1604989. All these studies do assume, however, the existence of a single order that is challenged by a relatively easily identifiable revisionist actor.


As is clear, when discussing what constitutes the emergent properties of these various orders and levels of compliance or support, I have not made a hard distinction between habits, long-term desires versus immediate interests, informal norms versus formal rules, legal commitments versus actual policy implementation, and genuinely held myths about one's own compliance. My impression is that the literature on international order does not consistently make these distinctions clear either. So, obviously, when developing operationalizations for order and for compliance or support, these differences need to be clarified.