Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Research Report

China and Liberal Values in International Relations: Opposing the Promotion of Democracy, Human Rights and Liberal Market Economy

Ties Dams
Frans Paul van der Putten
Copyright Date: Dec. 1, 2015
Published by: Clingendael Institute
Pages: 25
  • Cite this Item

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. (pp. 6-7)

    China and the West have different views on the role of liberal values in international relations. Western countries promote the concepts of democracy, human rights and liberal market economy – which express key liberal values – at the international level and strive to establish and strengthen international norms that are derived from these concepts. Michael McFaul observed that, by the early twenty-first century, democracy promotion as a foreign policy goal had become acceptable to most of the international community and that it consequently had become an international norm.² According to Christopher Hobson and Milja Kurki, ‘the current international order is...

  2. (pp. 8-10)

    Liberalism has shaped the contemporary international system. Two different strands of liberalism, in particular, are relevant: one dating back to the early modern period emphasizing sovereignty and the equality of states; and a more recent one focusing on a notion of moral universalism.⁷ The 1648 Peace of Westphalia gave rise to the idea that states are the sole legitimate actors of the international political arena. Moreover, states are free and equal therein, meaning that each country is at liberty to choose its own social, political and economic system and that it has the right of non-interference by foreign states on...

  3. (pp. 11-14)

    Since the 1970s, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has emerged as an important actor with regard to global governance. China has acquired membership of various institutions of international cooperation, most notably the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 1971 and the WTO in 2001. China is in many ways different from the powers that have shaped global governance so far. From the 1940s, and even more so after 1990, the United States and its Western allies heavily influenced the evolution of the system of global governance. These countries favour a strong role for liberal values in international relations, and...

  4. (pp. 15-18)

    China’s approach to liberalism in international relations is not one of wholehearted acceptation, but of pragmatism. This pragmatism has so far resulted in a certain degree of adaptation, but will this change as China becomes more influential? Ikenberry thinks that a fundamental alternative to liberalism is nowhere to be found. Others disagree, arguing that China may well provide a viable alternative. Should that indeed be the case, two things can happen. First, a new international order based on illiberal values might replace the current liberal order, leading to a paradigmatic shift in international politics. This would be a Hegelian approach...

  5. (pp. 19-24)

    We can now continue to the question: how does China’s stance towards norms that are based on liberalism relate to Western interests in the international order? The ambiguity of China’s place in the international order is of key concern here. Although China values integration, it resists assimilation; even though it does not see itself as a norm entrepreneur like the United States, its growing power and the example of its development could have considerable ideological impact on other countries. China may support pluralism because of pragmatist motives; it cannot deny that this in itself is nonetheless an ideological stance.


  6. (pp. 25-25)

    The relationship between the rise of China and Western interest in norms based on liberalism in global governance is ambiguous. Such norms have been crucial to the West in general, and the United States in particular, in building the post-Second World War international order according to their national interests. Still, the peaceful evolution approach – in both the economic and the political spheres – is of vital importance to Western powers’ foreign policy at large, and these tools of Western power rest to a great extent on justification and legitimization by the normative framework of liberalism in global governance. In...