Lecture on China’s New World Order by Professor Hak Yin Li
By Afia Ibnat
The 20th TIU Global Dialogue was held on June 18th to commemorate the release of Professor Hak Yin Li’s new book, “China’s New World Order: Changes in the Non-Intervention Policy”. The hybrid session was moderated by Professor Lamont and was attended by various professors from the IR department along with students from TIU and beyond.
The presentation briefly explained the overarching research puzzle of the book – mainly China’s long-standing contradictory non-interference policy in light of the new soft-intervention policies towards four countries, namely Myanmar, North Korea and the two Sudans. Professor Li’s topic also explored whether there are any Chinese norms or principles that could imply a challenge to the current American world order.
According to his research, there are a few schools of thought in analyzing the rise of China. Professor Li explained that on one hand, some scholars claim that China is a Revisionist Power that will upset the status quo, while on the other hand, there is an assumption that China is a Status-Quo Power, meaning it is a norm-compliant state that wants to uphold the current system.
However, there is also a third perspective called the Synthesis Perspective that states that China is neither a Revisionist or Status Quo power, but a limitation of this lens is that it fails to shed light on what exactly China is. Is China a norm taker or a norm setter, or somewhere between the two? Lastly, Professor Li explains that many authors have advocated for the Chinese Perspective, which begs for a departure from the traditional US lens in looking at China’s rise.
“China’s non-intervention policies contradict their newly-developed soft-intervention policy.“
The presentation then examined some discrepancies in foreign policies among the US, New Zealand and India. The trend showed that countries claim they’ll do one thing, but end up doing something else entirely. So how does China play into this? Professor Li argued that China’s non-intervention policies contradict their newly developed soft-intervention policy. China’s relationship with North Korea had been less than ideal before China economically manipulated North Korea into changing its stance. As for Myanmar, China proposed a three-stage plan to resolve the Rohingya crisis, and also incentivized Myanmar to reach a resolution by offering aid.
Afterwards, there was a thought-provoking Q&A session that engaged the audience. Professor Miyashita asked about the difference between soft and hard intervention policies, and whether the rise of China poses a threat for the current world order. Professor Li explained that while economic, political, and military interventions tend to be considered “hard” interventions, soft interventions include diplomatic persuasion and economic manipulation as shown in the case studies. As for the global threat, China is a self-restrained power that does not want to imitate the US even though it has similarities to the US and other great Western powers in the past. According to Professor Li, “China will not be a threat to other countries unless they give up the [self-restraining] principle.”
In response to Professor Mema’s question as to what China’s endgame is and whether the US’s model of hegemony provides an example for China, Professor Li responded that the cost for China to become a global hegemony is too high considering the military expenses that the US has spent on maintaining oversea military bases alone. China simply cannot compete and does not aspire to follow the US in this case.
While speaking to Professor Li after the conference, I had the opportunity to ask him about the chances of China pressuring Myanmar into safely repatriating the Rohingya. He explained that while China will not directly put pressure on Myanmar to resolve the crisis due to its high sensitivity, it has been indirectly incentivizing Myanmar through development opportunities in Rakhine state with the Belt and Road Initiative.
“China will not be a threat to other countries unless they give up the self-restraining principle“
Overall, Professor Li concluded that China is a norm-making Revisionist and Self-Restrained Power that aims to differentiate itself from other countries, especially the US. Although China has a non-interventionist policy, it often tries to economically manipulate countries or interfere in their affairs by inserting itself into their crises. This shows that China does not necessarily prioritize its own norms and principles and does not hesitate to contradict itself, which at the end of the day shapes Beijing into a largely pragmatic political actor.