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Domestic Politics, China's Rise, and the Future of the Liberal International Order

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2021

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With the future of liberal internationalism in question, how will China's growing power and influence reshape world politics? We argue that views of the Liberal International Order (LIO) as integrative and resilient have been too optimistic for two reasons. First, China's ability to profit from within the system has shaken the domestic consensus in the United States on preserving the existing LIO. Second, features of Chinese Communist Party rule chafe against many of the fundamental principles of the LIO, but could coexist with a return to Westphalian principles and markets that are embedded in domestic systems of control. How, then, do authoritarian states like China pick and choose how to engage with key institutions and norms within the LIO? We propose a framework that highlights two domestic variables—centrality and heterogeneity—and their implications for China's international behavior. We illustrate the framework with examples from China's approach to climate change, trade and exchange rates, Internet governance, territorial sovereignty, arms control, and humanitarian intervention. Finally, we conclude by considering what alternative versions of international order might emerge as China's influence grows.

External Challenges to the Liberal International Order
Copyright © The IO Foundation 2021

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