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Evolution of International Order

Popularity 2Viewed 1447 times 2014-9-15 13:50 |System category:News| order

(By Su Changhe, Professor and Deputy Dean of the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University)

Current international order results from accumulation of different kinds of order in history. They were interconnected regional orders of integrated civilizations centered on a core country.

Over the past five hundred years or so, these regional orders have experienced changes. Leaderships of the Western civilization have passed from Holland to Spain, France, and the U.K. and eventually to the United States, with change of guards always accompanied by war. And the focus has been variously on religion, ideology, and throne inheritance, contention for colony or sphere of influence or hegemony.

The principle of sovereignty equality has been enshrined in the Westphalia system. But inequality took over in relationship based on unequal treaties with the non-Western world up till the formation of the United Nations. In its relationship with the outside world, the West has been in confrontation in terms of values, characterized by center and periphery economically, and dominated by military alliances in the context of security.

In modern times, regional orders that have not merited sufficient attention have been the Islam, Chinese, Russian and the large amount postwar emerging nations all in search for a new political and economic order.


Several similarities stand out in their approach to the issue of international order among China, Russia and the Islam region: the experience of self-centered area order, which was interrupted by the violent expansion of Western Europe and America; their initiative to reshape the postwar international order together with the revolutions of emerging independent countries; their existence outside the absorption by the Western order and, lastly, their complicated motivation and behavior in handling their relationship with the West through participation, exit, hesitancy, independence and reintegration. They were or are in the midst of ambivalence in addressing their own historical order, relations with theWestern order, definition of their current status and their conception of the future international order.


Furthermore, there have been different approaches to the pursuit of regional order even inside the Islam world. Iran first integrated itself into the West, then quitted out of despair; Turkey has been in the midst of hesitation and hovering about outside, too afraid to get in for many years; Post-Mubarak Egypt is maintaining a lukewarm relationship with the West. Roughly the same thing occurred with Russia. The Soviet Union built a socialist camp in confrontation with the Western world. Post-Soviet Russia first held illusion toward the West in a bid to mesh into it and then followed a policy of limited contact; China frustrated the Western absorption strategy toward the non-Western world by armed revolution and shook off the Western system based on unequal treaty. It is also the first non-Western major power to break away from the Cold War mentality for its own distinctive notion of the international order.


As the author sees it, in observing changes in the contemporary international order, the following factors claim our attention:

First, power transition also occurs inside the Western world. U.S. in relative decline is contrasted with Germany on the rise;

Second, a new round of political awakening is sweeping the planet. No single country can build a self-centered global order. On the other hand, regional integration is reshaping the world as seen in the emergence of the European Union, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), African Union, Community of Latin American countries, Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and others. The world is truly moving toward multi-polarity;

Third, aside from economic clout, a country desirous of playing a leading role in a region should possess a core value system. The value system of socialism was crucial to the rise of the former Soviet Union as a global power. Russia is now bent on rejuvenation, but its reemergence as a global power awaits a value system with global influence. In its bid to become a pole of the world, the EU is playing the trump card of being a “normative power”. Holding high the banner of “freedom” and “democracy”, the United States has been working hard to build a“free world”. But its wanton, unilateral interventionism has caused the rapid decline of its soft power, which may not be as powerful as imagined and is now full of bubbles.


China has never been short of values or moral force, what it lacked was material prowess, which has been rapidly accumulated over the past 60-odd years. Internationally, China has boasted the image of a peaceful nation. It has put forward many peace-centered ideas for the international order such as peaceful co-existence, peaceful development, harmonious symbiosis and others.


The world is in profound change and is witnessing no end of various proposals for the international order. The year 2015 will mark the 70th anniversary of the birth of the United Nations. This will be an important occasion for state heads across the world to expound on their ideals for the international order. As a major socialist power and an ancient country of Oriental civilization and the largest developing nation, China should seize this opportunity to systematically explain its peace-focused approach to the international order, thus contributing its bit to helping the world advance forward on a correct track.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Reply Report voice_cd 2014-9-16 09:12
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Contemporary International Relations(ISSN1003-3408), a policy-oriented research journal, was inspired by the need for the international communication in a period of rapid Chinese development.


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  • Evolution of International Order 2014-9-16 09:12

    Thanks for sharing your story here, we have highlighted your blog.

  • Contemporary International Relations 2014-5-13 13:35

    CD Forum is a Blog not a book! This is way too long to put up in a single blog post! I think we welcome the special thoughts of CIR writers when they take the trouble to write them succinctly and specially for this Forum but not the copy and paste of masses of existing material.  Please consider writing special contributions for discussion here.

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