A world unsafe for democracy? China and the shaping of global order

by Rosemary Foot

16 Jul 2021
Journal of the British Academy, volume 9 (2021)
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Abstract: Much recent analysis of a resurgent and influential China has focused on the country’s present and likely future role in shaping global order. A significant part of this deliberation has been built around two propositions: whether Beijing’s intentions are predominantly defensive – it seeks only a ‘world safe for autocracy’ – or are offensive – it seeks to diminish the space that is needed for liberal democracies to thrive. This debate is in danger of becoming far too polarised. For those taking the ‘defensive China’ route, it is important to reflect that Beijing seeks not just passive protection from harm, but also active approval of its politico-economic system, and that activism may have ideational and material consequences. For those painting a more offensive posture on China’s part, there are also examples of Beijing having moderated its position when there is resistance, and having accepted the need to compromise to gain external validation. Any investigation of China’s capacity to shape global order requires considerably higher levels of attention not only to the determination of Chinese strategic intentions, but also to how those with whom China interacts are responding to its policy positions.

Keywords: China and global order, autocracy, democracy, politico-economic models, China’s strategic intentions, Belt and Road Initiative.

Note on the author: Professor Rosemary Foot is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, a Research Associate of the University’s China Centre, and an Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford. Recent publications include China, the UN, and Human Protection: Beliefs, Power, Image (2020); ‘China’s Rise and US Hegemony: Renegotiating Hegemonic Order in East Asia’, International Politics (2020, https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-019-00189-5); and (with Amy King) ‘China’s World View in the Xi Jinping Era: Where do Japan, Russia and the USA fit?’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations (2021, https://doi.org/10.1177/1369148120914467). She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1996.

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