China and the global order: signalling threat or friendship?



    1. Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, where he is also Director of the Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation.
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    • Research for this article forms part of the EU FP7 large-scale integrated research project ‘GR:EEN—Global Re-ordering: Evolution through European Networks' (European Commission project no. 266809). The author would like to thank the participants at the Chatham House study group meeting for their comments on the first draft of the article, in particular Rosemary Foot.


Although there is clear dissatisfaction in China with the nature of the current global order, it is hard to find a clear and coherent Chinese vision of what an alternative world might look like. This is partly a result of conflicting understandings within the country of the benefits and drawbacks of taking a more proactive global role and perhaps undertaking more leadership functions. But it is also a consequence of how elites frame Chinese interests and demands in different ways for different audiences. Furthermore, the existing order has in fact served China quite well in its transition towards becoming a global power. So while at times China appears to be the main driver for reform and change, at other times (or to other people) the emphasis is on China as a responsible stakeholder in the existing system. How others receive and interpret these conflicting signals is likely to be influenced by the way China exercises, rather than talks about, its growing power—perhaps most notably in terms of its territorial claims in the South and East China Seas and its role as a regional power.