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Understanding Multiple and Competing Roles: China's Roles in the International Order


  • My thanks go to Dominik Zaum and Alan Cromartie who read an early draft of this paper. I also thank my discussant, Julian Gruin, and other attendees at the Association of Chinese Political Studies Conference, King's College London, for their questions and criticisms of the original paper. In addition, the guest editors Jean-Marc F. Blanchard and Kun-Chin Lin have been exceptional in providing critical comments throughout the development of this paper. This research was supported by the Leverhulme Trust through its Major Research Programme “The Liberal Way of War.” Any and all errors or omissions remain with the author.


During the Xinhai revolution, China faced contending domestic identities, and its roles within the international order were assigned by external powers. In the 100 years that have followed, China's internal competing identities have become more stable and it now faces major challenges in reconciling its contending international identities. China's current ascendency returns it to a position of directing the international order, which resembles its position before the Xinhai revolution.

As China changes international identities and gradually moves from being a developing state to a great power, it creates uncertainty among other states. In order for China's rise to continue, it needs to prevent this uncertainty from becoming conflict: it needs a stable international environment. This paper argues that by adopting a view of China's rise as a series of shifts in its identity, the scepter of conflict can be reduced because the uncertainty that is being created can be understood as well as contribute understanding about international behavior. This paper looks at the roles and identities displayed by China at the UN Climate Change conferences.