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Seminar on “China: Selective Revisionist Power in the International Order”


Thursday, 10th January 2019 — Ms Bonnie Glaser, Senior Adviser for Asia and Directer of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), presented her views about China as a “selective revisionist power” to an audience of fifty diplomats, researchers, journalists, and members of the public.

Ms Bonnie Glaser, Senior Adviser for Asia and Directer of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) (Credit: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)

According to Ms Glaser, China does not seek to “upend the international order” so much to reform it, having accepted “the concept of a rules-based order” and recognised the benefits that such an order would bring to China. However, China remains “dissatisfied with certain elements” of the order that they regard as “unjust”. This can be attributed to the diverging Western and Chinese understandings of the international order. While the West views the international order as a holistic arrangement encompassing an institutional layer of organisations such as the United Nations and the Bretton Wood Sisters, the U.S. system of global alliances, as well as values and norms, the Chinese rejects such an expansive definition. In the words of Chinese diplomat Fu Ying, China embraces the “U.N.-centric order based on sovereignty”, but rebuffs “the U.S.-dominated liberal order focused on human rights and the U.S. alliance structures”.

From left to right: Mr Daljit Singh and Ms Glaser (Credit: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)

Furthermore, Ms Glaser thinks that China will seek “incremental changes” in reforming the international order. For one, China will “demand more of a say in shaping the international order as a condition of its support”. Ms Glaser also outlined two ‘selectively revisionist’ strategies which China pursues: the first through its efforts to “establish parallel institutions” such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank “when it perceives that current institutions are not working to its advantage”, and second its attempts in “writing new rules and developing new norms”, especially in the domain of cyber-sovereignty and internet governance.

The audience during the seminar (Credit: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)

Ms Glaser characterised China’s selective revisionism as being driven by its expectations of a “power transition with the United States” in light of the perceived decline of the latter. According to Ms Glaser, China is “laying the groundwork to manage that transition” in order “to protect Chinese interests”. However, China remains careful that its efforts to secure a “leading role for China in the emerging international order” does not end up in a situation in which China is called to “lead everywhere” and thus be compelled to expend its resources in far-away regions.