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China’s leaders have long challenged the supposed universalism of norms and principles that underpin the way the (liberal) world is supposed to be ordered. Historically, the emphasis was on constructing alternative understandings and definitions built on China’s unique (non-Western) experiences and thinking to explain why Chinese thinking and practice did not conform with Western expectations; hence the ubiquity of the qualifier “with Chinese characteristics”. Under Xi Jinping, however, these China derived norms and preferences are promoted as having salience beyond China’s borders too, with “Chinese wisdom” providing the basis for a new (non-Western) normative approach to global governance for all.
It is somewhat ironic that what started out as a means of explaining Chinese uniqueness has become transformed into an outline for a new universalism. But analysing what China’s leaders have said (and how some Chinese scholars have studied and explained what they said), helps us understand the logic deployed to explain this normative transformation. So too does noting the significance of “Occidentalism”; building a discourse of what China isn’t and what China opposes as the basis of this new position. And as the Ukraine crisis continues to unfold, we can now ask if Chinese diplomatic behaviour matches up to the self-defined identity of being a new type of Great Power, and assess the efficacy of China’s preferred approach to resolving international crises.
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Stockholm Center for Global Asia
Aula Magna, Stockholm University