research / Journal publications

Australian and People's Republic of China government conceptions of the international order

January 21 2019

Through qualitative comparative analysis of policy documents and official statements over the last 10 years (2008–2018), this paper examines Australian and PRC government conceptions of the international order and the associated policy implications. Their understandings of the international order are informed by their self-defined national role conceptions and perceptions of other states, and are manifested in discussions of institutional reform, international law and human rights. Australia's self-conception as a middle power informs its emphasis on maintenance and US leadership of the existing order, while the PRC's self-conceptions as both a developing and established power enable it to frame itself as either an upholder or reformer of the order. Both governments highlight the ‘rules-based’ mechanisms of the WTO, and are more likely to agree on trade and economic issues than on other matters. Their responses to the 2016 South China Sea arbitration tribunal decision and discussions of the role of human rights in the international order suggest less agreement is likely on international law and human rights norms. While Australia considers the PRC a potential challenger to the existing order, Australia does not feature in PRC discussions of international order, suggesting its limited ability to affect PRC foreign policy decisions.

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Note: This article was published in the Australian Journal of International Affairs, DOI: 10.1080/10357718.2019.1568386

Author: Simone van Nieuwenhuizen, Australia-China Relations Institute, University of Technology Sydney.