China's sovereignty in international law: from historical grievance to pragmatic tool

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The concept of sovereignty is at the heart of Chinese international legal discourse, as well as Chinese foreign policy. Yet there is no agreement among international lawyers, political scientists and theorists what exactly the notion of sovereignty means. This article provides a background to the different uses of the concept of sovereignty, legal, historical, and political, and describes how it has been used by the People’s Republic of China in various areas of practice, notably human rights, international criminal law and the law of intervention. It is argued that China’s use of sovereignty should be understood both from a historical and a legal perspective and that ultimately, the concept serves as a pragmatic tool to distinguish the realms of the legal and a political in a way that the Chinese government sees fit.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-59
Number of pages25
JournalChina-EU Law Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • public international law
  • human rights
  • foreign policy
  • sovereignty
  • history
  • Intervention

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