The Power of Discourse: Doctrinal Implications of China's Normative Aspirations

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International law fulfils an uneasy dual role. In the traditional, ‘Westphalian’ approach, it merely regulates the coexistence of states. China has explicitly endorsed this role in the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which lie at the heart of its foreign policy. However, the liberal norms of the post-World War II international order have also been written into the framework of international law through the UN Charter, as well as ‘post-Westphalian’ or ‘post-sovereign’ developments such as peremptory norms, broad interpretations of human rights, and the development of international institutions. In the wake of the 2014 Fourth Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese government announced its ambition to increase its ‘discourse power’ and become a maker and shaper of legal norms rather than just a ‘norm-taker’. This would be a logical next step for China to take but also a new one. China was socialized into the international legal order, but has often perceived both its framework and content as foreign and biased against it. This contribution explores what ramifications China’s new ambitions will have for the fabric and the content of international law based on an exploration of its previous practice as well as its recent initiatives. It attaches particular importance to the emergence of Xi Jinping Thought, which reintroduces the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party as a significant factor in China’s normative ambitions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Pages (from-to)43-78
JournalHague Yearbook of International Law
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Event59th International Studies Association (ISA) Convention - San Francisco, United States
Duration: 5 Apr 20188 Apr 2018


  • China
  • international law
  • international law-making
  • sovereignty
  • normative development

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