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Shiping Tang Headshot

The “Liberal” International Order: Any room for an illiberal rising power like China?

Apr 6, 2016 04:30PM
Robertson Hall
Bowl 001


Open to the Public
Shiping Tang

Starting with a conceptual analysis of order, I go on to critically examine the notion of international order and “liberal” international order. I argue that some of the underpinning principles of “liberal” international order are foundationally different from the underpinning principles of liberal (domestic) order. Most prominently, no international order can be objectively legitimate because unlike a liberal domestic order that is ideally based on subjects’ “voluntary submission” to an order, an international order, even a “liberal” one, cannot be based on subjects’ voluntary submission to an order. Yet, perhaps ironically, it is precisely because of the not-so-genuine liberal nature of the “liberal” international order that makes some reshaping the international order via intra-system bargaining between the rising powers and the reigning hegemon more feasible than most liberals would like to admit. I then explore the possible role of China as an illiberal rising power in the (re-)shaping of the “liberal” international order, illustrating with the case of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) from its possible origin in the failure of intra-system reform of IMF to its eventual quasi-intra-system formation. I conclude with some thoughts on policy-relevant issues.


Shiping Tang is Fudan Distinguished Professor and Dr. Seaker Chan Chair Professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs (SIRPA), Fudan University, Shanghai, China. For the 2015-16 academic year, he is a Fulbright visiting research scholar at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California at San Diego.

Prof. Tang has very broad research interests and has published widely. His most recent book, The Social Evolution of International Politics (2013), received the International Studies Association (ISA) “Annual Best Book Award” in 2015. He is also the author of A General Theory of Institutional Change(2011), A Theory of Security Strategy for Our Time: Defensive Realism (2010), and many articles in journals in international relations, institutional economics, sociology, and philosophy of the social sciences.