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Dan Lynch on realism and rationalism in Chinese thinking on international relations

Through interviews and close reading of influential journals, USC scholar concludes most influential Chinese writers are hard-headed realists.

March 1, 2009

Dan Lynch teaches in USC's School of International Relations and is a member of the USC U.S.-China Institute's executive committee. He is currently examining how influential Chinese scholars and writers see as their country's future. His most recent article, "Chinese Thinking on the Future of International Relations: Realism as the Ti, Rationalism as the Yong?," was published in the March 2009 (v. 197) issue of The China Quarterly (pp. 87-107). Here is the abstract of the article:

"China's evidently unstoppable “rise” energizes PRC political and intellectual elites to think seriously about the future of international relations. How will (and should) China's international roles change in the forthcoming decades? How should its leaders put the country's rapidly-increasing power to use? Foreign China specialists have tended to use an overly-streamlined “resisting” the West versus “co-operating” with it (or even simpler “optimistic” versus “pessimistic”) scale to address such questions, partly reflecting the divide between Realism and Neoliberalism in American international relations theory. By 2002, a near-consensus had developed (though never shared universally) that China had become an increasingly co-operative power since the mid-1990s and would continue to pursue the policy prescriptions of Neoliberal international relations theory. But using more nuanced “English school” analytical techniques – and examining the writings of Chinese elites themselves, aimed solely at Chinese audiences – this article discovers an unmistakably cynical Realism to be still at the core of Chinese thinking on the international future. Even elites who appear sincere in their promotion of co-operation firmly reject “solidarism” among the world's leading states and insist upon upholding the difference between China and all others. Many demand – and foresee – China using its future power to pursue world objectives that would depart in significant respects from those of the other leading states and non-state actors."

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