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Reviewed by:
  • China, the United States, and Global Order by Rosemary Foot and Andrew Walter
  • Steve Chan (bio)
Rosemary Foot and Andrew Walter. China, the United States, and Global Order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. xii, 340 pp. Hardcover $90.00, isbn 978-0-521-89800-3. Paperback $32.99, isbn 978-0-521-72519-4.

This is an admirable book that examines Chinese and U.S. policies toward several evolving normative frameworks in the world political economy. The authors present a thorough and balanced assessment of the extent to which Beijing’s and Washington’s conduct has been consistent with incipient norms in five important issue areas: the use of force, macroeconomic surveillance, the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, climate change, and financial regulation. They also analyze various sources (domestic, international, and bilateral ties between China and the United States) that can possibly account for variations in these countries’ approaches to and conformity with global normative standards — which are themselves matters of contest and in flux, just as Chinese and U.S. policies are themselves subject to internal debate and have evolved over time.

This analysis makes at least three very significant contributions to the study of international relations and foreign policy in general, and to the discourse on China’s rise and U.S. hegemony in particular. First and refreshingly, the authors engage in a comparative study of Chinese and U.S. conduct. They, therefore, refrain from the common tendency for scholars of China to focus just on that country as the object of their analysis and similarly, for students of American foreign policy to adopt a U.S.-centered perspective in their analyses. This remark does not imply that China and the United States are not important, indeed critical, members of the world community. They clearly are. Rather, my remark is meant to suggest that the implicit, and sometimes explicit, premise of Chinese uniqueness or American exceptionalism is unhelpful for advancing empirical understanding or policy analysis. Foot and Walter should be lauded for taking up the perspective of global order and for subjecting Beijing and Washington to dispassionate analysis of the extent to which their respective conduct has met the expectations of pertinent international stakeholders.

Second, and as just implied, one sometimes encounters in the literature assertions such as “China is a revisionist power,” “the U.S. is a status-quo power,” or “Washington provides public goods.” Such claims are rarely substantiated by careful analysis, but are instead simply asserted as established fact. Foot and Walter show that the pertinent evidence presents a far more mixed picture. Beijing’s and Washington’s adherence to international norms has varied across different issue areas and also over time. For instance, China has changed its views and practices on nuclear nonproliferation so that they now conform more closely to expectations that have been codified in various arms control or limitation treaties. It has also increasingly accepted and adopted international banking standards as propagated by money-centered financial institutions located primarily in the United [End Page 496] States and Western Europe. At the same time, Beijing has resisted international pressure on it (as a country with a large trade surplus) to appreciate the value of the renminbi in order to correct international economic imbalances. As for Washington, it has also resisted attempts by others to pressure it to balance its budget and to check monetary expansion (policies that have the effect of abetting inflationary pressure). It has sought to restrain the horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons without, however, acknowledging that this consent by the nuclear have-nots was tied to the promise by the nuclear haves to refrain from vertical proliferation — and, in fact, to reduce their nuclear armament. On this issue and other areas such as global conventions to abate the emission of greenhouse gases and the banning of antipersonnel landmines, the United States has obstructed emergent international consensus. On some of these issues, such as the International Criminal Court, global warming, and attempts to codify responsibility to undertake humanitarian intervention, Washington has actually found itself to be in Beijing’s company. Hence, Foot and Walter deserve much credit for steering us away from thinking simplistically about whether China or the...