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  • IntroductionChina in World Politics: Is China a Status Quo Power?
  • Lye Liang Fook (bio)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has advocated a new model of international relations where all countries engage in mutually beneficial cooperation and work together to address common challenges. In his view, the model is in line with the incontrovertible world trend, and reflects the aspirations of countries and people for peace, development and prosperity. In short, all should strive to build a “community of common destiny”.

Xi’s vision of a shared destiny premised on blissful cooperation instead of outright competition is interesting and even enticing. It is characterised by collaborative partnerships as opposed to the American-style alliance relationships. To countries struggling to regain their domestic growth momentum, Xi’s vision is appealing to them because forging closer economic cooperation with China is the means to improve their economic prospects.

Cast aside the official rhetoric, a fundamental question raised is the type of order that China seeks to build globally. On the one hand, some China pundits argue that China’s rise has been a boon to the existing world order. China has not only integrated into the world order, it has also actively contributed to this order as a key pillar of the world economy, and participated in international peacekeeping and piracy operations. This is evidence of China’s contribution as a responsible actor that plays by international rules, and is therefore a status quo power. Moreover, ironically, China, a socialist country, has become a champion for an open, liberal and multilateral trading order that has been traditionally upheld by developed countries like the United States and Europe.

On the other, other China experts contend that China is a revisionist power bent on changing the existing order as evident in China’s expansive island-building in the South China Sea and its increased propensity to utilise military capabilities to curtail America’s presence in the Asia-Pacific. Still, there are others who argue that China is both a status quo and revisionist power, although they have differing views on the changes that China seeks to effect. Others are of the view that China, like [End Page 1] other major powers, is selective about presenting itself as revisionist if the situation calls for it, and is also simultaneously a staunch upholder of the status quo.

To add to the robust debate on China’s role in the world order, the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore organised an international conference titled “China in World Politics: Is China a Status Quo Power?” on 25–26 September 2014, convening international and local experts and academics. This conference provided a forum for the invited panellists to present their research and arguments, which culminated in this eponymous special issue. The term “status quo” refers to the American-led liberal world order that has essentially been in place since World War II. Admittedly, there are apparent limitations to the term as the present-day status quo may be different from the status quo of yesteryear. But this term was deliberately chosen and used in the subtitle “Is China a Status Quo Power?” with the intention to stimulate debate.

The collection of 11 articles in this special issue can be broadly divided into three groups. The first group highlights the literature and theorisation of, as well as the strategic issues related to, China’s rise. Zheng Yongnian and Lim Wen Xin observe that China’s rise is one of several variables in a changing geopolitical landscape that includes the relative decline of the United States, Japan’s efforts to be a normal state, Russia’s ambition to be a great power and the rise of developing countries like India. In their view, China needs to work with these players, especially the United States, in reshaping the world order; and China’s key challenge in becoming a major power lies in its ability to develop its soft power. Wang Jianwei investigates the evolution of Chinese discourse on the rise of China. He notes that China’s response to the term “China’s rise” has witnessed some interesting changes over the years, from rejecting to reluctantly accepting, and to fully embracing it...