There is a growing concern that China has become more assertive in its foreign policies. The fear is whether China’s economic growth may translate into modern and effective military advancement. This engenders the critical question of whether China feels comfortable in the current international order, which is defined by international law and institutions. This article argues that the Chinese approach to international law and institutions is tightly associated with its evolving perception of sovereignty, and national interests vis-à-vis international law and institutions, and is characterised by a love–hate attitude towards them. With its opening up, China now views multilateralism as a way for the international community to constrain the capriciousness of a superpower, and regards the international institutions simply as power-sharing development. However, China’s integration in international institutions represents its attempt to work within international norms to pursue its interests. China’s ambivalence towards international judicial settlement of disputes signals the historical legacy as well as China’s uneasiness with playing an active role in international institution-building and rule-making.