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Chinese exceptionalism: an interpretive framework to understanding China’s rise and relations with the world

Ho, Benjamin Tze Ern (2019) Chinese exceptionalism: an interpretive framework to understanding China’s rise and relations with the world. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The rise of China as a major player global politics over the past few decades has generated substantial debate among scholars and practitioners of international relations. Many have raised questions and concerns as to what China’s long term intentions are, whether it would cooperate or challenge the existing global order, and how countries should respond, react and relate to it. Given the limitations posed by mainstream international relations theories in explaining China’s behavior, this dissertation seeks to delve into the study of China’s international politics and foreign policy actions by examining the Chinese political worldview concerning its preferred world order and the norms and rules that it seeks to promote. To do so, this thesis introduces the notion of “Chinese exceptionalism” as a framework or lens through which to better account for China’s international politics and foreign policy. In this thesis, I will argue that the Chinese political worldview (i.e. how it sees itself and how it sees the world) perceives China itself as being exceptional, that is, it is good and different, and that this has influenced Beijing’s approach to the practice of international politics. Such an exceptionalism mindset, I argue, provides us with a better understanding and a more comprehensive interpretation to China’s international relations as compared to mainstream IR theories. As this dissertation will highlight, China perceives the existing international order as ripe for change and that it ought to play a more influential role whilst having its interests acknowledged by others. Hence the central question in this dissertation is what is the Chinese worldview concerning global order and what are the norms and principles that China seeks to promote seeing itself as an exceptional power? Furthermore, how does Chinese exceptionalism influence Chinese international relations debates concerning its role in the global system and its preferred world order? The following study provides a systematic analysis to flesh out China’s political worldview and how its conceptions of exceptionalism are being reflected in its international practices and global politics. Drawing upon interviews conducted with international relations scholars (particularly those based in East Asia), senior policymakers both from and outside China, Chinese primary sources, and participatory insights gleaned from extended fieldwork working together with Chinese IR specialists based at a Singapore-based defense think-tank, this dissertation explores China’s worldview and its exceptionalism thinking in five different areas. They are, namely, (I) Chinese theories of international relations, (II) Chinese national identity, (III) China’s national image, (IV) China’s global outreach as shown by the Belt and Road Initiative, and finally, (V) in China’s relations with its neighbors. Through locating Chinese exceptionalism discourse within these five areas, this dissertation seeks to unravel what Chinese exceptionalism entails, and how it it frames Beijing’s worldview towards international politics.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Benjamin Tze Ern Ho
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Callahan, William A.

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