Institutional Pathways in Challenging the Liberal Order: China at the United Nations

Talk #5 in the International Lecture Series China & Global Order

Agreement on how best to categorize the degree of challenge that a resurgent China poses to liberal order has proven difficult to reach. In the absence of consensus and given the significance of the policy consequences that flow from opposing positions, it has become imperative to deepen our understanding not only of the scope of Chinese ambition, but also regularly to investigate the extent to which China is realising, adapting, or changing the scope of its ambition. This paper explores these questions predominantly via a concentration on the United Nations and the ways in which the UN’s institutional design operates to enable or constrain powerful states like China. It focuses particularly on the issue area of human rights as debated and promoted within the UN Security Council, the Human Rights Council, and within a non-UN body, the South-South Forum on Human Rights. Attention to institutional venue, the paper argues, demonstrates that China’s normative beliefs are facilitated more strongly in some UN settings than in others, sparking a range of Chinese behaviour that has a differential impact on the shaping of global order.

Rosemary Foot is a Professor (emeritus) and Senior Research Fellow in International Relations at the University of Oxford; an emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford; a research associate of the University’s China Centre; and a Fellow of the British Academy. Her latest book is entitled China, the UN, and Human Protection: Beliefs, Power, Image (Oxford University Press, 2020).