Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

China and International Normative Order: Selective Compliance with International Norms

Mao, Zhouchen (2019) China and International Normative Order: Selective Compliance with International Norms. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:79653)

Language: English
Download this file
[thumbnail of 102Zhouchen Mao - Dissertation Final.pdf]


It is widely believed that the current world order is undergoing fundamental changes. One of the main alleged challenges comes from non-Western states, most notably China. As China continues to rise, in what ways is it challenging the U.S.-led international order? This question has generated a plethora of scholarly books, articles, and reports that examine how an increasingly powerful China is engaging with the world, and what this means for the global order. In particular, China's role in global governance has begun to occupy the centre stage of International Relations literature.

This dissertation examines China's engagement with international normative order by investigating why China selectively complies with international norms. Utilizing three international norms as case studies: nuclear non-proliferation in the case of UNSC Resolutions on the DPRK, Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC) in climate change mitigation, and international adjudication in the South China Sea dispute, I show that China's compliance with international norms is not straightforward but differs from norm to norm. Rather, we see varying degrees of compliance: from full (CBDR-RC), partial (nuclear non-proliferation), through to non-compliance (international adjudication). By building on critical constructivism that treats norms as flexible and socially constructed, I not only challenge the binary distinction between norm takers and norm makers that continues to recur in norms diffusion and socialization literature, I also illustrate our understanding of what constitute norms compliant behaviour is inter-subjective and may differ due to norm ambiguity. Normative clarity might seem to be a virtue, but it is rarely achieved in practice. Instead I argue that norms are left ambiguous to generate inter-subjectivity amongst different actors. But it is this very form of ambiguity that leads to inter-subjective disagreement over a norm's specific elements, thereby triggering various forms of contestation. The case studies draw attention to China's broad acceptance of the validity of international norms in principle, but it engages in applicatory contestation that 'challenge' the norm's applicability or the type of situation to which the norms apply, because of its divergent normative interpretations and understandings. In light of this, to access China's own interpretation of ambiguous norms and what it considers to be compliant behaviour, I examine how norms are constructed and represented at the state level. These representations, I suggest, are informed by the identity narratives that conceptualize China's state identity discourses.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Lee, Pak
Thesis advisor: Bod, Ingvild
Uncontrolled keywords: Norms Contestation, State Identity, Narratives, Compliance
Subjects: J Political Science
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 21 Jan 2020 13:10 UTC
Last Modified: 01 Jan 2023 00:00 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Mao, Zhouchen.

Creator's ORCID:
CReDIT Contributor Roles:
  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.