Is China A Revolutionary Power – Or Is America?

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 14 2011 @ 4:00pm

Amitai Etzioni poses the question by looking at respective records on sovereignty:

Several leading Western progressives have sought to legitimize armed humanitarian intervention, under the rubric of "the responsibility to protect." Others have gone even further, seeking to legitimize interference in the internal affairs of other countries if they develop nuclear arms, invoking "the duty to prevent." Both concepts explicitly make sovereignty conditional on states' conducting themselves in line with new norms that directly conflict with the Westphalian one. The issue, in other words, is not simply whether China will buy into the existing rule-based order but whether it can be persuaded to support the major changes in the rules that the West is seeking. 

China is behaving in a more classically realist fashion in the world than the US has been, even under the milder forms of intervention favored by Obama. G. John Ikenberry counters:

China's disagreement with the responsibility-to-protect norm also needs be put in perspective: that norm represents only a tiny aspect of the larger set of global rules and institutions. Indeed, in pushing back against this norm, China is invoking other norms and ideas in the system — most important, Westphalian ones about sovereignty. In doing so, China is being driven further into the existing international order. Moreover, the tension that exists within the international order between norms of state sovereignty and the responsibility to protect should not be surprising, and it is more of a virtue than a defect. Think about the internal politics of Western democracies. In all of them, there are tensions between competing norms, such as social equality and market freedom. But both of these are legitimate norms, and day-to-day politics involves the struggle over them.