The anachronism of a China socialized : why engagement is not all it’s cracked up to be

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Why has the Western strategy of engagement towards China been less effective than initially heralded? Juxtaposing theoretical advances in the International Relations (IR) scholarship against the evolution of China’s domestic politics and foreign behaviour, this article critically examines the socialization scholarship, not only because of the tremendous amount of theoretical purchase constructivists have invested in it, but also because liberal-minded IR scholars have predictably relied upon this line of inquiry to endorse a strategy of engagement and integration towards an outsider power such as China. I argue that the effects of engagement/socialization are often over- stated and oversold, because conventional constructivists, in their attempt to specify the conditions under which certain behavioural adaptation constitutes identity change, tend to obfuscate some issues of theoretical and methodological concern. Two approaches are under the spotlight. First, transnationalism, as it pertains to China, has a poor record of engendering and sustaining domestic political change, be- cause the party-state, firmly in the driver’s seat, fiercely rebuffs any foreign attempt that it deems to undermine its iron-clad hold on state power. Secondly, international institutions are not as transformative as claimed by constructivists, who conflate the distinction between agents and principals. Furthermore, the socialization perspective’s penchant for positioning the state in question in a reactive mode can be an analytical straitjacket, in turn rendering it outdated and inadequate to capture the critically important dynamics and dimensions of a great power such as China in international politics and global governance. I call for a more compressive and eclectic approach that understands China as a proactive participant in international affairs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-94
Number of pages28
JournalChinese Journal of International Politics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes


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