China’s rise, climate change and great power responsibility

With Sanna Kopra

The great power club is an exclusive social community; whereas some states are members, others remain outsiders. In the twenty-first century China’s rise to the status of great power may in turn transform the conceptualisation of great power responsibility. In pursuing a normative discussion about great power climate responsibility from the perspective of the English School and other modes of thinking, this chapter first introduces the concept of the great power club. It then discusses normative dimensions of great power responsibility from the perspective of the pluralist–solidarist debate within the English School. The chapter examines the sort of requirements that the United States, as an established great power, has set for China’s membership in the great power club and how China has responded to those expectations. Both pluralists and solidarists agree that great powers have a special responsibility to ensure the achievement of international society’s ultimate goals given their special role in that society.

The English School assumes that great powers have special responsibilities in international society. Those responsibilities, however, are not givens but socially constructed expectations, developed both implicitly and explicitly, in the so-called ‘great power club’. Since the end of World War II, respect for human rights and the principle of the responsibility to protect have constituted essential attributes of the responsibility of states in the great power club, or what I call great power responsibility. In the twenty-first century, however, China’s rise to the status of great power may in turn transform the conceptualisation of great power responsibility. Among the situations that China and other great powers have to address today and in the future is climate change, which has become an increasingly alarming threat to international security and the wellbeing of humankind. In this chapter, I therefore  ask to what extent we can assume that great powers should shoulder more  responsibility than smaller powers for mitigating climate change. In pursuing a normative discussion about great power climate responsibility from the perspective of the English School and other modes of thinking, I first introduce the concept of the great power club, after which I discuss normative dimensions of great power responsibility from the perspective of the pluralist– solidarist debate within the English School. Empirical parts of the chapter study the practices of great power responsibility and elaborate upon whether those practices have paid sufficient attention to environmental stewardship and, if so, then how. Last, I examine the sort of requirements that the United States, as an established great power, has set for China’s membership in the great power club and how China has responded to those expectations.

The great power club

The concept of great power is exceptionally vague. From the perspective of the English School, however, a clear definition of great power is not necessary to understand and study their role in international society. On the contrary, what matters is how a state is constituted in international practices (cf. Frost 2003, 86). For a state to be a great power, it needs to have certain material capabilities and, more importantly, be recognised as a member of the great power club. In emphasising social participation and mutual engagement, Étienne Wenger’s (1998, 76–77) concept of community of practice elucidates what the English School means by great power club. Although the term community often connotes positive interactions and peaceful co-existence, Wenger’s concept of community of practice does not offer an ‘idealized view of what a community should be’ but stresses that a community of practice nevertheless exists because its participants remain ‘engaged in actions whose meanings they negotiate with one another’ (ibid., 73). However, a shared practice does not require consensus regarding all the rules of practice but practices can involve competition, tensions and even violent conflicts among the participants. Such disagreements connect and engage the participants in complex ways and can even generate changes in the practices themselves.  For classic English School theorists such as Bull and Wight, great power management inevitably stands as one of the primary institutions of interna- tional society. Holsti (2009), however, disagrees with that standpoint because great power management, with the exception of the Concert of Europe, does not fulfil his criteria for patterned practices. For Holsti (2009, 137), great power is a status, not an institution. Today, it remains difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint the geopolitical centre of the great power club. Apart from the UN Security Council, in which not all emerging powers are mem- bers, no secondary institution of great powers exists, although the Group of 8 is a candidate to some extent.

The great power club is an exclusive social community; whereas some states

are members, others remain outsiders. Of course, the club has no membership card, so to speak, and the qualifications for being an accepted  member  change over time; the conditions of membership are not written into interna- tional treaties but based on the social order continuously shaped by the social interactions of states. Such interactions generate informal criteria for a state’s achieving and maintaining status as a member of the club, as well as define perceptions of what behaviour is appropriate for great powers. Newcomers to the club such as China have to learn to follow the club’s rules or can attempt  to alter them with their words and actions (Kopra 2016; Kopra 2018). Although any set of social rules has to be upheld to some degree in order to be effective, their occasional violation is not unusual. Indeed, if the violation of rules from time to time was impossible, then having them at all would be pointless.1 According to Suzuki (2014, 637), states today need to fulfil two conditions if they wish to join the great power club. First, they have to enjoy substantial institutional privileges in international decision making, as China clearly does. Second, they have to ‘be treated as a social equal’ with other members of club. China’s questionable fulfilment of the latter condition has cast the greatest doubt over its bid for membership in the great power club, which has frustrated China’s leaders and motivated their efforts to persistently improve the state’s image in the international society (Suzuki 2008).

From the standpoint of the English School, international norms and prac- tices constrain international society because they establish social guidelines for and barriers to what behaviour is conceived to be acceptable and legit- imate for states (Wheeler 2000, 4–5). Nevertheless, societal legitimacy remains an important, if not the most important, condition of  membership  in  the great power club. According to Bull (2002 [1977], 221), ‘Great powers can fulfil their managerial functions in international society only if these functions are accepted clearly enough by a large enough proportion of the society of states to command legitimacy.’ Such legitimacy relates closely to the rights and responsibilities of great powers, which are ‘recognised by others to have, and conceived by their own leaders and peoples to have, certain special rights and duties’ (ibid., 196). At the same time, those rights and responsibilities cannot be formalised, much less articulated, by writing out the hegemonial rights of great powers, because anarchical international society rejects the idea of any hierarchical ordering of states whatsoever (ibid., 221). Consequently, the great power club is too indefinite and vague a community of practice to set formal rules about how great powers should act. As all virtues, the virtues of the great power club have resulted from historical practices and may change in the future. Because it therefore falls to the great powers to negotiate which cir- cumstances and demands transform the rules of membership in the great power club, China’s rise could significantly shape the rules of great power management in time.

At present, although great powers are generally thought to have an infor- mal responsibility to cooperate and take other states’ interests into account, they have no concrete, formal obligation to act in certain ways. Consequently, though the practices of great power management specify what great powers ought to do, they do not prescribe means of performing such actions. Instead, they condone several ways to take action provided that such actions do not meet with international criticism. To be seen as legitimate, great powers are bound to promote, or at least take into account, international justice and   other international demands. Although other states do not expect perfect performance, legitimate great powers have to avoid behaviour that  could cause international disorder and injustice; they have the right to mould inter- national practices, but their freedom of action is limited by their responsibility (Bull 2002 [1977]). At the same time, though smaller states and non-state actors can lobby great powers and remind them of their global responsibilities, ulti- mately the great powers themselves collectively define the rules of practice befitting great powers.

The very concept of great power at the international level implies a balance of power as well as the existence of a great power club. After all, if there were only one dominant state, then that state would not be a great power, for it would be impossible to compare and rank the statuses of other states and to construct social identities. Nevertheless, many observers have characterised the post-Cold War international system as unipolar due to the hegemonic dominance of the United States.2 In the English School, Ian Clark (2009a, 205) also asks, ‘What then happens to international order if there is only one predominant state ? (cf. Bukovansky et al. 2012, 42–45). In contrast to the anti-hegemonic English School tradition,3 Clark (2009a, 2009b) suggests that, by analogy to the role of great powers, hegemony is a potential institution of international society. From that perspective, a hegemon can have responsibilities; in the absence of other powers, the lone superpower can, at least in principle, define and exercise its responsibilities alone. In discussions about the global responsibilities of the hegemonic post-Cold War United States, Chris Brown (2004, 11–12) distin- guishes unilateralists from multilateralists. Although both camps maintain that hegemonic status burdens the United States with great responsibilities, he observes, they differ significantly in their views on the nature of those responsi- bilities. On the one hand, multilateralists argue that any sole superpower is urged to cooperate with smaller states because it cannot resolve global problems sin- glehandedly and that the United States, for example, thus has a responsibility to direct the promotion of the public good (ibid., 11–12). On the other, uni- lateralists argue that the United States has to exploit its power to promote its own values and concepts of what is good to the world. For unilateralists, the outcomes of US policies have been critical, and stability and order have had no value per se (ibid., 12–13). The debate between unilateralists and multi- lateralists informs understandings of US expectations of China’s global responsibility as China’s influence blossoms on the international stage.

Because permanent membership in the UN Security Council has  been  unable to entrench more profound consensus regarding the collective responsibilities of great powers, the ways in which single great powers or  sole superpowers define their own responsibilities to other states, other (potential) great powers and even world society matter. It  is  therefore  crucial to elucidate the ways in which China defines and interprets its emerging great power responsibility.

Pluralism, solidarism and great power climate responsibility

A basic tenet of the English School is that responsibility for managing inter- national society rests largely on great powers. In general, both pluralists and solidarists agree that great powers have a special responsibility to ensure the achievement of international society’s ultimate goals given their special role in that society. However, because pluralists and solidarists maintain divergent views on what those ultimate goals are, as well as how they should be promoted and accomplished, their stances regarding how and why great powers ought to shoulder their responsibilities also diverge. Given their focus on international order as a key value and means to promote the common  good of international society, pluralists stress the functional responsibilities of great powers in that society, whereas solidarists, in underscoring the social attri- butes of power and responsibility, hold that great powers have a special responsibility to promote international justice and universal human values.

The pluralist camp of the English School emphasises that great powers  have a special collective responsibility to ‘ensure that the conditions of inter- national peace and security are upheld’ (Jackson 2000, 203). Slightly sceptical of the solidarist motives of great powers, Wight (1999 [1946], 42), for exam- ple, encourages observers to ‘ask whose security is in question, and at whose expense it is purchased’. Since international order constitutes a key means to facilitate peaceful co-existence and international society’s other ultimate goals, maintaining that order is the primary functional responsibility of great powers. On the one hand, such responsibility means that great powers need to pursue their interests prudently; they have to manage their relationship with one another and avoid harming other states and the functioning of interna- tional society (Bull 2002 [1977], 200; Watson 1982, 201). It therefore also means that great powers have to act in compliance with international law (Aslam 2013, 13). On the other, great power responsibility additionally means mediating international conflicts and preserving the general balance of inter- national society. In suddenly intense conflicts, chief responsibility for peace negotiations falls to great powers, which have to ‘agree at least tacitly on a form of crisis management’ (Watson 1982, 201). When confrontation between great powers on opposing sides of a conflict is unavoidable, the powers themselves, not ‘smaller and more immediate protagonists’, are responsible for avoiding the use of force (ibid.). Of course, peace management can some- times involve using force; great powers may, or even sense a moral duty to, use punitive measures to defend international peace and order if necessary.

From a pluralist perspective, the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, for example, can thus be interpreted as the materialisation of the US responsibility to promote the survival of international society, even if soli- darists would argue that using nuclear weapons is anything but responsible behaviour. By the same token, China’s reluctance to commit to engaging in coercive measures as part of the UN Security Council can also be viewed as an important reason for its incomplete acceptance as a responsible member of the great power club.

Because the solidarist camp of the English School espouses a so-called thicker’ morality in international society, they demand that humans as well  as states be viewed as members of that society. In other words, solidarists argue that individual humans around the world should be considered  as  moral referent objects of state responsibility, including great power responsi- bility. In practice, that view implies that great powers have great diplomatic responsibilities; they should advance international justice by using diplomatic tools to reach consensus about human values globally. Solidarists promote universal ideas such as human rights, the rule of law and good governance as ‘new standards of civilization’ that great powers ought to advance in their diplomacy. To some extent, that humanitarian responsibility of  states  has been recognised by contemporary international law (Knudsen 2016), in which a pivotal development was the adoption of the principle of the responsibility to protect during the 2000s. According to that principle, if rogue states violate the human rights of their citizens, great powers are expected to bear the greatest responsibility to interfere. Nevertheless, the extent to which certain universal values exist remains an important question. Normative theories of international relations, including that of the English’s School’s solidarist camp, tend to be very Eurocentric, which has sparked criticism among non- Western scholars and practitioners (Hurrell 2016). In discussions regarding China’s rise, it indeed seems that the ‘features of the New Standard of Civili- zation’ (Fidler 2001, 150) form a normative basis for Western criticism of contemporary China. In short, because China is not a democratic country, it  is not part of ‘us’ but other (Zhang 2011 ) and thus cannot be fully accepted  in the great power club. To cope with the rise of China and other non-Wes- tern emerging powers, international society may need to adjust its rules and conceptualisations of justice, which could also gradually alter ideas about international rights and responsibilities.

Compared to the Eurocentric bias of solidarism, state-centric solidarism takes a rather culturally sensitive approach to international ethics. It main- tains that the ultimate goal of international society is to promote human wellbeing but does not set preconditions for how, and by whom, such well- being should be defined. On the contrary, it stresses the importance of pro- cesses of responsibilisation in social life – that what human wellbeing means in practice in different settings is specific to context. Via processes of responsi- bilisation, participants of social practices, including great powers, negotiate what value they place upon certain aspects of certain actors’ wellbeing. In international politics, development has been the key term in shaping processes of responsibilisation since the inauguration speech of US president Harry Truman in 1949.

Truman’s speech was based on an idea that ‘all the peoples of the world were moving along the same track, some faster, some slower, but all in the same direction’ (Sachs 1993, 4). Truman characterised Western models of socioeconomic development as universal norms and resonated with Western beliefs of progress and improvement that the future will, or at least should, be better than the present (Barry 1999). However, such ideas of pro- gress did not specify for whom and in what terms the future would be better: for (Western) political elites, all humans or all living creatures? Truman’s conceptualisation also lumped diverse African, Asian and Latin American countries into ‘one single category – the underdeveloped’ (Sachs 1993, 4).

Despite those criticisms, human wellbeing largely continues to be measured in economic terms, including gross domestic product, and states tend to treat economic growth as their principal responsibility. By extension, international practices focusing on economic growth have also dictated international cli- mate practices. The negative impacts of climate change are often discussed in economic terms, whereas other, qualitative aspects of human wellbeing are dismissed. Because real human suffering caused by climate change cannot be estimated in economic costs, however, Roberts and Parks (2007)  propose more appropriate measures of climate-related risks, including the number of people killed, made homeless or otherwise harmed by climate-related dis- asters such as floods, heatwaves, droughts and windstorms in individual states. Within the English School, surprisingly little attention has been paid to climate ethics. Arguably, the pluralist perspective on climate change would focus on state-centric harms and risks to international order. Several studies and reports have indeed highlighted that climate change poses national security risks in every country worldwide (e.g. Mazo 2010). For some states, such as small island nations in the Asia–Pacific, climate change even poses an existential threat, for when sea levels rise due to the melting of ice in polar areas, they will literally disappear from the world map – a phenomenon that Milla Vaha (2015) calls state-extinction. Given growing consensus that cli- mate change is a potential source of international conflict, it is reasonable to assume that climate change risks the maintenance of international order. Moreover, given their managerial role in international society, great powers can be assumed to have a functional responsibility to lead efforts to mitigate climate change as a means to maintain international peace and security. By some contrast, solidarists would add human suffering to the list of harms caused by the adverse effects of climate change. Climate change is indeed inherently an issue of international justice, for especially vulnerable to climate change are the poorest people living in developing countries that lack suffi- cient resources to adapt to such change and, often located in tropical and sub-tropical areas, are most likely to be affected by it.

For many scholars in the English School, international  law  ranks among the most important primary institutions of international society. Because international law captures the shared rules of co-existence accepted by mem- bers of international society, it plays a critical role in the construction of that society. By specifying what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable conduct therein, international law enables and constrains the actions of states, includ- ing great powers. Upholding international law is an important attribute of great power responsibility; great powers must follow its principles in order to maintain international order and legalise their hegemonic status (Simpson 2004). However, maintaining international order sometimes requires             the violation of international law. As Bull (2002 [1977], 138) points out, the United Kingdom and France did not criticise Russia for attacking Finland in 1939, despite the action’s clear violation of international law, because the attack stabilised the European balance of power. According to pluralist ethics, great powers thus have a responsibility to act against international law if necessary to maintain international order.  By comparison, solidarists observe that, as  all laws, international law is a human construction and thus reflects power relations. International law can therefore be imperfect and unfair and under- mine fundamental human values. If the justice of legal rules were challenged for humanitarian reasons, for example, solidarists would consider a great power’s illegal actions to be legitimate. However, because an illegal action by a great power can be legitimate only if based on a consensus in international society that the action is indeed necessary, ‘consensus is the benchmark of legitimacy’ (Clark 2005, 164).

Since great powers tend to play an influential role in law-making processes in international society and incorporate special rights into those processes, they are usually content with and eager to enforce them (Simpson 2004, 70). Among other incentives for great powers to commit to international law, they typically prefer to maintain their hegemonic role by means of law instead of force (Onuma 2003, 117).

Although the violation of international law does not warrant legal sanc- tions for great powers, it is incorrect to assume that great powers would readily commit such violations. Breaking international rules can seriously damage the image of a great power and, in turn, hinder its pursuit of national interests and jeopardise its international leadership role in the long term. Moreover, at least in liberal-democratic great power states, domestic pressure to respect international norms and rules is quite high (Onuma 2003, 119). Even though US president Donald Trump clarified in June 2017 that his administration would not commit to international climate norms, he did not simply abandon the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change but chose to implement the withdrawal in accordance to the Paris Agreement itself. In effect, the United States will be part of the accord until 2020 and continue to implement national climate mitigation plans compiled by the Obama administration. Accordingly, the United States sent a small delegation to the UN climate negotiations in Bonn in November 2017. If the Trump administration at least attempts to meet US domestic climate targets and reports its actions, it will not violate international law. In that case, pluralists would maintain that the Trump administration will have fulfilled its functional great power responsibility to pursue the common good of international society by ensuring that it has met the rules of international law  and  not jeopardised international order. At the same time, it remains questionable whether Trump’s decision to dismiss efforts to allay climate change increases the risk of international conflict and harms humanitarian security around the world. Given strong evidence of the relationship between climate change and conflicts, some pluralists would likely advocate the functional responsibility of great powers to mitigate climate change and thus criticise Trump’s decision. Solidarists, by contrast, would undoubtedly condemn Trump’s decision as irresponsible because it dismisses the common good of humans worldwide.

International law articulates only a minimum standard of conduct, and responsible states do more. In particular, solidarists expect responsible great powers to willingly uphold more than international law by promoting human wellbeing globally. International law is thus not the only metric of interna- tional responsibility. To some extent, the Obama administration fulfilled its diplomatic responsibility to promote human values by supporting the mitiga- tion of climate change; although the United States had not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, Obama’s climate diplomacy worked to achieve consensus on climate responsibility and the adoption of the Paris Agreement. By contrast, Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement has faced wide international criticism although the decision did not violate interna- tional law, and the global leadership of the United States has been increas- ingly questioned as a result. Trump’s climate scepticism has also generated widespread discontent in the United States, and in response, many sub- national and civil society actors have become more active advocators of climate responsibility than ever before. Indeed, the coalition of non-state actors that issued America’s Pledge in 2017 represented more than half of the US economy and even argued that they should represent the United States in international climate negotiations (Neslen 2017). From the perspective of the English School, that proposition raises the question of whether the expanding role of non-state actors in international society can induce structural changes therein.

To reiterate, legitimacy is an important aspect of great power responsibility for both pluralists and solidarists. As Ian Clark (2005) points out, principles  of legitimacy determine which actors are considered to have the right to par- ticipate in international practices and what is viewed as appropriate standards of conduct in international society. The English School has thus tended to underscore the importance of a great power’s legitimate international conduct when assessing its rightful membership in the great power club. By contrast, Gareth Evans’s conceptualisation of responsible international citizenship, introduced in a serious of foreign policy speeches the late 1980s and early 1990s, maintains that states cannot fulfil their international responsibilities if they do not fulfil those responsibilities at home as well. That dynamic becomes especially clear in the context of international climate politics, for although a state may play a constructive role in international climate nego- tiations by endorsing international cooperation and committing to interna- tional agreements, it cannot be deemed a responsible international actor if it does not meet its responsibilities by taking domestic actions. At the same time, even if not a signatory to an international climate agreement, a  state may nevertheless prove to be a responsible international actor by undertaking ambitious domestic measures to mitigate climate change. In that case, addressing climate change presumably aligns with a state’s national interests, which is an adequate justification for pluralist ethics. Indeed, politicians often highlight the domestic economic benefits of their climate policies. President Obama, for example, despite having declared climate change a top priority for his administration, did not emphasise the international responsibilities of the United States when addressing US audiences (Bukovansky et al. 2012, 153). From a solidarist perspective, however, economic interests are not an appro- priate or legitimate basis for great power responsibility, which has to be bound to human values and international justice.

Clearly, both domestic and international legitimacy are important factors of great power responsibility. Whereas Bull and other pluralists would high- light the functional importance of the legitimate conduct of responsible international citizens both at home and abroad, solidarists would call for more robust definitions of responsible international citizenship that stress attention to the social elements of legitimacy at the domestic and interna- tional levels. That observation can be articulated in Weberian terms as well. Max Weber conceives a ‘co-constitutive relationship between the domestic and international realms’ (Hobson & Seabrooke 2001, 240), and his approach captures the state-centric solidarist conception of responsibility; the ‘domestic norms of impartiality and fairness entwined with the ethic of responsibility, coupled with the domestic – and international – social balance of power’ all unite in his theory of the state in particular and of international society in general (ibid., 269). Given Weber’s sophisticated analysis of state–society relations emphasising a strong civil society, however, his approach does not may not fully explain China’s membership in the great power club.

Practices of great power responsibility

For as long as it has existed, international society has doubtlessly always had great powers. In the terms of the English School, however, such powers have constituted an international club of ‘legalized hegemony’ only since the early nineteenth century (Reus-Smit 1999, 109; Simpson 2004, 73). At the Congress of Vienna (1814/15), Austria, Great Britain, France, Prussia and Russia – the four major powers that had defeated Napoleon – plus the restored King of France each obtained the recognised status of great power and established the Holy Alliance as an ideological basis for the rule of their great power club (Simpson 2004, 96–115; Brown 2004, 7). To quote Brown (2004, 7), the five great powers were ‘conscious of themselves as constituting an institution which was separate from other states and in possession of special responsi- bilities as well as rights vis-à-vis international society’. According to F. R. Bridge and R. Bullen, such status formed an implicit social contract between great powers and smaller states; ‘just as the great powers claimed special rights for themselves, so the small states claimed that the great had special responsibilities for their well-being’ (quoted in Bukovansky et al. 2012, 27). Because the contract was not written in international law, however, great power responsibility was an informal norm at the time. Later, the League of Nations also granted special status to great powers but did not form an ‘institutional/ideological unity’ similar to the Concert of Europe (Brown 2004, 8).4 Not until 1933, when Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy signed  the Four Power Pact that declared them to be ‘conscious of the[ir] special responsibilities’ (Bukovansky et al. 2012, 29), was great power responsibility formalised.

In the 1940s, great power responsibility experienced several influential developments. In 1943, then British foreign secretary Anthony Eden declared that ‘special responsibilities do rest on our three powers’, meaning the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and the United States (quoted in Bukovansky      et al. 2012, 29). The following year, he called for the formalisation of the special responsibilities of great powers by establishing a new world organisa- tion that would ‘make it possible for them [the Four Powers] to carry out the responsibilities which they will have agreed to undertake’ and that ‘they must be given … a special position in the organisation’ in the process (quoted in Bukovansky et al. 2012, 30). As a result, ‘everyone’ was talking about responsibility by 1945 (cf. Bukovansky et al. 2012, 29–30). For example, a night before his death, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1945) responded to the events of World War II by stating, ‘Today, we have learned in the agony of war that great power involves great responsibility’. Similarly, his successor, President Truman told the US Congress – and reiterated it at the UN General Assembly in San Francisco in April 1945 – that ‘While these great states have a special responsibility to  enforce  the  peace  …  .  The  responsibility  of  the great states is to serve, and not dominate the peoples of the world’ (Truman 1945).

In its contemporary form, the great power club was institutionalised by the establishment of the UN Security Council in 1945. Under the UN Charter (1945, ch. 5, Article 24), great powers were formally appointed to have special responsibilities, including ‘primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security’. Interestingly, the formalisation of such responsibility was not actively sought by great powers, as their seemingly genuine belief that international society had imposed a burden upon them suggested (Simpson 2004, 170). At the time, great power responsibility was largely based on great powers’ material capabilities because, according to Eden, ‘the more power and responsibility can be made corresponding, the more likely it is that the machinery will be able to fulfil its functions’ (quoted in Bukovansky et al. 2012, 31). The permanent membership of the United States, the Soviet Union or Russia, Great Britain, France and the Republic of China (P5) at the UN Security Council – and especially their veto rights – made them ‘morally superior’ to international doctrines such as equality and unanimity and placed them ‘above the law they are to impose on others’ (Wight 1999 [1946], 45). Such privilege made the great powers special, which, in turn, was viewed as the source of their responsibility (Brown 2004, 9).

When the Cold War broke out soon after the establishment of the UN, the institutionalisation of the P5 did not realise a collective understanding of the responsibilities of great powers in practice. During the Cold War, being in the P5 carried symbolic status only and indicated neither power nor respon- sibility, as illustrated by the Republic of China’s (i.e. Taiwan’s) maintenance of its status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council for 20 years after its regime’s collapse in mainland China (Brown 2004, 9). In Western international society, the United States assumed a ‘new position of world responsibility’ and became the ‘principal protector of the free world’ (Truman 1948). That responsibility, however, was not bound to the collective responsi- bility of the P5 but the global capabilities of the United States as a singular hegemonic  power (Bukovansky  et al. 2012,  34;  Brown  2004,  11–13; Clark 2011, ch. 6; Ikenberry 2009, 76–79). Later, the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War afforded new possibilities to the P5 to fulfil their responsibilities in promoting international peace and security ori- ginally articulated in 1945. Many new concepts, including Gareth Evans’s idea of good international citizenship and Francis M. Deng and his collea- gues’ notion of sovereignty as responsibility, gave rise to wider debate over ethics and foreign policy in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Consequently, human rights emerged as a new ‘standard of civilization’ (Donnelly 1998) that conceptualised the responsibility to protect and the willingness to undertake humanitarian intervention as key attributes of great power responsibility (e.g. Wheeler 2000).

Ideas about environmental security as an approach to international security first surfaced in the early post-Cold War era.5 Although scholars initially focused on environmentally induced conflicts, by the end of the Cold War the UN Security Council began to pursue a more expansive approach to inter- national security. In 1992, it noted that ‘non-military sources of instability in the economic, social, humanitarian and ecological fields have become threats to peace and security’ (UN Security Council 1992). Since the mid-2000s, when many ‘securitizing moves’ to promote climate change mitigation were made (Trombetta 2008, 594–595), the relationship between climate change and violent conflict has been widely studied (e.g. Lee 2009; Mazo 2010; Welzer 2012). In effect, those developments have generated debate about the UN Security Council’s role in mitigating climate change, which, if viewed as a threat to international peace and security, arguably can and should be added to the organisation’s agenda.

In 2007, with the British presiding, the UN Security Council held the first- ever debate on the relationships among climate change, energy and security, although some members, including China, doubted whether the occasion was the appropriate forum for the discussion (United Nations 2007). Nevertheless, British foreign secretary and president of the Council Margaret Beckett insisted that the members discuss the security-related impacts of climate change, because the ‘Council’s responsibility was [is] the maintenance of international peace and security, and climate change [has] exacerbated many threats, including conflict and access to energy and food’ (ibid.). The UN General Assembly (2009a) encouraged relevant UN organisations to intensify their efforts to allay climate change, ‘including its possible security implica- tions’, and asked the UN Secretary-General to submit a  comprehensive  report addressing the potential security-related impacts of climate change. In response to the UN General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General’s report defined climate change as a threat multiplier that could affect security by increasing vulnerability, hindering development, necessitating increased coping and security, promoting statelessness and engendering international conflict (UN General Assembly 2009b). In 2011, the UN Security Council, with Germany presiding, also discussed the potential security-related impacts of climate change and consequently adopted its first-ever statement on the issue (UN Security Council 2011). However, the body made no decision regarding whether new environmental peacekeeping forces, so-called ‘green helmets’, could be used to manage conflicts caused by resource scarcity (United Nations 2011).

 In 2013, the UN Security Council held informal talks addressing the issue but failed to define climate change as an international security threat due to resistance from China and Russia (Krause-Jackson 2013). The following year, however, President Obama (2014) explicitly acknowledged the link between great power responsibility and climate change. Altogether, though the UN Security Council has not made any con- crete decisions about climate change, that it has discussed climate security has upgraded the status of climate change on the global political agenda. As an environmental issue, climate change is now a matter of soft politics, while its potential securitisation makes it a part of hard politics as well. That devel- opment could signal that climate responsibility is emerging an attribute of great power responsibility.

Expectations of China’s responsibility

For the time being, China has no salient identity as a great power. On the one hand, China’s increasing wealth generates expectations of greater interna- tional respect, and it no longer accepts being left on the periphery of inter- national society but it struggles to be recognised as a great power. On the other, its status as a developing country continues to be central to its identity, especially in international climate politics. Similarly to individuals, states construct their identities in social interaction by engaging in various interna- tional practices; when newcomers join, as China gradually has into the great power club, they learn new ideas and ways of operating in that world, which consequently transforms their identity.6 Other participants in a practice who have a ‘stake in making up certain social categories and in trying to make people [states] conform to them’ (Zalewski & Enloe 1995, 282) play an important role in shaping state identity. In general, both China and  the  United States agree that world peace is an essential value of international society and that great powers have a responsibility to maintain global peace. However, the two states seemingly have different views on the other global responsibilities of great powers. When a rising China asks itself ‘Who am I?’7, the United States tries to influence the answer by (re)defining what it means  to be a great power in the twenty-first century and what sorts of responsi- bilities accompany that status. Although not all US contributions have expli- citly defined responsibility as a rule of membership in the great power club, there is a clear tendency, as I later demonstrate, that responsibility is a central requirement for states that seek recognition as great powers. As Buzan (2004, 67) points out, the ‘key here is not just what states say about themselves and others’ but ‘how they behave in a wider sense, and how that behaviour is treated by others’. As a result of that learning process, ‘relative newcomers become relative old-timers’ over the course of time (Wenger 1998, 90). Such advancement is usually unmarked and implicit; suddenly, a state finds that it has risen to a position at which it can educate new newcomers, and other participants have begun to expect the state to know and do more than it is already certain it does. That development is exactly what seems to have hap- pened amid China’s rise during recent decades; the West has expected China to shoulder greater global responsibilities, whereas China continues to regard itself as a developing country unable to respond to those new demands  (Kopra 2016).

Before exploring the discursive clash between the United States and China over China’s global responsibility, I briefly outline China’s entrance into the great power club.

At the founding of the UN Security Council, the Republic of China was given a permanent seat, although not without dispute about whether it mer- ited such a status (Simpson 2004, 173). The position did not result in China’s self-perception as a great power because the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had neither international rights nor legitimate representation  at the  UN until October 1971. In 1972, US president Richard Nixon’s visit to the PRC re-established US relations with China, largely based on their ‘mutual antipathy towards Moscow’ (Lanteigne 2013, 105). Initially, US leadership was optimistic about China’s reforms and assumed that ‘China would learn to be more like us’. However, the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 pro- foundly altered the US policy towards China, and a ‘containment policy’ was applied until 1993, when it was replaced with an ‘engagement policy’ (Zheng 1999, 126). After the Taiwan Strait crisis (1995–1996), the Clinton adminis- tration announced that its long-term objective for China was to integrate the country into international society ‘with all the privileges and responsibilities of a major power’ (ibid., 128). In 1995, then US secretary of defense William Perry noted that the engagement strategy would ensure that China would become a responsible member of that society (Jin 2011, 11).

In effect, the strategy meant that the United States would commit to helping China to join the great power club and that China would respect established international rules and act accordingly. Despite Chinese scepticism over US motivations concerning China, the engagement policy afforded the Chinese state a way to emerge as a real great power (Zheng 1999, 128–129). Chinese president Jiang Zemin’s visit to Washington, DC, in 1997 and US president Bill Clinton’s visit to Beijing in 1998 restored the official dialogue between the countries’ leaders that had been abandoned since the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 (Harding 1999, 7–8). In that dialogue, the leaders decided to strive for a ‘constructive strategic partnership’, which they characterised as a ‘goal to      be pursued, not an accomplishment that could  be  celebrated’  (ibid.,  21). The two summits marked the end of a ‘decade of flux in great power rela- tions’ and catalysed the development of China’s great power identity  (Rozman 1999, 383).

During his presidential campaign and early in his presidency, US president George W. Bush took a more hard-line policy towards China and redefined what was once a US–Chinese partnership as a competition with a power that should be ‘treated without ill will but without illusions’ at the same time (Federation of American Scientists 1999; cf. Yu 2009, 84). Nevertheless, Bush supported China’s accession to the World Trade Organization and its bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, which relieved tensions after a naval aircraft collision between the militaries of the two countries in the South China Sea in April 2001. Immediately after the incident was resolved, Bush committed to establishing ‘constructive relations’ with China (Yu 2009, 87), and  in  return,  China  supported  Bush’s  post-September  11  ‘war  on terror’.

Although the mutual cooperation improved China’s relations with the United States, it did not award China the status of strategic partner with the United States (Roy 2002; Shambaugh 2002). Bush, however, seemed determined to further improve US–Chinese relations and promote multilateralism. For instance, he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Shanghai in October 2001, despite debate over the importance of the meeting when the United States was at war. Bush also celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of President Nixon’s visit to China by visiting China again and took a ‘symbolic step forward in the place where Nixon stopped’ while touring the Great Wall (Yu 2009, 87–88). A more concrete step in US–Chinese relations was taken when China’s government approved applications of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to enter China  and begin operating in Beijing in 2002 (Zhang & Zheng 2012, 628).

In 2005, then US deputy secretary of state Robert B. Zoellick introduced  the concept of responsible stakeholder to international politics. According to Zoellick (2005), ‘All nations conduct diplomacy to promote their national interests. Responsible stakeholders go further: They recognize that the inter- national system sustains their peaceful prosperity, so they work to sustain that system.’ Although Zoellick’s speech did not clearly define responsible stake- holder, it nevertheless spurred international debate over expectations of China’s global responsibilities. Arguably, the primary goal of introducing the concept was to describe China’s international responsibilities in the context of US interests and expectations, as well as to urge China to fulfil those respon- sibilities (Gill 2007). In any case, Zoellick’s (2005) concept was based on pluralist ethics, for it stressed that, as a member of international society,  China has a responsibility to strengthen the international system that has made its rise possible. At the same time, the concept suggested, China should not challenge the existing rules of international society or promote competing norms or another type of international order. In general, Zoellick was opti- mistic about China’s potential to become a responsible stakeholder and encouraged the United States to cooperate with China in that regard.

The following year, the concept of responsible stakeholder was written into the US National Security Strategy 2006, which demanded that ‘As China becomes a global player, it must act as a responsible stakeholder that fulfils its obligations and works with the United States and others to advance the international system that has enabled its success’ (White House 2006). The first Obama administration adopted similar views, and Zoellick’s successor as US deputy secretary of state, James Steinberg, formulated his own China paradigm, dubbed ‘strategic reassurance’, in 2009. Steinberg (2009) empha- sised China’s negative responsibility not to harm other states:

Just as … we are prepared to welcome China’s ‘arrival’ … as a prosper- ous and successful power, China must reassure the rest of the world that its development and growing global role will not come at the expense of security and well-being of others.

Steinberg (2009) urged China to reassure other states that it poses no international threat: ‘When it comes to the international system, we must ensure that new powers like China – and there are others as well, of course – can take their rightful place at the table without generating fear or mistrust’. Although he confirmed that the United States was ‘ready to accept a growing role for China on the international stage’, he stressed that it ‘will also be looking for signs and signals of reassurance from China’ and  if ‘China is going to take its rightful place, it must make those signals clear’ (ibid.). In contrast to Zoellick, who made no reference to climate change or environ- mental issues in his speech,8Steinberg (2009) mentioned that US–Chinese cooperation towards mitigating climate change was necessary due to their statuses as the world’s largest carbon emitters.  The Obama administration also underscored that China’s increasing capacity should be accompanied with broader positive responsibilities. For example, President Barack Obama welcomed China’s greater global role, ‘in which a growing economy is joined by growing responsibilities’ (White House 2009). After China became the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter in 2006, the United States began to urge China to shoulder more responsibility in curbing climate change as well. During the second Obama administration, constructing a ‘productive and constructive relationship’ with China was a major strategic goal for the United States. In a speech delivered a week after President Obama’s re-election in November 2012, then US national security adviser Thomas Donilon (2012) urged ‘Beijing to define its national interest more in terms of common global concerns and to take responsibility for helping the international community address global problems’. He also asked China to become a responsible inter- national citizen: ‘Now, we’ve been clear that as China takes a seat at a growing number of international tables, it needs to assume responsibilities commensu- rate with its growing global economic impact and its national capabilities’ (ibid.). In March 2013, Donilon reiterated that demand and encouraged US–Chinese cooperation ‘to build a new model of relations between an exist- ing power and an emerging one’. He stressed that no natural law exists that could determine that ‘a rising power and an established power are somehow destined for conflict’ (Donilon 2013).

In November 2016, when Donald J. Trump  was elected as US president,  the US began to play a starkly different role in international society and in its relations with China. It had become clear during his presidential campaign that Trump would pay less attention to great power responsibility and focus on national politics instead. In particular, he had called climate change ‘a Chinese hoax’ on Twitter in 2012, which fuelled international fears for the continuance of the US leadership in international climate politics. Although I discuss Trump’s hostile attitude towards climate politics in greater detail later, here it is necessary to emphasise how Trump’s unwillingness to shoulder cli- mate responsibility and sign an international trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership consequently elevated China’s global status. In the light of Trump’s irresponsible international policy actions, China has begun to be viewed by the world as a more responsible international player than ever before. Although Trump’s election thus altered the international expectations of China’s great power responsibility, it remains unclear whether or not China is willing or able to live up to those expectations and shoulder more respon- sibility in international politics. Chinese leaders, for example, have already stated that the West needs to stop invoking ‘China responsibility theories’ that exaggerate the country’s duty to diffuse the nuclear threat on the Korean Peninsula (Reuters 2017). Regarding international climate politics, the world could receive a similar message, one backed with practical evidence, for China’s national circumstances have not changed to suddenly afford it more resources, know-how or political willingness to lead the charge against climate change. An important factor in those policy decisions is how China con- structs its identity as an emerging great power and perceives its corresponding great power responsibility.

China’s emerging notions of great power responsibility

In the years following the PRC’s establishment in 1949, the Chinese govern- ment was keener to develop alternative international practices than join the great power club (cf. Foot 2001, 24–28). To join the UN in 1971 and the Bretton Woods institutions in 1980, however, the PRC had to normalise its relations with the United States. Early during China’s reform era in the late 1970s, the Chinese admired the United States as a ‘symbol of a comfortable material life’ and for its ‘rational institutional arrangements, and advanced technologies’ (Zheng, 1999, 51–52). During the 1980s, however, when the Chinese discovered that the West was ‘far from their original high expecta- tions’ and that its practices towards China were unfair, a new sort of nation- alism began to emerge in China (ibid.). Evan S. Medeiros (2009, 95) claims that, since the early 1990s, three tenets have guided China’s relations with major  powers  –  ‘non-alliance,  non-confrontation,  and  not  directed against any third party’ (不结盟, 不对抗, 不针对第三方) – all naturally undergirded by economic interests. In accordance with those tenets, China has not formed alliances but partnerships around the world since the end of Cold War.9 At present, China maintains a strategic partnership with the European Union, Russia and the United States. Efforts to constrain US global influence as well as Japan’s regional influence, however, remain central to China’s foreign policy. In particular, contemporary Chinese leaders have promoted an Asia  for  Asians  policy  and  introduced   new  concepts  such  as  the  Asia-Pacific

Dream (亚太梦) that can be conceived as countermoves to the so-called ‘Asia Pivot’ of the United States. Articulated by Deng Xiaoping in the early 1990s, China’s strategic guidelines for US–Chinese relations continue to be to ‘increase trust, reduce problems, strengthen cooperation, and avoid con- frontation’ (增加信任, 减少麻烦, 加强合作,不搞对 抗) (Medeiros 2009, 98).

Since the late 1990s, Chinese intellectuals have debated at length the international role and expectations of China.10 In his speech to the Russian State Duma in 1997, Chinese president Jiang Zemin acknowledged that great powers have great responsibilities by declaring that ‘being major powers of influence and permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and Russia shoulder an important responsibility for safeguarding world peace and stability’ (quoted in Yeophantong 2013, 331). Since then, Chinese intellectuals have proposed that China, as a nuclear power and permanent member of the UN Security Council, should redefine its national interests to meet interna- tional expectations regarding its responsibility (Yeophantong 2013, 348). Moreover, following his analysis of internal and external factors influencing whether China will become a ‘responsible great power’ in the twenty-first century,11 Xia Liping (2001, 17) identified ‘some conditions necessary to make China a responsible great power’, including that China ‘should: (1) play its role in international society not only according to its national interests, but also in order to benefit regional and world peace, development, stability, and prosperity; (2) take its international obligations more seriously; and (3) parti- cipate in the formulation of international rules’.

During his visit to the United States in 2002, Zheng Bijian, former execu- tive vice-president of the Central Committee’s Central Party School, observed that Americans had severe doubts about China’s rise to great power status, something which would later impede Sino–American relations and China’s pursuit of great power status (Glaser & Medeiros 2007, 294). Consequently, in 2003 Zheng introduced the concept of ‘peaceful rise’ ( 和 平 崛 起 ) to  dispel fears about  Chinese threat, and the  following year,  the  concept  was adopted by the Hu-Wen administration as a new national strategy. However, the ‘rise’ part of the concept was quickly judged to be counterproductive and soon replaced with ‘development’.12 Since 2004, the concept of ‘peaceful develop- ment’ ( 和 平 发 展 ), as the leading principle of Chinese foreign policy, has assured the world that China’s rise will be peaceful and that no ‘hegemonic

war’ will occur. In general, both China’s government and Chinese scholars embraced Zoellick’s conception of responsible stakeholder, although some factions pondered whether it was an engagement policy or a containment policy in nature (Jin 2006; Masuda 2009, 67). No official remarks on the concept were issued, and no explicit commentary appeared in the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the CCP (Masuda 2009, 67). At his meeting with President Bush in 2006, President Hu commented that ‘China and the United States are not only stakeholders, but they should also be constructive part- ners’ (quoted in Yu 2009, 97). On the one hand, Hu seemed to accept the characterisation of China as an ‘international stakeholder’ because it pro- moted China’s international status. On the other, he did not relate it to responsibility, likely given his incomplete approval of the US understanding of China’s global role (Masuda 2009, 67).

Shortly after Zoellick’s speech, the State Council Information Office (2005) issued a white paper titled ‘China’s Peaceful Development Road’ to elaborate upon the country’s philosophy of peaceful development. The paper high- lighted China’s development-related needs and declared that its ‘development will never pose a threat to anyone’ because ‘peaceful development is the inevitable way for China’s modernization’. It also assured that, ‘Active in the settlement of serious international and regional problems, China shoulders broad international obligations, and plays a responsible and constructive  role’. Although the paper suggested that ‘China is certain to make more contributions to the lofty cause of peace and the development of mankind’, it shifted primary global responsibilities to developed countries, which, it stated, ‘should shoulder greater responsibility for a universal, coordinated and balanced development of the world’, whereas ‘developing countries should make full use of their own advantages to achieve development’. China’s second white paper on peaceful development reminded the world that China  is ‘actively living up to international responsibility’ (Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China 2011), underscored China’s status as a developing country and suggested that China should not be expected to shoulder greater global responsibilities until it meets domestic challenges and achieves a higher level of development. However, the second paper did not indicate what level of development China should achieve before it assumes more global responsibility, nor when China’s government expected that level to be reached.

As Jin Canrong (2011, 12) describes it, being a great power means setting international agendas proactively and not allowing other states to control agendas or define global responsibilities. Accordingly, the Chinese Commu- nist Party (CCP) has begun to develop and promote its own concepts, including the ‘harmonious world’ (和谐世界), the ‘China dream’ (中国梦), the ‘Asia-Pacific dream’ (亚太梦), a ‘new type of major country relationship’(新型大国关系) and a ‘new type of international relations’ (新型国际关系), as means to organise international society. Of course, only time will tell  whether those concepts can reorganise international practices to become less Wester- nised and accommodate Chinese values and interests more efficiently (Kopra 2016, 30). The purpose of the concepts seems to be to reform international society in a ‘responsible manner’, not to replace existing practices from which China has benefitted (cf. Buzan 2010, 29–33). In international finance, China has introduced sources of global governance by establishing new multilateral mechanisms such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank, which are arguably alternatives to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Moreover, President Xi Jinping’s sig- nature New Silk Road initiative ‘One Belt, One Road’ (一带一路) could have far-reaching political impacts in the coming years.

From this book’s perspective, the concept of the ‘new type of great power relationship’ first expressed by China’s then vice president Xi Jinping in Feb- ruary 2012 is critical. Xi (2012) claimed that We [the United States and China] should work hard to implement the agreement between the two presidents, expand our shared interests and mutually beneficial cooperation, strive for new progress in building our cooperative partnership and make it a new type of relationship between major countries in the 21st century.

Xi identified four ways in which two countries should collaborate in order to foster the described new type of relationship: increasing ‘mutual under- standing and strategic trust’, respecting ‘each side’s core interests and major concerns’, deepening ‘mutually beneficial cooperation’ and enhancing ‘coop- eration and coordination in international affairs and on global issues’, including climate change. Moreover, Xi (2012) declared:

Our world is undergoing complex and profound changes. China and the United States should meet challenges together and share responsibilities in international affairs. This is what China–US cooperative partnership calls for and what the international community expects from us.

A couple of months later, then president Hu Jintao (2012a) reiterated the call for a ‘new type of great power relationship’ and emphasised the importance  of mutual trust. He stated that the ‘world we live in is big enough for China, the United  States and all other countries to achieve common development’.  In his report to the 18th National Congress of the CCP in 2012, Hu (2012b) asserted that China would continue to ‘play its due role of a major responsible country’, and the new type of relationship was included as a goal in the 18th Party Congress work report. After his nomination as China’s premier in 2013, Li Keqiang confirmed that the fifth generation of Chinese leadership would ‘work with the Obama administration to work together to build a new type of relationship between great countries’ (Jones & Lim 2013). That commitment indeed emerged as a key element of the Xi–Li administration.

In 2013, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi (2013) gave a rare comprehen- sive statement of China’s foreign policy titled ‘Exploring the Path of Major- Country Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics’. The following year, Pre- sident Xi introduced the concept of ‘major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics‘ at a high-level international conference in Beijing (Xinhua 2014). Although the official translation was thus ‘major country diplomacy’, the  Chinese  concept  大 国 外 交 could be translated  as ‘great power  diplomacy’. Wang pledged that China’s fifth generation of leadership would take a more proactive approach to diplomacy. According to Wang (2013), China  was ‘ready to respond to this expectation of the international community …  to undertake its due responsibilities and make greater contribution to world peace and common development’. He added:

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China is always conscious of its international responsibilities and obligations and stands ready to offer more public goods and play its unique and positive role in addressing various issues and challenges in the world.

After Zoellick’s speech in 2005, China has taken a more active part in UN peacekeeping operations, which can be viewed to signal its increasing accep- tance to shoulder great power responsibility (Foot 2001; Suzuki 2008). Nevertheless, China has not fully accepted the Western concept of human rights and other attributes of great power responsibility from the US per- spective (Kopra 2018). Therefore, as Pang Zhongying (2006, 9) notes, Wang’s statement does not necessarily mean that China is ‘fully prepared to embrace the notion that it is a custodian of the current international system, with all of the responsibilities that would entail’. In late 2014, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang confirmed that assumption: ‘China and the US are global eco- nomic partners, but the leader of the world is the United States. The United States leads the system and rules; China is willing to join the system and to respect the rules and hopes to play a constructive role’ (Chinaiiss 2014).

However, President Trump’s election in November 2016 dramatically changed that characterisation. Trump had already clarified during his pre- sidential campaign that his administration would no longer lead international society or follow its rules, as China and other states had expected it would. For China, that shift opened up a new opportunity to define and demonstrate how it perceives great power responsibility. For instance, President Xi seized an opportunity at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2017 to praise positive aspects of globalisation and portray China as the champion of free trade (World Economic Forum 2017). By October 2017, China had become even more confident about its new global position. In particular, in his speech to the 19th CCP Congress, Xi (2017) declared that China had entered a new era of power in which it leads the world on political, economic, military and environmental issues. Given his speech’s extraordinarily strong emphasis on the development of military capabilities, it seems that Chinese leadership in the heralded new era is based upon not only economic power but also more traditional hard power. Xi also reminded the world that making ‘new and greater contributions for mankind is our Party’s abiding mission’ but did not comment upon how China would pursue that mission in practice.

From the perspective of great power responsibility, neither President Xi’s plans for China’s new era nor his ideas about a new type of great power relationship have marked any breakthroughs. The new type of great power relationship focuses more or less on core interests, not common ones that could be translated into new responsibilities for China and the United States. Implicitly, the conceptualisation calls for hard power and an attempt to per- suade the United States to respect China’s sphere of interest in East Asia (Kopra 2016; Kopra 2018). In that light, international climate politics pro- vides an interesting case in China’s emerging notions of great power respon- sibility. Chinese leaders often refer to the massive size of the state when discussing its global responsibilities, and though they dub China a ‘respon- sible big country’ (负责任大国), the Chinese conception could also be trans- lated as  ‘responsible  great  power’.  According  to  Xi  (2015),  for  example, Being a big country means shouldering greater responsibilities for regional and world peace and development, as opposed to seeking greater monopoly over regional and world affairs.’ Moreover, it seems that China increasingly identifies itself as a great power with great responsibilities in international climate politics and has planned policy measures to meet those responsi- bilities (cf. Kopra 2016; Kopra 2018). Due to its ‘international responsibilities and obligations  as a new type of major country’, China has not only issued  all of the important climate policies in joint statements with the United States but also promised to give more financial and technological support to devel- oping countries to assist them in fulfilling their climate objectives (China Daily 2016). At the same time, improving the country’s status and developing the first principle continue to be important elements of China’s climate policy. While China’s National Climate Change Plan (2014–2020) confirmed the state’s great power responsibility in climate change mitigation, it also defended the coun- try’s ‘legitimate development rights and interests’ (National Development and Reform Commission 2014, 4–5). Most clearly, China’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change published in June 2015 described China as a developing country but made no reference to great power responsibility.


As proponents of the English School have indicated, because climate change risks the security and functions of international society, great powers bear primary responsibility for mitigating it. While pluralists justify that responsi- bility by citing great powers’ functional role in international society, solidar- ists emphasise their diplomatic responsibility to advance human values and international justice as well. Arguably, environmental stewardship is a human value, and we can therefore expect great powers to shoulder primary respon- sibility for mitigating climate change. Great powers should fulfil such responsibility by assuming leadership roles in international climate politics and by pursuing domestic measures to halt climate change. Due to its emer- ging great power status, China has played an increasingly important role in the social processes in which great power responsibilities are formulated. Because it opposes Western views on the humanitarian attributes of great power responsibility, China has been keen to position climate responsibility as an important attribute of great power responsibility.


1          By analogy, Bull (2002 [1977], 53) observes the needlessness of formulating rules requiring people to sleep or eat, ‘which they may be relied upon to do’, but that most societies do formulate rules prohibiting killing and stealing, ‘which some of them [citizens] are likely to do, whether there are rules prohibiting this kind of behaviour or not’.

2          For examples, see Ikenberry, Mastanduno and Wohlforth (2009) and Mowle (2007). Although such a characterisation is mostly advocated by the United States, it has also been popular in China, where politicians, academics and the general public have called for multipolarity in world affairs, even if some now increasingly advocate the democratisation of international relations.

3          According to Dunne (1998, 106), ‘balance of power is likened to the first article of the “constitution” of international society’ in the papers of the British Committee.

4          For a detailed study on the League of Nations, see Zimmern (1945).

5          For a detailed overview of those developments, see Trombetta (2008).

6          By learning, I do not mean that new participants simply internalise existing rules of practices but that they learn to use or seek to alter practices in ways that best serve their interests and values.

7          In using that analogy, I do not literally mean that states should be treated as thinking, feeling persons. We need not study psychology in order to understand their behaviour.

8          However, Zoellick discussed energy security, which relates closely to climate change.

9          For a detailed analysis of China’s partnership diplomacy, see Su (2009, 35–41).

10       For a review of the debate, see Shambaugh (2013).

11       According to Xia (2001), those conditions are fourfold. First, if China is confident about the international security environment and international mechanisms, then it will integrate itself into international society and international governmental insti- tutions. Second, other countries have to help China to participate in international institutions because they will benefit and doing so will generate mutual trust and facilitate cooperation. Third, the strategic balance of US–Chinese–Japanese rela- tions should be established and maintained so that no party moves to control another. Fourth, the dispute over Taiwan should be resolved peacefully so that ‘China will be more willing to play as a responsible great power in the interna- tional community’ (ibid., 24–25).

12       For an in-depth study of the evolution of the concept of peaceful development, see Glaser and Medeiros (2007).


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SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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