Discerning another state’s intention or motivation is arguably the most important and yet vexing challenge for those who practice or study foreign policy. As realists are fond of reminding their audience, leaders can always change their intentions in the future. Rationalist theorists concur when they emphasize the so-called commitment problem in enforcing interstate accords. International relations literature is replete with references to states’ supposed intentions or motivations as revisionist or status-quo oriented. Such attributions, however, are rarely backed up by systematic empirical evidence. Moreover, analysts are rarely clear about what they mean by the “international order” whose overthrow and defence are expected to motivate the respective policy agenda of revisionist and status-quo states. These analysts usually also analyze China in isolation without asking how its conduct differs from others such as the U.S. How have Beijing and Washington’s foreign policy orientations evolved over time, judging from their respective official pronouncements, participation in international institutions and agreements, and voting records in the United Nations? This ensemble of evidence challenges the conventional view that a rising power tends to be revisionist whereas an incumbent hegemon (even when in relative decline) is invariably committed to the defence of the international order. That the latter can abandon and even dismantle the pillars of this order that it has heretofore supported in turn raises important theoretical and practical questions.
About the Speaker
Steve Chan is College Professor of Distinction at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he teaches political science. He was the recipient of the Karl W. Deutsch award given by the International Studies Association, the Distinguished Scholar award given by this Association’s Foreign Policy Section, and the Marinus Smith award in recognition of his teaching at the University of Colorado. His research interests encompass theories of international relations (such as democratic peace, power transition) and political economy (such as defence economics, developmental states, economic sanctions) with a focus on East Asia. His publications include nineteen books and about one hundred and eighty articles and chapters. His most recent books are Thucydides’s Trap? Historical Interpretation, Logic of Inquiry, and the Future of Sino-American Relations (University of Michigan Press, 2020); Trust and Distrust in Sino-American Relations (Cambria, 2017); China’s Troubled Waters? Maritime Disputes in Theoretical Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2016); Enduring Rivalries in the Asia-Pacific (Cambridge University Press, 2013); and Looking for Balance: China, the United States, and Power Balancing in East Asia (Stanford University Press, 2012).