‘Mirror, mirror on the wall’
China and the concept of multipolarity in the post Cold War era
in National perspectives on a multipolar order
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This chapter investigates the Chinese discourse on multipolarity and the related concept of multipolarisation. Nicholas Khoo and Zhang Qingmin provide an overview of the history of the use and abuse of the concept in both official Chinese discourse and academic scholarship, with an emphasis on the 1970s onwards. They focus on the notion of ‘multipolarisation’ – a dynamic, and potentially long and complicated process through which a multipolar order will emerge – in Chinese discourse and its role in discussions over Chinese foreign policy and grand strategy. Khoo and Zhang distinguish between the state’s view of this concept and the views of scholars, highlighting key differences around the respective Marxist and realist interpretations of this structural phenomenon that have emerged over the years. In the scholarly discourse, the authors also highlight the role of critics of the consensus on both the analytical and normative arguments about the prospect of a multipolar order. This section of the chapter focuses principally on the views of two very prominent academics, Ye Zicheng of Peking University and Yan Xuetong of Tsinghua University. Ye has challenged the mainstream Chinese consensus by offering a more nuanced perspective on the process of multipolarisation itself, while Yan has argued that the view that international structure is moving towards multipolarisation fails to reflect reality, and that bipolarity rather than multipolarity is taking shape.

National perspectives on a multipolar order

Interrogating the global power transition

Editor: Benjamin Zala

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