China Debates the Non-Interference Principle

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China Debates the Non-Interference Principle, Chinese Journal of International Politics, Volume 9, Issue 3

Although Beijing maintains its diplomatic stance of ‘non-interference’ in the internal affairs of other countries, a debate has appeared in recent years on the sustainability of this principle. The various arguments fall into three general groups: abandoning the principle; strict adherence to the principle; and more flexibility in practice while maintaining the principle. Among them, the third, represented by new concepts like ‘creative involvement’ and ‘constructive involvement’, has attracted growing support in academic circles. After a close reading of certain representative arguments, this article suggests that the controversies among different analysts derive largely from divergent judgments on two interrelated, strategic issues: whether China should continue to keep a low profile in global affairs, and China’s relations as a whole with the Western-led international society. The non-interference debate thus reflects the conflicting orientations that underlie the worldview of contemporary China, and the non-interference dilemma Beijing faces. The impact of the debate on Beijing’s policy is difficult to ascertain, but it is noticeable that in spite of its unquestioning commitment to sovereignty and non-interference, which will not change in the short run, the Chinese government is nevertheless moderately adjusting its policies. A loose pragmatic consensus among scholars both reflects and brings about this change.

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