Rhetorical adaptation, normative resistance and international order-making: China’s advancement of the responsibility to protect

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Abstract

How do rising powers execute normative resistance to shape international order? Contrary to the existing literature, I argue that rising powers are productive agents of normative change and international order-making, through the use of rhetorical adaptation to contest pre-existing orders. Rhetorical adaptation is a strategy and set of tactics that simultaneously modifies norm content, while reducing critiques of obstructionism. To make this argument, this article traces China’s efforts as a ‘norm shaper’ regarding the responsibility to protect through the inception, institutionalization and implementation of the norm in the landmark 2011 Libya intervention. China layers traditional sovereignty norms under the responsibility to protect, focusing and narrowing the emerging norm by fortifying the primacy of the state. While I show how China resists co-option into an evolving ontological order that challenges traditional sovereignty, the article also addresses the unforeseen consequences of China’s normative efforts that ‘backfired’ to permit the use of the responsibility to protect to justify Libyan regime change. More broadly, this article speaks to rising powers as agents crafting international order, and the process of normative resistance that occurs throughout the norm life cycle. I draw from publicly available documents and semi-structured interviews with Chinese foreign policy and United Nations elites.

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APA

Fung, C. J. (2020). Rhetorical adaptation, normative resistance and international order-making: China’s advancement of the responsibility to protect. Cooperation and Conflict, 55(2), 193–215. https://doi.org/10.1177/0010836719858118

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