Explaining the East Asian order beyond the “ Westphalian straitjacket ”

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Traditionally, studies of international relations (IR) have been Euro-centric and relate primarily to the histories and experiences of European countries (especially Western Europe) in establishing, maintaining and adjusting order. international. This is intrinsically linked to the roles played by these countries and their descendants.

As Burry Buzan and Richard Little note in their book “International Systems in World History: Redesigning the Study of International Relations”, today the development of theory in IR has been hampered by its confinement to ” Westphalian strait-jacket ”.

As a result, cultural and historical perspectives inconsistent with Western practice are essentially banished from IR theories.

To develop a truly meaningful world history of international systems, it is necessary to completely rethink how to approach the conceptualization of the international system.

According to Buzan and Little, existing traditional conceptualizations pose two problems.

“First, because they are so closely modeled on the Westphalian international system, they are unable to grasp the huge swathes of world history where international systems have taken a radically different form. Second, earlier international systems are only adopted by the Westphalian model because the conceptualization of what constitutes an international system is so narrowly defined. “

Unfortunately, there has not been enough study in the accounts of international relations across all of human spatial and temporal history from a comparative perspective, as this appears to be the pursuit of scholars of world histories and stories of civilizations.

Naturally, as a burgeoning discipline in the social sciences, IR studies should not only delve into these questions, but also approach the issues in light of the logic, thoughts, and methodology inherent in the discipline.

As each discipline focuses on a particular area of ​​inquiry, IR studies should pay more attention to the results of related topics like history.

And, accordingly, on the basis of the analysis, description and explanation of international problems, relevant studies could shed light on problems of a general nature, enriching existing theories of IR by disentangling the inherent laws and the basic mechanisms of this discipline.

Clearly, studying the historical experience of East Asia as an international system gives us insight into our contemporary geopolitical system, and studying these relationships in a clearly historical context promises to provide a new understanding of contemporary issues.

A Sino-centric view of the East Asian Order, primarily regarding the histories and experiences of East Asian countries (especially China) in establishing, sustaining and l ‘adjustment of the international order, is gaining popularity, mainly due to the leadership role of China as a major country, as well as “the transfer of world power from the West to the East”, according to the word by Christopher Layne.

Explaining the East Asian order beyond the `` Westphalian straitjacket ''

Beyond the tributary system

Sino-centricity in IR studies can be attributed to the “Chinese world order” as proposed by John Fairbank, as shown by the view of trade and communications supported by the so-called “tributary system”.

Fairbank acknowledges that the tributary system, or the presentation of homage by the “barbarians”, was “a sign of their admission to Middle Empire civilization – a boon and a privilege, not an ignominious trial.” This practice constituted a mechanism by which the so-called barbarian regions outside the Chinese Empire were admitted into the Sinocentric cosmos. Some believe that this Chinese view of the IR is isolated, backward and blind, that China’s classic defensive strategy of the tribute system provides little guidance to meet the demands of commercially motivated Europeans, and this explains why the Sino-Western relations were so full of conflict. in the nineteenth century.

As James Hevia observes, “after Orientalism it became extremely difficult to maintain a position that purported to simply reflect or passively reflect ‘non-Western’ realities.”

Given the “complex hegemony” involving forms of political, economic and cultural domination of the West, few Western scholars could move beyond the influence of European studies and examine the international order of East Asia. from an intrinsically Asian perspective.

Describe, explain and analyze the East Asian order, with all its evolution and modi operandi, is by no means easy, but quite meaningful. One approach is, based on Western methods, to link Eastern and Western approaches by identifying commonalities and differences, with a view to finding a new horizon.

Some researchers have made progress in this area. For example, David Kang observes in his “East Asia before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Homage” that the historical experience in East Asia was quite different from that in Europe. , whether at the level of fundamental rules or the level of conflict between the main actors. . The ‘Westphalian’ European system emphasized formal equality between states and a policy of checks and balances; it was also marked by an incessant interstate conflict. marked by centuries of stability among the main participants, ”observes Kang.

the Lizhi approach

This study seeks to explore the evolution of the traditional East Asian order in terms of geopolitics and Lizhi, in an effort to provide a relatively comprehensive description, analysis and explanation of the historical development and peaceful stability that characterized the Order of East Asia.

This book seeks to account for the long-term stability of the traditional East Asian order (from around the first century to the early 20th century) and to explain that the historical evolution of the East Asian order East Asia is inextricably linked to the changes Lizhi (Li can refer to ritual, rites, ceremony, politeness, courtesy, etiquette, decorum or protocol. Zhi means governance.).

In East Asian history, there has been a remarkable 80-year period of peace (1760-1840), from national unification under the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to the break-up of the Opium War (1840-1842), a period comparable to the Centurial Peace in Europe (1814-1914), from the end of the Napoleonic wars (1799-1815) to the First World War (1914-1918).

If centural peace mainly refers to the stability and peace induced by adherence to the balance of power, what is the logic of the eighty-year-old peace in East Asia?

This research shows that a stronger China, marked by maturation Lizhi, leads to a more peaceful and stable East Asia. Specifically:

1. Growing power has enabled China to consolidate Lizhi at home and promote Lizhi to the outside world.

2. Tianxia Li (world rule based on Lizhi, compared with international law to the modern Western world since the Westphalian system) began to enter the normative process of codification and organization, and was gradually accepted by China’s neighbors.

3. Lizhi principles (such as self-control, reciprocity and just war), methods of using power under Lizhi logic, and international regimes to achieve Lizhi had developed well.

4) China’s assertion of international authority leads to Pax Li (peace under Lizhi) and the long stability of the traditional East Asian order.

The author is an associate professor at the Chinese Institute of Fudan University. This article is adapted from the preface to his book “Pax Li, The Long Stability of the Traditional Order of East Asia”. The views are his.



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