China’s Quest for Peaceful Development
—— Rethink Power and World Order
Australian National University
Abstract. Since the emergence of modern nation-state in Europe, the Interna-
tional Relations (IR) discipline was born out of relevant research on modern
states. Further, IR is generally dominated by the Western perspective during its
development. Western IR theory (IRT) based on western history and western
philosophy, the Westphalia system makes western scholars believe that states are
in an anarchic self-help system, and the best way to keep a state actor safe is to
gain more power. Thus the Anarchy international system and the State's pursuit
of material power have become the theoretical assumptions recognized by the
Western IRTs. Based on the western IRTs, states prefer take radical foreign
policy to improve material power. However, the rise of China has challenged the
traditional Western IRT. Since 2008, China has believed in the grand strategy of
peaceful development, which is different from the western concern about the
power imbalance caused by the rise of great powers, Chinese leaders have con-
stantly emphasized the idea that great powers can also rise peacefully on various
occasions. As a country with rich historical and ideological legacies, China has
formed the Chinese IRTs based on its distinctive philosophy and history. This
article argues that Chinese IRT's emphasis on the Balance of Relations and the
Tianxia system could help us reassess the traditional Western IRTs view.
Keywords: Peaceful Development, Balance of Relations, Tianxia System
The discipline of IR was born from an Anglo-American perspective. With the
development of international relations theory（IRT）, most theories are based on
Western history and philosophy. Among them, an anarchy world order and the pursuit
of power among states are regarded as the presuppositions of most IRTs. The
indigenous Chinese IRTs recognized these concepts, but fostered a rethinking of world
order and power. These reflections are based on Chinese experience and historical
culture. Drawing on Chinese IRT, this essay takes China's quest for peaceful rise as an
example, arguing that China's pursuit of long-term interests and stable bilateral
relations is paramount. The perspective of Chinese IR is different from the Western
assumption based on the Westphalian system, and the balance of power under anarchy
is not the main logic of China's grand strategy. Seeking "balance of relationship（BoR）
© The Author(s) 2022
A. Holl et al. (Eds.): ICHESS 2022, ASSEHR 720, pp. 2445–2454, 2022.
"between major powers and using self-restraint to display the idea of Tianxia is a
supplement to Western IRTs by Chinese experience.
In general, relying on China's experience and strategic expectations of peaceful rise,
this essay argues that the BoR and Tianxia system is an appropriate complement to the
concepts of Balance of Power (BoP) and Anarchy in Western IRTs. China's experience
has enriched the IRT's understanding of world order and power. In the following, this
article will be divided in to three parts. First, this essay briefly introduces the strategic
connotation of China's peaceful rise. The second part occupies more paragraphs and
discusses the differences between the BoR offered by SIHI (2016) and the BoP.
The third part compares the Tianxia system in Chinese IRT and the concept of Anarchy
in Western IRT, and argues that Chinese IRTs have made necessary complements to
2 Rethink Balance of Power -- Chinese Experience
Realism believe that states quest for security through the Balance of Power theory.
For security reasons, it is hard for state actors to accept a rival far beyond their own
power in the self-help system. Therefore, when the material power among states
changes, actors will actively pursue the comparison of power and return to a state of
balance(Waltz 1979). Under such standards, China's peaceful development is
unimaginable (Mearsheimer 2001). The IRT based on the Western Westphalian
system emphasizes the self-help nature of the international system. Thus, the rise of
great powers is often accompanied by conflicts and wars (Allison 2017). On the one
hand，from the perspective of power transition theory, the United States, as an off-
shore balancer in East Asia, through its strong security system and its East Asian allies
is constantly trying to drag China into a hegemonic order that suits its interests（Goh
2019）. In terms of bilateral relations, since 2008, the US strategy towards China has
gradually shifted from hedging to containment（Jean and Wall 2016）. The strategy
to contain China's development is based on a BoP theoretical presupposition. On the
other hand, there are still many states in the world, at least in East Asia, where most of
China's neighbors complain about China's authoritarian leadership model and its re-
jection of multilateralism on territorial disputes.
Out of such reasons, this essay needs to answer why China chooses the path of
peaceful development in the struggle for power and world order? Wang (2010)
believes that China's peaceful development is still essentially a smart way of hidden
power and waiting for an opportunity, and that soft balance in a unipolar world are its
strategic purpose of continuously releasing goodwill. However, China does not export
a certain ideology or political model. Most of the provocations of small states are
verbally condemned, and its policy logic of sensitivity to bilateral relations and
self-restraint is still unclear. Combining the relational turn in Western IRT with the
BoR and Tianxia concepts in China's native IRT, this essay argues that China's peaceful
rise has its own endogenous logic that is different from that of Western IRT.
Buzan (2014) argues that the view about China lacks a sustainable grand strategy
can be stopped because "China has already articulated a grand strategy that is based on
2446 Z. Li
the home-grown idea." That means the idea of peaceful development is the basis of
China's foreign grand strategy. Among the first generation of Chinese leaders, Zhou
Enlai put forward the "Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence", and even Deng
Xiaoping once said: "China is not a superpower, and will never be a superpower. In
case one day, China will become aggression everywhere, A superpower that interferes,
bullies, and exploits other countries, the people of the world should unite and join the
Chinese people to overthrow it." Until around 2003, the concept of peaceful rise and
peaceful development began to be widely concerned by the world.
In 2003, when Premier Wen Jiabao delivered a speech at Harvard University, he
used the concept of "peaceful rise" to describe China's development strategy. However,
the word "rise" quickly misunderstood the connotation that Chinese leaders wanted to
express in Western public opinion. Since 2004, mainstream voices in China have
changed it to "peaceful development". From peaceful rise to peaceful development, we
can actually see different views on power between China and the West, and we can also
feel China's unique understanding of the international order. In 2011, the State Council
Information Office released the White Paper "China's Peaceful Development", which
systematically explained the discourse system of "peaceful development" and "har-
monious world", and put forward the concept of "a community with a shared future for
mankind" for the first time.
After President Xi Jinping came to power, China followed the strategic logic of
peaceful development and proposed to build a "community with a shared future for
mankind". Xi Jinping has repeatedly explained China's plan to "build a community
with a shared future for mankind" at the United Nations and other multilateral diplo-
matic occasions, made bold innovations in the discourse system of "peaceful rise", and
proposed a series of more inclusive and original peaceful diplomatic discourses, the
most representative of which is "New Great Power Relations" and "Correct View of
Righteousness and Profit". The new type of major power relationship implies a sensi-
tive bilateral relationship. Unlike the BoP, the BoR takes a longer-term perspective and
pursues a stable long-term coexistence pattern. Xi's statement that "the Pacific Ocean is
wide enough to accommodate China and the United States" is a vivid illustration of this
idea. The correct view of righteousness and interests is the principle of self-restraint
rooted in Confucian culture. Both of these points will be elaborated on in the following
To conclude, China's strategic concept of peaceful development contains two con-
notations: 1) Peaceful development pursues the BoR between major powers, not the
BoP. China pursues stable and peaceful long-term mutually beneficial relationships,
not driven by more power and short-term interests. 2) Peaceful development believes
that Anarchy is a system between countries, not a world system. The standard of the
world system exists in "Tao", and the country will be willing to exercise self-restraint in
order to maintain the operation of "Tao", in order to maintain the stability of the Tianxia
system. Yan (2016) argues that the implementation of the 'humane authority'
(Wang Dao) is the best way for major powers to conduct diplomatic strategies.
China’s Quest for Peaceful Development 2447
3 Meaning of Power: Balance of Relationship
From the perspective of neorealism, security is the primary factor in the international
system, and power is the primary means for states to obtain security (Waltz 1979).
When power is threatened or challenged, state actors tend to choose a more radical
approach. One example is Mearsheimer's (2014) view of the Ukraine crisis as
Russia's response to NATO's eastward expansion. Balancing NATO's eastward ex-
pansion is an important reason for Russia to send troops to Ukraine, which also verifies
the realism's emphasis on security and power. However, the agendas that China cares
about often do not fit into the power and interest considerations that mainstream IRT is
accustomed to. On the contrary, in order to ensure the stability of long-term relations,
China is sometimes very obsessed with the order of status and identity, and from time
to time has been asking its opponents to repeat their positions through various cere-
monies to guarantee them.
A similar situation with Russia does not apply to China. When faced with the
blockade of the island chain and the sale of arms to Taiwan, China did not take sub-
stantial BoP behavior. In fact, if China feels that its uncompromising position has been
undermined, it will usually show a tough stance for a period of time and launch bilateral
boycotts and condemnations against all parties, but after a period of time, it believes
that the sanctions have achieved a warning effect. , and took the initiative to restore
relations with all parties, and even delegated power and interests to encourage oppo-
nents to maintain a stable relationship. Many countries have gone through and under-
stood this process and know that China will not be tough all the time, which provides
them with an incentive to wait and reassure at the right time about the agenda that
China cares about. In theory, China's self-restraint and maintenance of bilateral rela-
tions are closely related to the BoR. This concept will be discussed in detail from three
First, to discuss the concept of BoR, it is necessary to clarify the meaning of rela-
tionship in Chinese IRT and its connection with power. Many ancient Chinese tradi-
tional books emphasize the importance of a space in between relationship (Guanxi 关
系). In Confucian worldview, the relationship between people occurs in a special field.
"Guanxi" in Chinese refers to the network of connections between actors based on
identity. This kind of "Guanxi" is formed in acquired exchanges, rather than the col-
lective multilateral relations based on a priori rule in Western theories(SIHI 2016).
In other words, the relationship in China's IRT is formed by continuous confirmation in
The Chinese IRT accepts the classic Western definition of power, “A has power over
B, which means that B will do what B would not do upon being asked by  (Dahl
1957).” Further, the Chinese IRT cares about the affiliation between A and B. Rela-
tionships link the Western concept of power with Chinese IRT, thus evolved a key
assumption of Chinese IRT that "power arises from relationships". (Qin 2009,
16-17) In other words, China’s IRT believes that power is derived from relationships,
the relationship constructed by state actors through interaction is the essence of power,
and power is contained in relationships. In practice, this also explains why China places
so much emphasis on the interaction and stability of the bilateral relationship, rather
2448 Z. Li
than the advantages of power. Because for state actors, power is contained in the af-
firmed relationship of superiority and inferiority.
Second, after clarifying the concepts of relationship and power, this paper needs to
explain the difference and connection between BoP and BoR. Neorealism regards the
state's fear of survival as a motivation for gaining power (Waltz 1979, 121). The
BoR agrees that states use the BoP as a rationale to defend their interests. However, the
theory of BoP is limited in the material behavior of foreign policy in some states.
Therefore, Huang (2015) proposes that BoR can be used as a supplement to BoP to
explain the behavior of countries changing foreign policy in the pursuit of long-term
interests. Different from fear-driven BoP, what BoR pursues is not to break the
original stable relationship network, but to correct the wrong relationship through
concessions and self-restraint, so that the other party can maintain a stable track. One
example is the secret alliance between Singapore and Taiwan in the 1970s (SIHI
2016), and another example is China’s tolerance for constant US provocation over
Taiwan. In both cases, concessions and self-restraint are fundamental to a country's
Huang(2015) argues that beyond the question of survival, the state has a relationship
that transcends uncertainty, while relationship also contains power. The ultimate
goal of the state's self-restraint is to obtain stable relations or correct wrong relations,
and it is ultimately for the long-term interests of both parties. This motivation, based on
maintaining stable relations, transcends the anarchy and fear of neorealists in the in-
ternational system. Specifically, BoR is a feeling of security, not physical absolute
security (Sihi 2019, 60). BoR believes that the path to achieving national security is
not limited to acquiring more power, and countries more often adopt self-restraint
methods under the premise of freedom from existential fear. BoR emphasizes a wisdom
that does not sacrifice future long-term benefits for immediate benefits, and it leaves
room for crisis management between countries. Therefore, for the sake of long-term
relationships, it is necessary in some cases to give up obvious, direct national inter-
ests(Huang 2015). BoR believes that using self-restrain to remind each other to
continuously confirm and evaluate each other between countries is an effective means
to achieve long-term balance in the relationship.
Third, BoR implies two principles in practice: 1) Remind the other party not to de-
stroy the existing stable relationship through self-restrain. 2) When confronted with
obvious provocation, destroying existing relationships becomes an option(Shih
2016). While the second principle is hard to come by, in the recent Russian-Ukrainian
war, we have seen how Russia has gradually abandoned self-restrain and chose to
destroy the wrong relationship with NATO. When the second principle is triggered,
states tend to be more inclined to take substantive action in the BoP. Russia tried to
establish a solid relationship with the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but
NATO did not give Russia an Affirmative Balance of relationship. Therefore, Putin
said in his speech on sending troops to Ukraine that "Russia has been deceived by the
In general, BoR adds to us another theoretical connotation of power besides BoP.
The BoR emphasizes self-restrain and necessary concessions to pursue long-term
stable relations between countries, with the aim of serving future bilateral interests.
China’s Quest for Peaceful Development 2449
This also explains why China has exercised necessary restraint on the issue of US arms
sales to Taiwan. China's peaceful development strategy essentially contains the BoR's
view of power. Specifically, China wants to establish a stable bilateral relationship with
the rest of the world, rather than compete for dominance of the world order. This also
responds to China's desire to replace the United States and establish a hegemonic order
in East Asia (Goh 2013). China's concerns often focus on the maintenance of bilat-
eral relations. An example is China's demonstration of nuclear norms in the Six-Party
Talks. Necessary to maintain, but no real action has been taken to curb North Korea's
nuclear weapons development, even though China is unlikely to allow itself an addi-
tional nuclear-armed territorial state. Another example is the “new type of great-power
relationship” that China repeatedly emphasized at the beginning of Trump’s presi-
dency. Its purpose is to focus on the long-term interests of the future with the United
States. Through continuous ceremonial confirmations, China hopes that the United
States can confirm its identity of peaceful development and not seeking hegemony.
This diplomatic strategy is inherently different from the Western IRT's presupposition
of the BoP.
4 World Order: Tianxia and Anarchy
No matter realism, liberalism or constructivism accept the theoretical assumption that
the world order is under an anarchy system . In the view of Western rationalists, state
actors are in competition with each other under the Westphalian system. In this
Hobbesian state of nature, the state must continually acquire power in order to
survive (Waltz 1979). While absolute cooperation is possible for liberals, anarchy
is also a prerequisite for rational choice by states (Keohane 2005). For
constructivists, anarchy is mutually constructed by the interaction between states, and
the state of nature is not necessarily Hobbesian, and a Kantian perpetual peace may be
possible (Wendt 1992). The Tianxia system is different from the Hobbesian
anarchy, and is similar to the viewpoint held by constructivism at the beginning.
However, based on the grand strategy and experience of China's peaceful development,
the Tianxia concept still has three points worth discussing.
First, the Tianxia system differs from the Westphalian system based on the
Hobbesian state of anarchy, which divides the state into individuals struggling for
survival (Ling 2013, 553). Tianxia emphasizes the relationship between people,
and the relationship determines the country's pursuit of BoR. Self-restrain and the
maintenance of the existing interactive network are the driving force of the country.
Shih (2019) believes that the translation of Tianxia needs to use "a system of all bound
to relate" to express its connotation, which distinguishes Tianxia from Democritus'
atomic individual from a philosophical level. Because of the existence of relations,
in the Tianxia system, actors will not become confrontational individuals alone, and
more countries will choose to maintain existing relations. It is the ideal state of the
Tianxia system if actors accept each other through mutually agreed role relationships,
free from supervision or interference by rules. In this situation, the actors are highly
self-disciplined and even benefit.
2450 Z. Li
The core of the Tianxia system stems from the Confucian observance of ritual and
Dao, specifically, ritual and Tao represent an intangible, permeable, and equal principle
of all things that exists outside or before the interactive order. The order evolved from
this original idea is defined by Shih (2019) as "an interactive mode that has been
formed in practice". This determines Tianxia's reciprocity, in other words, because
of Tianxia's morality, even the weak can restrict the behavior of the great powers in
bilateral relations. And great powers also need to constantly confirm their relationship
position in the Tianxia system by showing goodwill and responsibility.
Secondly, Tianxia is a world theory, not a theory between nations.This is different
from the still state-centric constructivist theory. Constructivism is still concerned with
national issues, while Tianxia is concerned with world issues. Tianxia system is not an
independent, sovereign political unit with very clear boundaries, nor is it the current
state-centered international system. It takes the whole world as a unit rather than an
individual as a unit to form order and design a system. Zhao (2006) believes that the
present world is a "non-world", which does not deny the existence of the present world
geographically, but emphasizes that the present world is in chaos. Chaos means the
disorder of the world. The existing institutional arrangements are all based on indi-
vidual sovereign states and basic units. What can only be formed is a fragmented world,
which is also a non-world. Global problem It cannot be solved in a non-world, the
solution can only be to establish an overall, non-exclusivity order system or institu-
tional system. Anarchy, on the other hand, focuses on sovereign states, ignoring the
demands of nations, cultures, individuals and international multilateral organizations.
The Tianxia system as a whole is an alternative to Anarchy, which focuses on frag-
Thirdly, Tianxia is different from hierarchy or hegemony. On the one hand, East
Asia has experienced a long tribute system in ancient times, so that some scholars
understand Tianxia as another expression of hierarchical order, and explain China as
the "Middle Kingdom", which is also the highest order. But in fact, Tianxia is com-
pletely different from the hierarchy. Zhao (2006) believes that the Tianxia system is an
anti-imperial political system, a political system that is open to all people in the world
as equals. Tianxia is not only “non-exclusivity” but also “for Everyone”. In prac-
tice, the Tianxia system confirms the relationship through superiority and inferiority.
Its essence lies in maintaining a stable relationship through continuous bilateral inter-
action to seek "for Everyone". This is why China's grand strategy of peaceful devel-
opment constantly emphasizes "a community with a shared future for mankind". At the
same time, in the process of bilateral exchanges, China confirms the relationship be-
tween the two sides by constantly ceding profits.
On the other hand, the Tianxia system is more fundamentally different from the
hegemonic order. The so-called hegemony in general international relations literature
basically refers to total control, especially through the control of the right to speak,
allowing everyone to automatically rationalize the existence of the existing order. For
example, Goh (2013) emphasized that the hegemony constructed by the United
States in East Asia is a hierarchical order in which both China and Japan are involved.
Logically, this hegemonic discourse helps to identify aliens and make them objects of
transformation. Since "the world" is an order that covers every thing in itself, it naturally
China’s Quest for Peaceful Development 2451
gives the outside world the impression that it must be another set of hegemonic control
rhetoric. However, what Tianxia conveys in the Confucian tradition is only to maintain
the harmony of the whole. In practice, it is through the interaction of each relationship
to evolve a bilateral role suitable for both parties, so as to transcend the original social
and cultural relationship between them. different forms. Bilateral actors interact for
Tianxia's harmony and have no internal reference, which is also reflected in China's
"principle of non-interference in each other's internal affairs".
If Tianxia must convey a figurative order, then this order is based on the "Fami-
ly-ship" order, because the family is a place full of love and care for everyone's feel-
ings, and it is also the only constant principle (Zhao 2006: 32-33). Furthermore,
Tianxia differs from Anarchy's theoretical presupposition that there is no supreme
being, the supreme in the Tianxia system must be filled by the most powerful nation,
this role is described as "Mandate of Heaven (Tianmin)" whose mission is to Take care
of everyone in the system and take on the responsibility of maintaining the stability of
the Tianxia system. Therefore, the Tianxia system is not like Anarchy, because in the
Hobbesian state of nature, each state actor wants to promote its own system as universal
to obtain maximum security. The idea of Tianxia is a priori existing in ancient Chinese
IRT, and at the same time it is constantly confirmed through interaction and practice. At
the beginning of the end of the Cold War in the last century, the United States had the
opportunity to undertake the test of "Mandate of Heaven", but its obsession with power
and the abuse of force made it disqualified from "Mandate of Heaven".
All in all, this essay uses China's grand strategy of peaceful development as an analysis
case. The purpose is to explore how Chinese IRTs based on the endogenous logic of
Chinese diplomacy could complement Western IRTs. The BoR and Tianxia systems
provided by Chinese IRTs enrich the connotation of existing international relations
theories. A non-Western perspective from the Chinese experience rethinks the world
order and enriches the meaning of power. The BoR theory offered by Shih and the BoP
theory developed by Western complement each other, make up the gap in the
theoretical explanation of the country's self-restraining for long-term interests. Inspired
by Chinese experience, we can know that the state does not always seek more power,
and the stability of the relationship is also embedded in the state's foreign policy. The
Tianxia system provides us with a vision of a great harmony world based on
'Family-ship', offering an alternative beyond Anarchy and hegemonic hierarchies.
At present, China's peaceful development and Chinese IRTs still have a long way to
go. China's concept of peaceful development is still subject to many challenges. The
impact of the Westphalian system makes it difficult for China to maintain the necessary
self- restraint in some cases. Therefore, most of the time, China can only adopt a dual
strategy, that is, on the one hand, it perfunctoryly abides by the rules of multilateralism
based on hierarchical hegemony, while in fact, it shapes its own agenda in bilateral
relations. Further, many political leaders who believe in 'power brings security' are also
challenging China’s Quest for Peaceful Development. But as Acharya (2019, 428)
2452 Z. Li
argues, non-Western IRTs offer a non-western perspective and the possibility beyond
Western theories. With the peaceful development of China, the concept of peaceful
development may gain more understanding and recognition in the world. At the same
time, with the efforts of scholars from diverse backgrounds and the development of
non-Western IRTs，it can also make the IR discipline truly grow into a theory of the
world rather than based on a narrow Western perspective. As the Tianxia system ex-
pects, it will create a world theoretical system about "For Everyone".
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