British Journal of Chinese Studies

dragon mural beijing 2018 copyright Gerda Wielander
Vol 10 (2020)

China’s Rise and “Responsibility” in the 21st Century

Astrid HM Nordin
Lancaster University
Graham Mark Smith
University of Leeds
Published July 3, 2020
How to Cite
Nordin, A., & Smith, G. (2020). China’s Rise and “Responsibility” in the 21st Century. British Journal of Chinese Studies, 10, 40-60.


In recent decades ‘responsibility’ has become a prominent idea in international political discourse. Against this backdrop, international policy and scholarly communities contemplating China’s rise regularly as “whether, when, and how” China will become a “responsible” great power. This article reviews, unpacks and questions understandings of responsibility in the debates about China. One strand of these debates argue that China can become responsible by adopting and promoting the existing status quo; the other argues that China acts responsibly when it challenges the unfair hegemony of the status quo. This article argues that both of these debates operate with a remarkably similar understanding of responsibility. Whether China adopts existing rules and norms, or whether it establishes rules and norms of its own, responsibility is understood to be rule and norm compliance. The article explores the possibility of an alternative understanding of responsibility suggested by Derrida. It is argued that a Derridian approach does not dispense with rules and norms, but is conscious of the irresolvable dilemma when faced with the demands of multiple others. Such an understanding is helpful insofar as it reminds those who would call for responsibility that such responsibility, and politics itself, is more than simply following rules and maintenance of norms.

  • Responsibility,
  • Derrida,
  • China as Great Power,
  • Xi Jinping,
  • Chinese thought,
  • Rules and Norms
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