China and International Theory: The Balance of Relationships, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

China and International Theory

The Balance of Relationships, 1st Edition

By Chih-yu Shih et al.


286 pages | 3 B/W Illus.

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Major IR theories, which stress that actors will inevitably only seek to enhance their own interests, tend to contrive binaries of self and other and ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. By contrast, this book recognizes the general need of all to relate, which they do through various imagined resemblances between them.

The authors of this book therefore propose the ‘balance of relationships’ (BoR) as a new international relations theory to transcend binary ways of thinking. BoR theory differs from mainstream IR theories owing to two key differences in its epistemological position. Firstly, the theory explains why and how states as socially-interrelated actors inescapably pursue a strategy of self-restraint in order to join a network of stable and long-term relationships. Secondly, owing to its focus on explaining bilateral relations, BoR theory bypasses rule-based governance. By positing ‘relationality’ as a key concept of Chinese international relations, this book shows that BoR can also serve as an important concept in the theorization of international relations, more broadly.

The rising interest in developing a Chinese school of IR means the BoR theory will draw attention from students of IR theory, comparative foreign policy, Chinese foreign policy, East Asia, cultural studies, post-Western IR, post-colonial studies and civilizational politics.


"The authors generate a novel “balance of relationships” theory of international relations grounded in practice, self-restraint and bilaterality. BoR should help US decision makers better understand their Chinese counterparts, but the theory is also usefully presented as a general resource available to all states that choose to adopt a relational foreign policy." - Cameron G. Thies, Arizona State University, USA

"This book courageously establishes an innovative theory that is conceptually and culturally different from existing Western theories of international relations. It also provides appealing reinterpretations of the relationships between China and the United States and between mainland China and Taiwan." - Wang Jisi, Peking University, China

"The temptation when looking beyond “Western IR theory” is to code the potential contributions of thought that is grounded in experiences outside of Western Europe and North America in terms already familiar to the mainstream: as a new “ism,” as support for one or another existing school of IR thought, or as a completely distinct way of thinking about international affairs that serves as a comprehensive rival. This book avoids that temptation, producing instead a detailed engagement with dominant Anglophone IR that is grounded in the Confucian heritage, foregrounding “improvised resemblance” as a foreign policy strategy that doesn’t fit neatly of the existing categories that Anglophone IR thinking provides. The result is a bit disquieting, but for a profound purpose: to explore the tissues of resemblance and distinction between so-called “Chinese” and “Western” IR, and to perhaps afford us a better grasp of both." - Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, American University, USA

Table of Contents

Introduction: Relating China to International Relations

Part 1: Balance of Relationships

1. Relationality versus Power Politics

2. Relational Policy of Small States

3. Relational Policy of Major Powers

Part 2: Philosophical Resources

4. Relational Ontology

5. Buddhist State of Nature

6. Cyclical View of History

Part 3. Processes of BoR

7. Cultural Memory

8. Psychological Efficacy

9. Institutional Style

Part 4. Identities of the Theory

10. Plausible Post-Western Theory

11. Plausible Chinese Theory

12. Plausible Western Theory

In Lieu of a Conclusion: Four Caveats

About the Author

Chih-yu Shih, the primary author of this book, teaches international relations theory, anthropology of Knowledge, and cultural studies as National Chair Professor and University Chair Professor at National Taiwan University. Access to his current research—Intellectual History of China and Chinese Studies—can be found at Together, his writings on IR theory, intellectual history, and ethnic citizenship challenge familiar social science and humanity categories. His co-authors—Chiung-chiu Huang (National Cheng-chi University), Pichamon Yeophantong (University of New South Wales, Canberra), Raoul Bunskoek (National Taiwan University), Josuke Ikeda (Toyama University), Yih Jye Hwang (Leiden University), Hung-jen Wang (National Cheng-Kung University), Chih-yun Chang (Shanghai Jiaotong University), and Ching-chang Chen (Ryukoku University)—have all published critically on Asia in IR in general and on China, Japan, Taiwan and ASEAN in specific. They have come cross each other through different joint projects involving critical IR, post-Western IR, homegrown IR, global IR, Asian IR and Chinese IR. Their careers include professional posts in India, Germany, Thailand, Japan, the US, Taiwan, the Netherlands, Australia, and China.

Chiung-chiu Huang is Associate Professor at the Graduate Institute of East Asian Studies, National Chengchi University, Taiwan.

Pichamon Yeophantong is an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow and Senior Lecturer at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Australia.

Raoul Bunskoek is a Ph. D candidate in the Department of Political Science at National Taiwan University, Taiwan.

Josuke Ikeda is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Human Development, University of Toyama, Japan.

Yih-Jye Hwang is Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs, Leiden University College, The Netherlands.

Hung-jen Wang is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan.

Chih-yun Chang is a Research Fellow at the Department of History, Shanghai Jiaotong University, China.

Ching-chang Chen is Associate Professor at the Department of Global Studies, Ryokoku University, Japan.

About the Series

Worlding Beyond the West

Historically, the International Relations (IR) discipline has established its boundaries, issues, and theories based upon Western experience and traditions of thought. This series explores the role of geocultural factors, institutions, and academic practices in creating the concepts, epistemologies, and methodologies through which IR knowledge is produced. This entails identifying alternatives for thinking about the "international" that are more in tune with local concerns and traditions outside the West. But it also implies provincializing Western IR and empirically studying the practice of producing IR knowledge at multiple sites within the so-called ‘West’.

We welcome book proposals in areas such as:

  • Critiques of Western-centric scholarship and policy-making.
  • The emergence of new theories and approaches from ‘the periphery’.
  • The challenges for the discipline at large in accommodating its post-Western phase, and the political and ethical dilemmas involved in this.
  • Concrete studies of the results of approaching issues and agendas in ‘the periphery’ with the tools offered by core thinking.
  • Work by scholars from the non-West about local, national, regional or global issues, reflecting on the importance of different perspectives and of geocultural epistemologies.
  • Studies of ‘travelling theory’ – how approaches, concepts and theories get modified, re-casted and translated in different contexts.
  • The meaning and evolution of major concepts in particular regions, such as security thinking, concepts of globalisation and power, understandings of ‘economy’ and ‘development’ or other key categories in particular regions.
  • The sociology of the discipline in different places – with a focus on a country, a region, on specific research communities/schools, subfields, or on specific institutions such as academic associations, journals, foundations or think tanks.
  • Empirical studies of epistemic practices and the conditions of knowledge production in different Western and non-Western locales and sites.
  • Studies of the interaction between different knowledge producers, such as processes of expertise or the dialogue between intellectuals, academics, bureaucrats and policy elites.

Series Editors: Arlene B. Tickner, Universidad del Rosario, Colombia, David Blaney, Macalester College, USA and Inanna Hamati-Ataya, University of Cambridge, UK

Founding Editor: Ole Wæver, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Learn more…

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