March 13, 2019

The conference room on the 9th floor of the International Affairs Building proved too small to hold all those interested in attending the Columbia-Harvard China and the World Program (CWP) Workshop on February 27. A standing-room-only crowd filled the room for the event’s keynote address, signifying a warm welcome for the program in its first year at SIPA.

A full-day conference was scheduled in a larger space the following day, but the kickoff event was a rare opportunity to attend a discussion with both directors of CWP Thomas Christensen, professor of international and public affairs at Columbia, and Alastair Iain Johnston, the Governor James Albert Noe and Linda Noe Laine Professor of China in World Affairs at Harvard.

When Christensen joined the SIPA faculty from Princeton University in July 2018, CWP relocated with him, so this year’s annual CWP workshop was the first to be held at Columbia University. The workshop is integral to the program’s mission of nurturing a community of scholars teaching the next generation of global citizens in times of China’s growing influence.

The 2019 workshop began with a special lecture entitled “China’s Approach(es) to International Order(s),” in which Johnston demystified the popular narrative of China as a revisionist power challenging the U.S.-led international order.

He pointed out that there are many elements of order where the two powers disagree, where they agree, and where one agrees but the other disagrees. For example, both are opposed to changes to the current permanent United Nations Security Council structure.

“China is rather a conservative power when it comes to maintaining the core institution of the UN,” Johnston said.

But they disagree over importance of political and civil human rights norms.

Moreover, Johnston corrected the presumption of the world order as monolithic and shaped by a hegemon’s preferred norms and institutions.

The research, he said, “moves the discussion of order from declared intentions of most powerful states to the everyday practices of states.

“For example, you see interaction of trade actors like companies, trade ministries, trade lawyers, unions, trade organizations; and this represents just one emergent property in one domain,” he continued. “There may even be contradictory issue-specific orders operating at the same time in the same geographical space involving same states.”

Johnston said the analysis of U.S.-China relations becomes much more complex when looking at how the two sides interact under different types of international order, including constitutive, military, political development, social development, trade, financial, environmental, and information. This was just a glimpse of the wide scope the workshop would cover in the next two days.

On day two, one of the presentations considered China’s use of coercive economic measures against various countries. An analysis showed that such tactics were deployed subtly because China wants to shape certain behaviors of its targeted countries but at the same time, it is wary of being perceived as a global threat.

While speakers on multiple panels agreed that China’s power is derived mainly from its economy, some argued that even its economic policy was not monolithic despite single-party rule. In fact, there are diverse actors that are competing to secure their own interests at home and abroad and it is difficult even for the central government to control or coordinate policy. It may be, therefore, difficult to assess what China’s overall stance is.

As the workshop came to a close, CWP Deputy Director Daniel Suchenski announced that next year’s workshop will be held in Australia.

Jeenho Hahm MPA ’19