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Who Defines the ‘International Community?’

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China Power

Who Defines the ‘International Community?’

After decades of the West using the concept, Beijing is turning the tables.

China is trying to turn the tables and redefine the powerful concept of the “international community.”

After decades during which the West has used the concept of “international community” to put pressure on China to accept such things as Western-defined “international norms,” Beijing has decided to go its own way. In fact, the Chinese are setting up their own definition of “international community” to counter what they see as a western-dominated and defined international community.

China’s position was disclosed on September 1, when the Communist Party’s official newspaper the People’s Daily published an online commentary titled “How world opinion kidnapped by West’s ‘international community’ rhetoric.”

“Some Western politicians,” the commentary said, “often make improper comments in the name of ‘international community’ when they talk about the international affairs…. In their eyes, they are the ‘international community.’”

War-torn Syria, for example, is one country where there are sharply divided views between the West on the one side and China and Russia on the other. This has paralyzed the United Nations Security Council, with the Chinese and Russians blocking any proposals that could lead to the replacement of the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

European and American media, the commentary said, often suggest implementing more stringent sanctions on Syria and criticize Russia and China for “running counter to the international community.” In their eyes, the commentary said, “China and Russia, which have a population of over one billion, are not included in the ‘international community.’”

Clearly, this was not the view of a lone Chinese commentator. It was immediately followed by what was ostensibly a news article by the state news agency Xinhua, which reported that amid escalating violence in Syria, “the international community renewed its calls for a peaceful settlement to the crisis.”

The article quoted a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov and the Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, who spoke on the telephone with Lakhdar Brahimi, the new U.N.-Arab League special envoy to Syria.

It did not refer to any American or European views. The voices quoted by Xinhua, it seems, constitute the “international community” in China’s eyes.

This tit-for-tat response is another sign of China’s new-found assertiveness and its unwillingness to accept a Western-imposed international system as China continues to rise. More flexing of Chinese muscles is likely to follow.

Frank Ching opened The Wall Street Journal’s Bureau in China in 1979. Now based in Hong Kong, he writes a weekly column on Chinese affairs. His articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, World Policy Journal, China Quarterly, Current History and the Washington Quarterly, among other publications.