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Evolution of an applied understanding of humanitarianism: The China challenge

Sum, Tung Hing 2019. Evolution of an applied understanding of humanitarianism: The China challenge. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis challenges two issues of humanitarianism. The first one is the idea that humanitarianism is universal and uncontroversial and the second one is the using of humanitarianism as a single standard to judge whether a nation’s foreign policy is just. These issues underpin much of the comments on how China handles the humanitarian crises in the post-cold war period. The liberal world has perceived China as “irresponsible” and “unhumanitarian”. The thesis questions whether these perceptions are reasonable. This thesis also questions the reduction of state behaviour to the solely maximization of material interests. China does not adhere to the established humanitarian standard in the post-cold war period. Many have attributed its behavior to economic and geopolitical interests, including overseas markets, oil and other natural resources. This thesis challenges the one-dimensional account of state behavior. Humanitarianism purports to be a universally accepted standard, which transcends time and culture. This thesis is going to demonstrate that while the idea of helping people in need may be universal, but its content like the meaning of suffering and the understanding of how that suffering can be alleviated has evolved throughout the history. These contents are shaped by the constitutive norms of that timeframe. Therefore, humanitarianism is not understood the same way in all societies and in all historical periods. And humanitarianism is perceived as uncontroversial, as it is a manifestation of compassion, kindness and empathy which these qualities are innate to all human beings. This thesis is going to show that humanitarianism is controversial. The content of humanitarianism has been challenged for various reasons throughout the history. This thesis regards China’s unwillingness to subscribe to the humanitarian standard as a reflection of the controversy that has surrounded humanitarianism in the post-cold war period. And thesis argues that it is problematic to judge whether a nation’s foreign policy is just by only referring to the humanitarian standard. It is because there are other social norms that are more fundamental in the current international order. For instance, the principle of non-interference, which is derived from the moral idea that all nations are equally entitled to the right of self-determination, is the bedrock of the current international society of states and has been codified into international law. To determine whether a nation’s foreign policy is just, this thesis argues that these well-established principles need to be taken into account. State’s humanitarian actions should not derivate from these principles. Therefore, China, which insists on the principles of non-interference and self-determination in resolving humanitarian crises, should not be seen as “irresponsible” and “unhumanitarian” in spite of its refusal to support the post-cold war humanitarian standard. This thesis does not deny that economic and geopolitical interests play a role in shaping the China’s humanitarian policies. But material interests alone do not provide sufficient justification for China’s humanitarian engagement with places that have little economic and political significance. Following the holistic constructivist approach, this thesis insists that ideational factors need to be taken into account in order to have a fully picture of state behaviours. This thesis looks at how Confucianism, particularly the teachings of Confucius and Mencius, shapes China’s understanding of legitimate statehood and rightful state action, which informs China’s understanding of the root causes of humanitarian crisis and conditions its humanitarian responses. Confucian ideas contribute towards China behaving differently in handling humanitarian crises.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Law
Subjects: J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
J Political Science > JX International law
K Law > KZ Law of Nations
Uncontrolled Keywords: Humanitarianism, China, Christian Reus-Smit, Holistic Constructivism
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 2 October 2020
Date of Acceptance: 29 July 2020
Last Modified: 02 Oct 2021 01:30

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