Sovereignty Costs and China’s Socialization into International Society: Evidence from China’s Approach to Hard Law

Jing Tao, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program (CWP)

Commentator, William W. Burke-White, Richard Perry Professor of Law , Inaugural Director, Perry World House, University of Pennsylvania


| CSCC Conference Room, Fisher-Bennett 345

This study uses three types of hard law with mandatory dispute settlement mechanism, i.e. bilateral investment treaties (BITs), the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to examine the depth of China’s socialization into international society, and its strategies on signing and ratifying legalized international treaties. Prior literature in general views China as being gradually socialized by international norms, but does not adequately address the quality of socialization, because most studies focus mainly on China’s policy changes in soft institutions, which do not allow enough observations of its behaviors in high-cost settings. This study shows that China is still in a weak socialization process, as its authoritarian regime and the preexisting sovereignty norm have limited the degree to which China internalizes new international norms and integrates with international society. China delegates disputes solely in non-core sovereignty issue areas, where sovereignty costs are relatively low, but not in core issue areas, which concern China’s regime security and territorial unity. The primary driving forces for China’s cooperative behaviors in non-core issue areas are the evolution of its new strategic interests and social pressure, rather than norm internalization. Accordingly, China ratifies BITs and the UNCLOS, which incorporate flexible exclusion and reservation clauses and allow China to maintain enough policy autonomy, but flatly rejects the Rome Statute of the ICC, which does not allow any reservations and may have negative impacts on its territorial integrity and regime security.