China is a veto-holding member of the UN Security Council yet Chinese officials have been skeptical of using the powers of the UN to pressure nations accused of human rights violations. The PRC has emphasized the norm of sovereignty and rejected external interference in its own internal affairs. Yet they have supported UN intervention when states have been accused of mass human rights abuses. Why has China acquiesced and supported intervention? Neither realism or liberalism offer complete explanations for China’s seeming inconsistency. Courtney Fung
finds that social constructions by way of public discourse of regime change matter when embedded in wider material conditions. She argues that anxieties about loss of status help explain China’s choices.
In her new book China and Intervention at the UN Security Council: Reconciling Status
(Oxford University Press, 2019), Fung explores three cases involving mass atrocities: Darfur (2004-2008), Libya (2011-2012), and Syria (2011-2015). China’s focus on status requires thinking about China’s twin
statuses as both a great power and a developing state. China focuses on recognition from its intervention peer group: the Western, permanent members of the UN Security Council, US, UK, and France (P3). But China is also concerned with the Global South, which includes geographic-specific regional organizations and often the host state. Fung urges political scientists (and foreign policy experts implementing policy) to take “status triggers” in both
peer groups seriously.
Susan Liebell is associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She is the author of Democracy, Intelligent Design, and Evolution: Science for Citizenship (Routledge, 2013).