Unpacking the politics of great power responsibility: Nationalist and Maoist China in international order-building

Beverly Loke applies the concept of 'great power responsibility' to China, with particular focus on agency and processes of deliberation, negotiation and contestation.


Despite its prominence in the discourse of international politics, the concept of ‘great power responsibility’ remains largely unmapped in International Relations. Existing accounts tend to focus their analysis at a structural level and do not pay adequate attention to agency and processes of deliberation, negotiation and contestation. Drawing on constructivist insights to extend existing English School scholarship, this article unpacks great power responsibility as a socially constructed and negotiated concept. It develops a typology to further investigate the politics of great power responsibility and focuses specifically on four categories: the location, object, nature and rationale of responsibility (respectively, responsibility by whom, to whom, for what and why). This conceptual framework is applied to China at two important international order-building junctures: institutional construction during World War II and institutional accommodation in the Cold War. In doing so, the article illuminates China’s historical agency and uncovers the processes of both conflict and concordance that have shaped Chinese engagements with the question of great power responsibility.