China and Japan’s Quest for Great Power Status: Norm Entrepreneurship in Anti-Piracy Responses

Published date01 December 2012
Date01 December 2012
International Relations
26(4) 431 –451
© The Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permission: sagepub.
DOI: 10.1177/0047117812452441
China and Japan’s Quest for
Great Power Status: Norm
Entrepreneurship in Anti-
Piracy Responses
Lindsay Black and Yih-Jye Hwang
Leiden University
In responding to piracy in the Gulf of Aden, both Chinese and Japanese policymakers have
acted as norm entrepreneurs who intend to transform the dominant norms of international
society. Chinese and Japanese norm entrepreneurship is grounded in the ways in which foreign
policy actors construct and reconstruct their state identity. In China’s case, policymakers have
projected China’s self-image as a responsible and benevolent Great Power that derives from the
Chinese conception of Tianxia. Japanese foreign policy actors, on the other hand, have advanced
the notion of Japan as a bridge that mediates between East and West, developing and developed
states, members and non-members of international society. Although we do not advocate that
Chinese or Japanese norm entrepreneurship should be accepted uncritically, we do maintain that
there exist opportunities to combine and develop the multiple approaches that different states
promote to problems. This article has shown that dealing with Somali piracy is one such case.
China School, Great Powers, international society, Japan School, norm entrepreneurship, piracy
1. Introduction: China and Japan’s quest for Great
Power status1
International issues, such as piracy in the Gulf of Aden, provide opportunities for Great
Powers to emerge. From a realist perspective, Great Powers are defined by their material
capabilities that enable them to demonstrate their supremacy over their peers and rival
alliance blocs and maintain a balance of power in an anarchical system.2 Realist
Corresponding author:
Lindsay Black, Leiden University, Arenaalstraat 1, PO Box 9515, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands.
Dr. Yih-Jye (Jay) Hwang, Lange Voorhout 44, P.O. Box 13228, 2501 EE, The Hague, The Netherlands.
452441IRE26410.1177/0047117812452441International RelationsBlack and Hwang
432 International Relations 26(4)
explanations of Great Power responses to maritime piracy in East Africa highlight how
the massing of naval forces in the Indian Ocean serves as a kind of ‘beauty pageant’ in
which rival powers display and seek to enhance their military capabilities.3 Such accounts
stress the ‘obvious risk of countries competing for regional influence; this would mainly
concern relations between China, India, Japan and the USA’.4 English School accounts,
on the other hand, stress the social dimensions of Great Power status in addition to the
material aspects.5 As Barry Buzan notes:
great power identity … is a reciprocal construction composed of the interplay between a state’s
view of itself and the view of it held by other members of the international society. Since each
view affects the other, this social status is in a continuous state of flux.6
In international society, states must therefore constantly demonstrate and defend the
legitimacy of their actions.7
Suzuki Shogo further explores the social dimension of Great Power status.8 He distin-
guishes ‘frustrated’ from ‘legitimate’ Great Powers. According to Suzuki, China and
Japan constitute frustrated Great Powers, as both possess the requisite economic, mili-
tary and political capabilities to play a central role in the management of international
society but are not accorded the ‘social privileges’ or ‘legitimate status’ that are required
to constitute the rules and norms of international society.9 China is denied equal status by
the legitimate Great Powers, consisted of the United States, France and Britain, on
account of China’s human rights record, authoritarian system and the threat of its mili-
tary rise.10 Japan, on the other hand, is derided for its ‘chequebook diplomacy’, paying
the cost of upholding international security but failing to make adequate troop commit-
ments.11 As a result, China and Japan are unable to make a normative contribution to
international society and are therefore forced to play ‘recognition games’, where they
attempt to impress ‘legitimate’ Great Powers in their quest for Great Power status.
Is it the case that China and Japan do not attempt or indeed contribute to the norms of
international society? In our view, Chinese and Japanese actors perceive themselves to
be acting as norm entrepreneurs who practice alternative approaches based on their self-
identifications to resolve international issues, such as maritime piracy. We therefore
locate our argument among culturalist and postcolonial perspectives that focus on how a
state’s identity informs its foreign policy practice, in contrast to Suzuki’s position that
defends constructivist and English School arguments that international society socializes
states to abide by common norms.
The article first details the contributions of culturalist and postcolonial perspectives to
foreign policy analysis. In this section, we explore how China and Japan’s self-identifi-
cations are rooted in their historical experience within international society. We proceed
to outline how a state’s capacity for norm entrepreneurship is shaped by this historical
experience, as policymakers privilege certain values in the policymaking process. In the
second section, we highlight how the concept of ‘Tianxia (all under heaven) has informed
Chinese foreign policy to stress that legitimate intervention and responsible power in
international society are grounded in rituals determined by high morals and ethics. We
then develop the concept of Japan as a ‘bridge between civilizations’ acting as an inter-
mediary between East and West based on its anti-militarist norm. In the third section, we

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