Power shifts in international organisations: China at the United Nations

Event Type
Special Issue Launch

Online, 28.05.2024


China Centre at the University of Oxford, Fudan University and IDOS

Global Policy Special Issue edited by Sebastian Haug, Rosemary Foot and Max-Otto Baumann

Has China’s expanding engagement led to any power shifts at the United Nations? This launch event – co-hosted by the China Centre at the University of Oxford, Fudan University and IDOS – provides an overview of key findings from a Global Policy Special Issue on how the world’s most prominent “rising power” engages with the world’s foremost international organisation.

The People’s Republic of China is central to current debates about power shifts in international organisations, but a systematic and comprehensive assessment of China-related shifts has been missing. This Special Issue contributes to addressing this gap and examines whether, how and to what extent China-related power shifts have unfolded at the United Nations (UN) over the last two decades or so. Drawing on the conceptualisation of power adopted by Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall, we define power shifts as changes in the ability of actors to shape others’ capacities to act, and outline a framework for analysing shifts in compulsory, institutional, structural, and productive power. Our analysis covers empirical insights from the UN’s three main pillars – peace and security, development, and human rights – and paints an uneven picture. Despite continuing Western dominance, China is mobilising more compulsory power means than two decades ago. Chinese attempts to enact institutional power have also increased but mostly unfold in multilateral niches and remain cautious. While China’s structural power position has expanded, China-related effects in productive power have so far remained limited and scattered. At the Special Issue launch, we provide a combined assessment of changes across power types and discuss research and policy implications.


Table of Contents


Power shifts in international organisations: China at the United Nations
Sebastian Haug, Rosemary Foot, Max-Otto Baumann


  1. Reining in a liberal UN: China, power shifts, and the UN’s peace and security pillar
    Rosemary Foot
  2. Accommodation available: China, the West, and structural power in the UN Security Council
    Richard Gowan
  3. ‘Wolf Warriors’ in the UN Security Council? Investigating power shifts through blaming
    Nicolas Verbeek
  4. From developing country to superpower? China, power shifts, and the United Nations development pillar
    Sebastian Haug, Max-Otto Baumann, Silke Weinlich
  5. Comprehensive power shifts in the making: China’s policy transfer partnerships with the United Nations
    Sebastian Haug, Laura Trajber Waisbich
  6. China, power, and the United Nations Special Procedures: Emerging threats to the “crown jewels” international human rights system
    Rana Inboden
  7. Powers of persuasion? China’s struggle for human rights discourse power at the UN
    Malin Oud
  8. Is power shifting? China’s evolving engagement with UNESCO
    Meng Wenting
  9. Chinese power at the World Heritage Committee: from learning the game to shaping the rules
    Steven Langendonk, Edith Drieskens
  10. A mixed funding pattern: China’s exercise of power within the United Nations
    Zhang Xueying, Jing Yijia
  11. Personnel power shift? Unpacking China’s attempts to enter the UN Civil Service
    Shing Hon Lam, Courtney Fung
  12. Between co-optation and emancipation: Chinese women’s NGOs and power shifts at the United Nations
    Cai Yiping

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