The Genesis of Chinese Thinking on Sovereignty: A Conversation with Bill Hayton

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By: Bonnie S. Glaser

In this episode, Mr. Bill Hayton joins us to discuss the genesis of China's thinking about sovereignty and how this shapes Chinese foreign policy today. He discusses the influence of Western notions of sovereignty on China during the Qing Dynasty and argues that the dynastic tributary system is still reflected to some extent in China’s current international relations. He further argues that the Qing tribute system was important because of the domestic legitimacy it conferred on the Qing Dynasty. In addition, Mr. Hayton frames the volatile South China Sea situation in terms of sovereignty, describing control of the islands as a deeply emotional issue that is emblematic of national pride for China. He also explains how views of sovereignty could affect China’s approach to arms control, resulting in reluctance to accept third-party inspection of compliance with international treaties. Lastly, Mr. Hayton sheds light on China’s vision of an international stage characterized by relationships between individual and sovereign states rather than coalitions and blocs.

Bill Hayton is an associate fellow with the Asia-Pacific Programme at Chatham House and a journalist with BBC World News. Throughout his career, Bill has focused on a variety of regions, including the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, and Asia. He has written three books on Asia: Vietnam: Rising Dragon, South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia, and his latest book, The Invention of China, will be released in early November.