Journal of Chinese Political Science

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 71–97

Sovereignty, Human Rights, and Responsibility: Changes in China’s Response to International Humanitarian Crises

Research Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11366-009-9083-5

Cite this article as:
Wu, C. J OF CHIN POLIT SCI (2010) 15: 71. doi:10.1007/s11366-009-9083-5


The question of whether human rights are above sovereignty has dominated China’s human rights discourse. Relying on a sovereignty-human rights spectrum, this article reviews China’s behaviors, particularly its participation in the UN Security Council, in managing the three major international humanitarian crises in the post-Cold War era—Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur, and finds that there have been impressive changes in China’s response to the crises. Yet, a content analysis of China’s official discourse on human rights finds that China’s attitudes towards sovereignty and human rights have not changed much. Drawing on constructivist international relations theory, this article attempts to explain the paradox. It is argued that the international discourse on the “responsibility to protect” has brought about changes in international norms regarding violations of human rights and humanitarian law, and that, having undergone in recent years an identity change from a defensive power of bitterness and insecurity to a rising power aspiring to take more responsibility, China is more concerned about its national image and more receptive to international norms, which has led to the changes in its response to international humanitarian crises.


SovereigntyHuman RightsResponsibilityChinaInternational Humanitarian Crises

Copyright information

© Journal of Chinese Political Science/Association of Chinese Political Studies 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of International Relations and Public AffairsFudan UniversityShanghaiChina