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What do China’s dramatic economic rise, engagement with the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) (and other established features of the international economic legal order), and rising assertiveness in external relations tell us about China’s past and likely future relationship to status quo international economic legal institutions and the norms they instantiate? What do these developments indicate about prospects for those institutions and norms? In China’s Rise: How it Took on the U.S. at the WTO, Gregory Shaffer and Henry Gao offer, or point us toward, answers to these questions. They do so on a grander scale than their relatively modest title indicates. In doing so, they engage seriously (if at times implicitly) with international relations theory and provide rich, original empirical support from fieldwork interviews. Their discussion of the relatively recent past—and its legacy—provides grounds for optimism among those who favor an institutionally robust and liberal international economic legal order. Yet, their analysis also finds, or suggests, ample reasons for pessimism in recent behavior and experiences of China and the U.S. in the WTO, and other developments in China, the U.S., and U.S.-China relations.

This response supplements and complements Shaffer and Gao’s analysis. The history of China’s participation in the WTO, and the largely liberal order of which the WTO is a key element, is ambivalent—perhaps more than can be conveyed in an account that gives center stage to Chinese informants who have favored adherence to international norms and participation in international institutions. The future may be more fraught than can be fully captured in a relatively brief final section of an article that focuses primarily on evaluating the past. This response addresses these issues from perspectives of international relations theories (many of which Shaffer and Gao note) and their application to China’s engagement with the WTO and related matters. The sections that follow are arranged, roughly, from least to most pessimistic (except for a final subsection).


International economic order, trade law, World Trade Organization, international relations, IR theory, constructivism, realism, globalization, Thomas Shaffer, Henry Gao

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University of Illinois Law Review Online

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2018 U. Ill. L. Rev. Online 57 (2018)