In This Review

China, the UN, and Human Protection: Beliefs, Power, Image
China, the UN, and Human Protection: Beliefs, Power, Image
By Rosemary Foot
Oxford University Press, 2020, 336 pp.

In the decades after the Cold War, the United States and other leading democracies championed the idea of an empowered United Nations that would actively intervene in countries to protect human rights and safeguard civilians from armed violence. Foot shows how in more recent years, China has worked behind the scenes at the UN to promote a rival vision of security that emphasizes economic development, a strong state, and social stability. This groundbreaking study considers China’s efforts to shape UN peace operations, specifically the organization’s response to the Syrian crisis, and its broader attempt to subvert human rights principles and undercut the doctrine of “the responsibility to protect.” In Foot’s view, China is both reshaping and being shaped by the norms of the global system. It is pushing back against the Western-led liberal order in part by drawing on older notions of state sovereignty and self-determination. In an era of growing competition between China and the West, Foot offers a grand illumination of the normative battlefield.