Chapter 7: The international politics of disillusionment
International relations operate not just on the basis of hard interests and naked power; they are inherently mediated through ideas, representations and emotions. In the preceding chapters, we have examined how this is reflected in the theory as practice of the two China paradigms. As ambivalent desires of fear and fantasy, these paradigms not only belong to the intellectual realm of China watching, but are also complicit in the dynamics of Sino-Western interaction. In both cases, theory is intertwined with practice. Of course, I do not suggest a type of one-on-one correspondence between a certain theory (or emotion) and a particular type of practice or policy. Specifically, I do not claim that containment is the sole work of the ‘China threat’ theory, or that engagement is the only policy implication of the ‘China opportunity’ paradigm. As false promises, the China opportunity is an unstable, ambivalent structure of feeling that tends to oscillate between hope and disillusionment. While hope may justify engagement, what if that hope turns out to be an illusion?
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