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Huang, Qingming. “The Pandemic and the Transformation of Liberal International Order.” Journal of Chinese Political Science (2020): 1-26.


In 2018, 43 leading International Relations scholars in the United States signed a public statement in support of an urgent call to preserve the current international order, triggering heated scholarly debates. The idealized form of the liberal international order was criticized by many scholars for its chronic problems, including the contradictions between proclaimed liberal values and illiberal behaviors, the inability to reform its institutional pillars to accommodate the diverse group of emerging powers, and the tensions between the defenders of this order and its challengers. These problems became fully exposed under the external shock caused by the coronavirus pandemic. As the coronavirus spreads globally and disrupts the world’s political, economic, and social fabric, several forces that have gained momentum and strength during the last decade are now converging as a formidable force that may reconfigure the post-pandemic international order. This paper addresses three significant challenges to the foundations of the current liberal order: (1) the entrenchment of authoritarianism, characterized by authoritarian resilience, autocratization, and the consolidation of competing authoritarian political-economic models; (2) the exacerbation of nationalism enabled by nationalist and populist politicians; and (3) the intensified competition among major powers. China has played mixed roles in the process of reconfiguring the current order. It challenges the mythologized liberal international order and exposes the contradictions in the dominant Western model, while promoting an alternative hybrid political-economic model. The shock brought by the pandemic has provided ample opportunities for China to extend its networks and expand international space for its model.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.