Towards an Asian regional order led by China and India

Daniel A. Bell

A morally justified hierarchy within a state involves a conception of service: the rulers are supposed to serve the people.1 The rulers needn’t be pure altruists, but the state’s policies should aim mainly to benefit the people rather than the rulers, and such policies are more likely if the rulers are at least partly motivated by the desire to serve the people. Morally justified hierarchies between states are different. The rulers of states owe their first obligations to their own people, and they cannot be expected to systematically sacrifice the interests of their own people for the interests of people in other states. Hierarchical relations between states must be reciprocal: they must benefit people in both powerful and weaker states. In other words, they must be “win-win”.

But there are two kinds of reciprocity. One kind — let’s call it “weak reciprocity” — is the ideal that hierarchical relations between states should be mutually advantageous. Each state thinks from the perspective of its own state (more precisely, the rulers think of the interests of their own people), and they strike deals or make alliances if they are beneficial to (the people of) both states. But weak reciprocity is fragile. Once the situation changes and the deal is no longer advantageous to one of the states, that state can simply opt out of the deal, just as the Trump administration seems to have decided to renegotiate or scrap free trade accords (and even security alliances) on the grounds that those deals no longer benefit the United States (if they ever did). Weaker states are particularly vulnerable under the terms of weak reciprocity because they are subject to the whims of the stronger states that can decide to change the terms of the deal. Another kind of reciprocity — let’s call it “strong reciprocity” - is the ideal that both states come to think of their alliances from the perspective of both states, no longer simply from the perspective of their own state.

The rulers no longer think simply in terms of benefiting their own people, and they are willing to stick with deals or alliances even if (temporarily?) the deals may be more beneficial to the people of other states. Moreover, what counts as the interest of each state itself comes to be influenced, at least partly, by the interests (and culture and history) of the other state: there is mutual learning that affects how people think of their own interests and conceptions of the good life. A former enemy state can come to be seen as a friendly state with shared interests and values. One example might be the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. Strong reciprocity is more demanding (and perhaps rarer) than weak reciprocity, but it is more stable and more beneficial for the weaker states.

Does the ideal of reciprocity, whether strong or weak, between hierarchical states still matter in the modern world? Not on the (juridical) face of it. We are supposed to live in an age of equal sovereign states. The Peace of Westphalia treaties in 1648 set in stone the ideal of equality between sovereign states that are supposed to respect each other’s sovereignty and refrain from interfering in each other’s domestic affairs. This ideal started in Europe, and slowly spread to the rest of the world. In 1945, the United Nations generalized the one-person-one-vote principle to the level of states, with each state given equal representation regardless of size and wealth. Much theorizing in (Western) international relations is based on this ideal of formal and juridical equality between sovereign states.

In reality, however, states are neither equal nor sovereign. As David A. Lake puts it, “sovereignty is a bundle of rights or authorities that can be divided among different levels of governance and different rulers ... Treating sovereignty as divisible allows authority between states to vary along continua of lesser or greater hierarchy”.2 It takes only a moment’s reflection to realize that the global order consists of a hierarchy between different states, with some states having more de facto power than others. Nobody really cares about the fact Nicaragua didn’t sign up to the Paris climate change accord, but President Trump’s decision to withdraw from this accord may be a global disaster because of the United States’ disproportionate power to set the global agenda. Even the United Nations expresses the fact of global hierarchy: the most important decisions are often taken at the level of the Security Council which distinguishes between permanent members, non-permanent members of the Security Council, and ordinary member states. That’s why rising powers such as India and Brazil fight hard (thus far unsuccessfully) for recognition as permanent members on the Security Council.

If theorists of international relations aim to develop theories that explain the behavior of states and (more ambitiously) predict outcomes in the international system, then theorizing should be more attentive to the reality of hierarchy between states. There may also be good normative reasons to justify hierarchies between states. If it’s just a matter of strong states bullying weaker ones to get what they want, normative theorists can just step aside. But strong states do good things for the global order as a whole. However much we worry about “rogue” leaders in strong states who sabotage global agreements, it would be much harder to forge agreements for dealing with global challenges such as climate change in an international system characterized by states with equal power to shape and withdraw from global accords.3

Hierarchical systems can also contribute to international peace: as Yan Xuetong puts it, “if we examine recent international history, we can see that in those areas that implemented hierarchical norms, international peace was better maintained than it was in areas that had norms for equality. During the Cold War, the equal status of the United States and the Soviet Union was such that they undertook many proxy wars in order to compete for hegemony, while their special status in NATO and the Warsaw Pact, respectively, enabled them to prevent the members of those alliances from engaging in military conflict with one another”.4 Moreover, hierarchical arrangements can actually benefit weaker states because this sense of dominance means that states have extra responsibilities. Security hierarchies, for example, reduce the level of defense expenditure in subordinate states.’ Unequal economic power can also benefit weaker states. Rather than insisting on equal reciprocity with weaker states, strong states can gain their support by allowing differential international norms that work in their favor: for example “in the cooperation of the 10+1 - the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China — China is required to implement the norm of zero tariffs in agricultural trade before the ASEAN states do. This unequal norm enabled the economic cooperation of the 10+1 to develop more rapidly than that between Japan and ASEAN. Japan’s demand for equal tariffs with ASEAN slowed the progress of economic cooperation with the ASEAN states, which lags far behind that of China and ASEAN”.6 With extra powers come extra responsibilities, and it’s not completely utopian to suggest that strong states do occasionally act on those responsibilities and should be held accountable if they fail to do so. At the very least, we need theories that can help us distinguish between good and bad forms of international hierarchies and help us think of how to promote the good forms and avoid the bad ones. Hence, as Lane puts it, “like a Gestalt shift picture ... refocusing on hierarchy reveals an alternative reality that has always been with us if we would but choose to see it”.7

But we don’t need a “Gestalt shift” as much as a return to ancient ways of thinking. In both classical India and classical China, political thinkers developed rich and diverse theories of international politics that took hierarchy between states for granted. We can mine these ancient theories for contemporary insights. Some political thinkers in ancient India and China defended the ideal of weak reciprocity between hierarchical states, and others argued for strong reciprocity. This chapter leads off with a discussion of (some) ancient Indian views of hierarchical global order, followed by a discussion of (some) ancient Chinese views of hierarchical global order. The final section will argue for an ideal of “one world, two hierarchical systems” that may be appropriate for future forms of global order.

Hierarchical ideals of global order in ancient India

In ancient India, the most systematic work in inter-state relations is Kautilya’s Arthasastra: the English translation runs over 400 pages, more than half of which is devoted to foreign policy and war.8 Kautilya probably flourished in the first century CE and tradition identified him as the shrewd minister who brought the king to power and established the Maurya dynasty. He makes Machiavelli look like a sentimental idealist; had his work been more influential in Europe, we’d be using the term “Kautilyan” rather than “Machiavellian” to describe amoral realism in international politics. Writing in a time of small kingdoms ruled by monarchs, he assumed a state of warfare as the norm. The ruler should do his best to expand his territory, without moral or religious constraints. Quite the opposite — he should go out of his way to prey on people’s superstitious beliefs to further his own ends. Consider the following list of tactics for assassinating the enemy:

During a pilgrimage for worshipping a divinity, there are numerous places that (the enemy) will visit to pay homage according to his devotion. At those places, he should employ trickery on him. Upon him, as he enters a temple, he should make a false wall or a stone fall by releasing a mechanical device; or set off a shower of stones or weapons from an upper chamber; or let a door panel plunge; or release a door bar attached to a wall and secured at one end. Or, he should make the statue, banner, or weapons of the god fall upon him. Or, in places where he stands, sits, or walks, he should arrange for poison to be used against him by means of the cow dung that is smeared, the scented water that is sprinkled, or the flowers and powders that are offered. Or, he should waft over to him lethal smoke concealed by perfume. Or, by releasing a pin, he should make him plunge into a well with spikes or a pitfall that is located beneath his bed or seat and whose top surface is held together by a mechanical device.9

Kautilya’s most important contribution to inter-state political thinking is the theory of mandala, the circle of kingdoms. As Patrick Olivelie explains, “A king is surrounded in a circle by other states, and because they have common boundaries with him, they are his natural enemies. Around these enemy kingdoms is a second circle of kingdoms. Because they about the territories of enemy kings of the first circle, they become his natural allies: my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Those forming the third outer circle would, by the same logic, be the enemies of his allies, and thus his own enemies — and so on”.10 The theory of mandala assumes rough parity between states in the sense that all states can wage wars against each other, but, to repeat, there is no “modern” proviso about the need to respect the territorial integrity of states, hence no theorizing that assumes equality of states. Quite the opposite: the constant quest for expansion of territory means that the size, wealth, and power of states shift in accordance with the gains and losses of territory that result from a near constant state of warfare.

But the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend can also lead to mutually beneficial outcomes: to help justify the Chinese Communist Party’s alliance with the Kuomintang in the struggle against Japanese imperialism, Mao Zedong famously said, “We should support whatever our enemies oppose and oppose whatever our enemies support”.11 This principle also helped to justify rapprochement with the United States when both countries had the Soviet Union as a common enemy. Kautilya himself affirms that kings should strive for mutually beneficial peace pacts: “When the gain is equal, one should conclude a peace pact”.12 Even weaker kings can initiate peace pacts with stronger powers: “When a weaker king is overwhelmed by a stronger king with a superb army, he should quickly submit with a peace pact by offering his treasury, his army, himself, or his land”.13 But “weak reciprocity” in the form of a mutually beneficial peace pact is temporary at best. For one thing, a peace pact cannot fundamentally challenge the ally / enemy configuration specified by the theory of the mandala. A peace pact formed by two natural enemies with contiguous boundaries is possible but deeply unstable. And boundaries can change, so that one’s natural ally can become a natural enemy if conquests result in two formerly friendly states with contiguous boundaries. More fundamentally, a ruler can -and should — disregard the peace pact when it’s no longer in his or her interest to maintain it. Kautilya takes this point to its profoundly cynical extreme: “When he wishes to outwit an enemy who is corrupt, hasty, disrespectful, and lazy or who is ignorant, he should tell him ‘We have entered into a peace pact’ without fixing the region, time, or task. Through the confidence generated by the peace pact, he should find his vulnerable points and attack him”.14 Hence, a Kautilyan-style “peace pact” should be viewed as nothing more than a strategy designed “to outsmart, outmaneuver, and finally overpower the king with whom he has concluded the pact”.1’ Rulers should never lose sight that the ultimate aim is territorial conquest: bigger is better, and too bad for the smaller states that end up on the losing side. Some states become so large that they are outside the mandala theory of ally and enemy: large states led by powerful kings can be neutral. And what happens when a powerful “neutral” king conquers much of the (known) world? At that point, is it possible to move from “weak reciprocity” to a more stable “strong reciprocity” between hierarchical states? Kautilya does speak of the “righteous king” as a protector of social harmony,16 but it’s Ashoka who shows the way.

Ashoka Maurya, commonly known as Ashoka and also as Ashoka the Great, was a successful conqueror who ended up ruling almost all of the Indian subcontinent from circa 269 BCE to 232 BCE. He relied on Kautilyan-style methods to conquer territories, including the brutal war against the Kalingas (today’s Orissa) with 100,000 killed and 150,000 taken away as captives. At the height of his power, however, Ashoka had a conversion to Buddhism that radically changed his outlook from warmongering to peace-loving (his experience is perhaps the most striking counter-example to the dictum that power corrupts). He expressed profound regret for the Kalinga war and propounded a commitment to dharma, which can be roughly translated as the moral way, in Rock Edicts throughout his empire. But this commitment to spreading morality was not restricted to his own empire: “In the imperial territories among the Greeks and Kambojas, Nabhakas and Nabhapanktis, Bhojas and Pitinikas, Andras and Parindas, everywhere people follow the Beloved of the Gods’ instruction in Dhamma. Even where the envoys of the Beloved of the Gods have not gone, people hear of his conduct according to Dhamma, his precepts and his instructions in Dhamma, and they follow Dhamma and will continue to follow it. What is obtained by this is victory everywhere, and everywhere victory is pleasant. This pleasure has been obtained through victory by Dhamma”.' ' This vision seemed to express an ideal rather than a reality, but Ashoka sent his “envoys of the Beloved of the Gods” to faraway lands to spread the moral way.

What is the content of the moral way? At minimum, it means a commitment to peace and non-violence. The commitment to life, Buddhist-style, extends to all forms of life, not just human beings: “I have enforced the law against killing certain animals and many others, but the greatest progress of righteousness among men comes from the exhortation in favor of non-injury to life and abstention from killing living beings”.18 It includes the provision of medical knowledge to foreign countries, prompting Patrick Olivelie to comment that “the intention of Ashoka in sending these missions is very clear: it was a missionary effort to spread his dharma philosophy, to get rulers of these countries to adopt Ashoka’s moral philosophy in their internal administration and external affairs... This is very similar to the way Christian missionaries acted in countries they were attempting to evangelize”.19

But Ashoka’s moral way refers to the idea of building a common morality that draws on different moralities while respecting difference. In that sense, his “envoys of the Beloved of the Gods” were not like Christian missionaries who tried to spread what they considered to be the truth and (implicitly or explicitly) downgraded other moral systems. Consider what Ashoka said about inter-communal relations. Ashoka’s aim was not just peaceful co-existence among deeply divided communities: he also aimed for mutual learning which requires restrained and respectful speech on the part of the “Beloved of the Gods”:

There should not be honor of one’s own sect and condemnation of others’ sect without any common ground. Such slighting should be for specified grounds only. On the other hand, the sects of others should be honored for this ground or that. Thus doing, one helps his own sect to grow and benefits the sects of others, too. Doing otherwise, one hurts his own sect and injures the sects of others. For whosoever honors his own sect and condemns the sects of other wholly from devotion to his own sect, i.e. the thought “How I may glorify my own sect” and acting thus injures more gravely his own sect on the contrary. Hence concord alone is commendable, in this sense that all should listen and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others, this is, in fact, the desire of His Sacred Majesty.2"

If envoys refrain from excessive self-glorification and immoderate criticism of the other sects, they can maintain the peace and avoid humiliating other sects. But they must also strive to transform their own views: as Rajeev Bhargava explains, “Ashoka says that those seeking improvement in their ethical views should not only communicate with others with different perspectives in order to learn from them but even follow their precepts, ‘obey’ them. Thinking as if you were in someone else’s shoes may not on occasions be sufficient; you have to act with their shoes on. This practical ethical engagement brings an experiential dimension that could be ethically transformative”.21 Clearly, the aim is close to what we termed “strong reciprocity”: both sides respect each other’s differences while attempting to learn from each other and forge a common morality that draws on the morality of both sides. There may be unequal power relations and hierarchies between states - Ashoka sends envoys to less powerful states, not the other way around — but we are a long way from Christian missionaries who aim to spread the gospel to morally backward natives. In today’s world, what most grates intellectuals in India (and China) is moralizing sermons by modern day envoys - hectoring politicians, crusading journalists, NGO activists, culturally insensitive tourists, not to mention card-carrying religious missionaries — from Western countries with a dark track record of racism, colonialism, and imperialism. Surely relations between unequal powers could be improved if representatives from great powers exercised Ashokan-style restrained and respectful speech in dealing with weaker countries. This is not to deny the possibility of genuine (economic or security) conflicts of interest between states, but such conflicts would be easier to solve if modern day states adhered to Ashoka’s guidelines. Ashoka may be dead, but let his ideals live on!

It could be argued that Ashoka put forward these edicts on respectful and restrained speech primarily as guidelines for domestic policy, that is, for the sake of peaceful and harmonious communal relations in his own empire.22 But surely Ashoka believed in the universality of his Buddhist-inspired edicts and they also provide useful guidelines for foreign policy. As it turns out, his ideals resonate with ideals of strong reciprocity between countries put forward by political thinkers in ancient China as well. Let us now turn to proposals for morally justified hierarchies that were developed by Xunzi, perhaps the greatest theorist of international relations in ancient China. Xunzi, as we will see, proposed a mechanism - ritual - that can help to underpin strong reciprocity between hierarchical powers.

Hierarchical ideals of global order in ancient China

As in ancient India, ancient Chinese thinkers took for granted the idea of hierarchy in social life. Xunzi (ca. 310—219 BCE) most explicitly extolled the virtues of hierarchy. He is widely regarded as one of the three founding fathers of Confucianism (along with Confucius and Mencius). He has been tainted because of his supposed influence on the Legalists — the Kautilyans of ancient China23 — but his ideas had great influence on the actual politics of East Asian societies. His writings are clear and systematic, and he deliberately avoids utopian assumptions about human nature and society. In fact, he begins with the assumption that “Human nature tends toward badness” (23.1).24 If people follow their bodily nature and indulge their natural inclinations, aggressiveness and exploitation are sure to develop, resulting in cruel tyranny and poverty (19.1). Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. Human beings can be “made good by conscious exertion” (23.1). They can learn to contain their natural desires and enjoy the benefits of peaceful and cooperative social existence.

Xunzi on hierarchical rituals

The key to transformation is ritual (23.3).26 By learning and participating in rituals, people can learn to contain their desires, there will be a fit between people’s actual desires and the good available in society, and social peace and material well-being will result (19.1). Rituals provide bonds not based solely on kinship that allow people to participate in the benefits of social existence. But what exactly is ritual? Xunzi’s account of ritual contains features that are familiar to contemporary accounts of ritual: it is a social practice (as opposed to behavior involving only one person), it is grounded in tradition (as opposed to newly invented social practices), it is non-coercive (in contrast to legal punishments), and the details can be changed according to the social context.

But Xunzi’s account of rituals is driven by normative considerations, and he highlights two considerations that may be less familiar to readers today. In English, the term “ritual” tends to connote paying behavioral lip service to social norms. The word “ritual” is often preceded by “empty”, meaning that it’s devoid of true emotions. But that’s not ritual in Xunzi’s sense: ritual must involve emotion and behavior. As Xunzi puts it, “Rituals reach their highest perfection when both emotion and formal are fully realized” (19.7). The main point of ritual is to civilize our animal natures, and if people are just going through the outward routines without any emotion, they are not likely to transform their nature. The ritual needs to involve, or trigger, an emotional response, so that it will have an effect on the participants during the ritual and beyond the ritual itself. Hence, rituals often need to be accompanied by music that helps to trigger those emotional responses (Xunzi devoted a whole chapter on the moral and political effects of music). Still today, in Chinese the word “ritual” is often followed by the word for “music” (ij§^), as though the two ideas are almost inseparable.

Second, and equally important, Xunzi’s account of ritual involves social hierarchies: rituals that specify different treatment for different kinds of people, depending on rank (as opposed to practices that are meant to treat everyone equally). As Xunzi puts it, “The exemplary person has been civilized by these things, and he will also be fond of ritual distinctions. What is mean by ‘distinctions’? I say that these refer to gradations of rank according to nobility or baseness, differences between the treatment of old and young, and modes of identification to match these with poverty and wealth and relative (social) importance” (19.3). Rituals involve people with different power engaged in social practices that treat people differently. But why does Xunzi affirm that rituals must be hierarchical? At one level, he recognizes the social fact that hierarchy and rituals can help to secure social peace: by allotting different responsibilities, privileges, and goods to different individuals, rituals thereby help to prevent conflict over these things among people with different social statuses.27 But it’s not just a matter of pacifying the potential malcontents and justifying a system that gives more goods to those with more power. Quite the opposite: hierarchical rituals are essential for generating a sense of community and the emotional disposition for the powerful to care for the interests of those at the bottom of hierarchies.

Like other Confucians, Xunzi intended to persuade political rulers to adopt his ideas because such rulers had the most power to transform society in the desired way. In an ideal society, the wise and humane ruler would implement such rituals, and the whole of society would be harmonious and prosperous. But what about non-ideal society? Xunzi is famously sensitive to context and he advocated different prescriptions for different contexts. So the question is how to persuade the rulers who have yet to be morally transformed. For such purposes, Xunzi had to appeal to their self-interest. The problem, however, is that the powerful have the most to benefit from “uncivilized” society, where the strong can rely on brute force to exploit the weak. Those with power need to be persuaded that they benefit from a social system that seems to place constraints on their desires. Hence, much of Xunzi’s discussion of ritual is designed to persuade political rulers that it is in their interest to promote rituals in society. Ritual, he says, is the root of the strength of the state (15.8) and the right sort of music can strengthen its military forces (20.5). One would expect rulers to be receptive to this sort of advice.

But rituals do not only benefit rulers. Both Marxists and liberal democrats have denounced hierarchical rituals because they seem designed to benefit the ruling classes of feudal societies and thus are inappropriate for modern times. But this is a misreading of Xunzi’s intentions. For Xunzi, hierarchical rituals also have the effect of benefiting the weak and the poor, those who would fare worse in a “state of nature”: “Without rituals, desires are unlimited, leading to contention, leading to disorder, and leading to poverty” (19.1). Of course, the tyrant himself won’t be the worst hit by a system where he can exercise power without constraints. It is the weak and vulnerable who are worst hit by disorder and poverty: in a situation without ritual civility, Xunzi says, “the strong would harm the weak as well as rob them” (23.9). Putting ritual in practice means “being kind to the humble” (27.17).

But why does Xunzi emphasize rituals involving people with different power? Hierarchical rituals seem most attractive if they are contrasted with practices that exclude people of different status: the rich and powerful do their own thing, as do the poor and the weak (consider the stereotypical account of the Indian caste system, or the different rituals of the rich and the poor in highly stratified societies such as the United States). The choice, typically, is not between hierarchical and egalitarian rituals, but between rituals that involve the powerful and the vulnerable and two different sets of rituals for those with power and those without. Xunzi argues for the former. The village wine ceremony, for example, is praised because the (less powerful) young and (more powerful) old take a drink from the same wine cup, and “in this way we know it is possible for junior and senior to drink together without anyone being left out” (20.12). Rituals such as common birth, marriage, and burial practices also have the effect of including the poor and marginalized as part of the society’s culture and common understanding. As Patricia Buckley Ebrey puts it, “Confucian texts and the rituals based on them did not simply convey social distinctions. At another level they overcome them by fostering commonalities in the ways people performed rituals ... [In early modern Europe, by contrast], over time class differences in the performance of family rituals seem to have narrowed rather than widened”.28 In hierarchical rituals, the powerful are made to think of the powerless as part of the group, and they are more likely to do things for them (or at least, to refrain from the worst parts of rapacious behavior).

It is no coincidence that Xunzi devotes a great deal of attention to the proper treatment of the dead, notwithstanding his aversion to religious thinking and supernatural explanations for changes in the world of the living. The dead, for obvious reasons, are the least capable of protecting their interests. They are the worst off of the worst off. Hence, those with power — the living — need to be trained by means of certain rituals to treat them with respect. Xunzi carefully specifies the need to adorn the corpse because “if the corpse if not adorned, it becomes hideous, and if it is hideous, no grief will be felt” (19.12). He also specifies that the corpse must be gradually moved further away each time it is adorned because “if it is kept close at hand, one begins to scorn it; when having it close at hand makes it the object of scorn, one begins to weary of it; when one wearies of it, one forgets one’s duty to it; and if one forgets one’s duties, then one no longer shows proper respect” (19.12). The ritual should be gradually phased out so that it allows for a smooth transition to everyday life as well as an extension of the cultivated emotions of proper respect and mindfulness of duty to the needy in the world of the living: “With each move he takes it further away, whereby he ensures continued respect. With the passage of time he resumes the ordinary course of life, whereby he cares for the needs of the living” (19.12).

The real moral value of hierarchical rituals, for Xunzi, is that they generate a sense of community among people with different power and status and benefit both the powerful and the weak. Put differently, they can help to generate a sense of strong reciprocity among members of a hierarchical relationship, with both the powerful and the weak coming to think of their fate as a common one.29 The bonds that hold them together are stronger than the fluctuating interests that underpin “weak reciprocity”.

Xunzi did not only have “domestic policy” in mind. Hierarchical rituals can work their magic not just between people in one country, but also between people in different countries.3"

Xunzi is particularly critical of economic diplomacy between states on the grounds that it can, at most, generate a weak sense of reciprocity that can break down once the states’ interests are no longer aligned:

If you serve them with wealth and treasure, then wealth and treasure will run out and your relations with them will still not be normalized. If agreements are sealed and alliances confirmed by oath, then though the agreements be fixed yet they will not last a day. If you cut off borderland to bribe them, then after it is cut off they will be avaricious for yet more. The more you pander to them, the more they will advance on you until you have used up your resources and the state has given over and then there is nothing left.31

If a rich country aims to gain friends just by throwing money at them, those friends will be fickle indeed.

That said, Xunzi does not deny that “weak reciprocity” grounded in mutually beneficial self-interest between hierarchical powers can be relatively stable and long lasting. In an anarchic world of self-interested states, what Xunzi calls the “hegemonic state” can attain interstate leadership by being strategically reliable:

Although virtue may not be up to the mark, nor were norms fully realized, yet when the principle of all under heaven is somewhat gathered together, punishments and rewards are already trusted by all under heaven, all below the ministers know what they can expect. Once administrative commands are made plain, even if one sees one’s chances for gain defeated, yet there is no cheating the people; contracts are already sealed, even if one sees one’s chance for gain defeated, yet there is no cheating one’s partners. If it is so, then the troops will be strong and the town will be firm and enemy states will tremble in fear. Once it is clear the state stands united, your allies will trust you ... This is to attain hegemony by establishing strategic reliability.32

But strategic reliability must also have a basis in hard power for the hegemon to gain the trust of its allies. A very poor or weak country cannot be trusted to keep its promises. So with a combination of wealth, military might, and strategic reliability, a self-interested but honest hegemon can establish mutually beneficial interest-based relations with weaker states. If China’s Belt and Road Initiative provides material benefits both to China and to weaker countries in Central Asia, while China sticks to its contracts even in economically difficult times and shows that it’s a trustworthy partner, it can be successful in the short to medium term. Let’s call this relation “weak reciprocity plus” — grounded in nothing more than the self-interest of states, but more stable than Kautilyan-style peace pacts or naked economic diplomacy.

The most stable (and desirable) kind of international leadership, however, is what Xunzi calls “humane authority”, meaning a state that wins the hearts of the people at home and abroad. At home, the proper use of rituals, combined with effective policies that secure peace and prosperity, is key to leadership success:

one who cultivates ritual becomes a humane authority; one who effectively exercises government becomes strong”.33 Setting a good model at home is necessary but not sufficient. The humane authority can gain the hearts of those abroad by institutionalizing inter-state rituals:

If you want to deal with the norms between small and large, strong and weak states to uphold them prudently, then rituals and customs must be especially diplomatic, the jade disks should be especially bright, and the diplomatic gifts particularly rich, the spokespersons should be gentlemen who write elegantly and speak wisely. If they keep the people’s interests at heart, who will be angry with them? If they are so, then the furious will not attack. One who seeks his reputation is not so. One who seeks profit is not so. One who acts out of anger is not so. The state will be at peace, as if built on a rock and it will last long like the stars.34

Moreover, the content of the rituals depends on the hierarchy of states: ‘‘The norms of humane authority are to observe the circumstances so as to produce the tools to work thereon, to weigh the distance and determine the tribute due. How could it then be equal?”35 The Western Zhou dynasty - regarded by Confucian thinkers as the ideal humane authority — set the model for hierarchical rituals with surrounding states with its system of Five Services:

Therefore, the various Chinese states had the same service and the same customs, whereas the states of the Man, Yi, Di, and Kong had the same service but different regulations. Within the pale was the domain service and outside the pale the feudal service. The feudal areas up to the border area were the tributary service; the Man and the Yi were in the formal service; the Kong and the Di were in the wasteland service. The domain service sacrificed to the king’s father, the feudal service sacrificed to the king’s grandparents, the tributary service sacrificed to the king’s ancestors, the formal service presented tribute, and the wasteland service honored the king’s accession. The sacrifices to the father were carried out daily, to the grandfather monthly, to the ancestors by season. The tribute was offered once a year. This is what is called observing the circumstances so as to produce the tools to work thereon, weighing the distance, and determining the tribute due. This is the system of humane authority.36

The general principle, as Yan Xuetong explains, is that “the norm [ritual] of providing offerings at different frequencies was made according to geographic distance from the throne”.37 At one level, the principle of greater reciprocity among closer political communities was an accommodation to the practical reality of the difficulties of traveling long distances at the time. But also geography matters because territorial proximity generates more security threats. A large powerful country can afford to be “neutral” (to borrow in Kautilya’s terminology): it can provide security guarantees to surrounding states and peaceful conditions beneficial to all sides in the hierarchical relationship, hence meeting the requirements of weak reciprocity grounded in mutual self-interest. But territorial proximity between a strong state and its weaker neighbors also allows for more frequent rituals and interactions between people, hence providing the basis for long-lasting harmonious relations that help neighboring states weather the changing conceptions of self-interest. We are closer to strong reciprocity grounded in common values and mutual learning.

Such speculation is not mere theory: the ideal of reciprocity between hierarchical political communities informed the tributary system in imperial China, with the Middle Kingdom at the center and “peripheral” states on the outside. In this system, the tributary ruler or his representative had to go to China to pay homage in ritual acknowledgment of his vassal status. In return, China guaranteed security and provided economic benefits.38 In Ming China, the surrounding political communities were divided into five zones, with each zone: similar to the “Five Services” system of Western Zhou, the frequency of ritual interaction (roughly) correlated with the degree of closeness of the center (capital) of China, which was also meant to map the cultural achievement. What’s interesting for our purposes is that the system allowed for both weak and strong reciprocity. The security guarantees to the surrounding states allowed for peaceful relations that benefited both China and the vassal states. Students of Korean and Vietnamese history will know that there were repeated incursions / invasions from China, but the big picture was relatively peaceful (again, in comparison to similar periods in European history): according to David Kang, there was only one war between Korea, Japan, and China in five centuries of the tributary system in the Ming and Qing dynasties.39 And what’s even more interesting is that borders were respected even without the notion of respect for the sovereignty of equal states: the borders between Korea, Japan, Vietnam and China were relatively fixed and did not significantly change during those five centuries. The comparison with European imperialism is even more striking in terms of the dynamic of economic relations. Whereas European imperialism was motivated partly, if not mainly, by the quest for profit, the tribute-trade system was a net loss for China and generally benefited the tributary.40 The imbalance between tribute received and gifts bestowed helped maintain the hierarchical East Asian political order centered on China because it made Chinese vassals understandably eager to have their inferior status recognized, thus entitling them to send tribute.41 Salvatore Babones comments that “the emperor could even punish vassals by refusing to receive tribute from them - a ‘punishment’ that makes sense only in terms of the disproportionate benefits accruing to the tribute-giver”.42 Clearly these hierarchical relations satisfy the conditions for weak reciprocity, since they were mutually beneficial, and in some ways even more beneficial to the weaker surrounding states.

More controversially, the tributary system also allowed for a certain degree of strong reciprocity between hierarchically ordered states. China used moral power to spread Confucian norms, while allowing traditional ways of life and practices to flourish.43 Korea, Vietnam, and (to a lesser extent) Japan willinglyaccepted Chinese ideas and institutions (such as the examination system) and sought to model themselves on China.44 This is not to deny that instrumental considerations motivated most of the interaction between states in the tributary system, but Zhang Feng’s empirical analysis found that the early Ming’s foreign relations with Korea, Japan, and Mongolia were motivated by expressive considerations in accordance with Confucian propriety — a form of what we term “strong reciprocity” — about one-fifth of the time.45

Of course, even weak reciprocity was frequently violated in practice. In a study on the Ming dynasty’s grand strategy against the Mongols, Alastair Iain Johnston is struck by “the prevalence of assumptions and decision axioms that in fact placed a high degree of value on the use of pure violence to resolve security conflicts”.46 Others argue that the tributary system itself is largely an invention of Western sinologists and cannot usefully explain China’s interaction with its neighbors over long periods of time.47 In historical practice, Chinese imperial courts did not usually use the idea of tributary relations to interfere in the internal affairs of neighboring states, and the states in China’s periphery often had complete independence to do as they wished: the tributary system, according to Zhuang Guotu, was an “unreality”.48

Even if there was a large gap between the ideal and the reality of the tributary system in imperial China, however, it doesn’t follow that the ideal is not worth defending today. On the face of it, the tributary system seems like a good recipe for hierarchical relations between a strong power and weaker surrounding states. The central power offers material benefits and security guarantees to weaker surrounding states, and the weaker states pay symbolic tribute to the leadership of the central power, with frequency of ritualistic interaction depending on geographical distance from the central power. Such an arrangement can be mutually beneficial and rituals can help generate a sense of community between the strong and the weak states: what we have termed strong reciprocity. So should China try to re-establish the tributary system with surrounding countries today? Yan Xuetong answers firmly in the negative: .. any effort to restore the tribute system will weaken China’s capability for international political mobilization”.49 But why not try?

One world, two hierarchical systems?

Whatever its advantages in the past, the tributary system is problematic for the modern world, even as an ideal. The most obvious reason is that the tributary system, which symbolically enshrines the secondary status and moral inferiority of the vassal states, is incompatible with the idea of the equality of sovereign states. In reality, as mentioned, states are neither sovereign nor equal, but there may be a case for paying lip service to the ideal of equal sovereignty even knowing it’s far removed from the reality (and knowing it cannot become anywhere close to the reality in the foreseeable future). The argument for hypocrisy has a long history in political theory.’0 For example, Plato (in) famously defended the idea of a “noble lie” to persuade those at the bottom of the political hierarchy to endorse an ideal republic run by philosopher kings and queens. The religious skeptic David Hume mounted a vigorous case in defense of an established church on the grounds that it is essential for social order.51 Xunzi did not believe that the human performance of rituals could have the power to affect supernatural beings such as ghosts or spirits, but he still defends religious rituals because of their positive psychological and social effects.52 Today, Straussian political theorists knowingly propagate what they consider to be falsehoods such as the idea of natural rights on the grounds that they are necessary to pacify the poorly educated masses who can’t deal with disturbing philosophical truths that cast doubt on the ultimate value of their ordinary way of life. Arguably, a similar case can be made for paying lip service to the ideal of the equality of sovereign states.

Notwithstanding a history of informal bullying by powerful countries, it has served to constrain legal takeover of territory in the post-Second World War era. China itself has become distinctly obsessed with sovereignty in the form of noninterference in the internal affairs of countries precisely because it seeks to avoid a repeat of seeing its territory carved up by foreign powers.

That said, there are limits to the idea of paying lip service to sovereignty. Most obviously, rulers lose the moral right to govern if they engage in massive abuses of basic human rights of their own people. Earlier Confucian thinkers such as Mencius defended the view that what we’d call today “humanitarian intervention” can be justified if the aim is to liberate people who are being oppressed by tyrants,’3 and the Chinese government has recently signed up to the international accord that enshrines the “responsibility to protect” people from genocide and systematic violations of basic human rights.54 Secondly, the ideal of equality of sovereign states should not be used by powerful countries as an excuse to shirk their extra share of responsibility for dealing with global challenges. If we agree that justice requires political leaders to take into account the interests of all those affected by their policies, then political leaders in large powerful countries have a responsibility to consider how their policies affect not just the current generation of people in the home country, but also the effect on future generations, people in other countries, and the natural world. If large countries launch major wars or make “mistakes” on such issues as climate change and artificial intelligence, it can literally be the end of the world. As one author recently put it, China can “shake the world”;55 in contrast, nobody would write a book titled “Canada Shakes the World”. So it would be frankly immoral if leaders of large countries proclaim that they look out only for the interests of their own people; even United States President Trump claims that he defends the principle of “America first” rather than “America alone”.’6 In short, it’s fine to pay (hypocritical) lip service to the ideal of sovereign equal states, but large states should not use that as an excuse to shirk what ought to be an extra share of global responsibilities.

There’s another fatal flaw with the proposal to re-establish the tributary system in the modern world: today, powerful countries are not necessarily the most civilized, from a moral point of view. The tributary system was founded on the assumption that China is the center of culture and morality, and that China can and should spread its superior civilization to the rest of the world. The closer the country (or “zone”) to Beijing (the capital in the Ming and Qing dynasties), the more civilized the territory, and conversely, the further away from Beijing, the more wild the barbarians. Nobody seriously holds this view today. That’s not to deny the value of proximity to powerful countries... Kautilya’s worry that territorial contiguity can generate conflicts still holds true today, so major powers need to establish mutually beneficial peace pacts with neighboring countries: for example, strong countries can provide nuclear guarantees to neighboring states on the condition that those states do not manufacture their own nuclear weapons. Proximity also allows for more frequent interaction, ritual and otherwise, hence providing the conditions for a stronger form of reciprocity grounded in common values, similar to Ashoka’s effort to promote Buddhist-inspired values to neighboring states and the spread of Confucianism from China to Korea and Vietnam. In short, the challenge is to reconstitute a de facto form of hierarchy between strong states and neighboring (weaker) states that provides the conditions for weak and (ideally) strong reciprocity while still paying lip service to the ideal of equal sovereignty of states.

A modernized version of the traditional Chinese ideal of tianxia, conventionally translated as “all-under-heaven”,57 can inspire thinking about a hierarchical system of states that is both realistic and desirable. The term tianxia is a vague concept that has been defined differently in different times (and differently in the same times).’8 In the Tang dynasty, for example, tianxia referred either to the area actually governed by Tang dynasty rulers or the whole world with Zhongguo (China) at its core surrounded by other countries.59 To further complicate matters, the term has sometimes been used in a descriptive sense meaning territory, and other times in a normative sense of an ideal that contrasts with the reality. In the Mencius, for example, the term is used 86 times6" and often refers to an ideal of a unified world without any territorial boundaries governed by one benevolent ruler, an ideal that is meant to contrast with the ugly reality of small states competing ruthlessly for territorial advantage in the Warring States period.

In contemporary times, tianxia was famously revived by the philosopher Zhao Tingyang who gave it a normative definition. According to Zhao’s formulation, tianxia has three meanings: (1) a geographical meaning referring to the whole world; (2) a psychological meaning in the sense that the hearts of all the world’s peoples are unified, like a big family; and (3) an institutional meaning in the sense of a world government with the power to ensure universal order.61 Critics in the West have raised doubts about this project. William Callahan, for example, has charged that Zhao’s ideal of tianxia masks an effort to replace Western hegemony with Chinese hegemony.62 But Zhao is explicitly committed to a hierarchically organized cosmopolitan ideal. Institutionally, he argues for a world organization that would have more territory and resources than any one state (including the Chinese state): “The world government directly rules a land called King-land, about twice the size of a large sub-state, and four times that of a medium sized sub-state and so son. The military force controlled by the world government is greater than that of large, medium and small sub-states with a ration of 6 to 3, 6 to 2 and 6 to 1 divisions. This proportional design limits the King-land of the world government in its advantages over the sub-states either in resources or military power”.1'3 The problem, however, is that Zhao’s interpretation of tianxia is neither desirable nor realistic.

Zhao claims that his ideal derives inspiration from the values and practices put forward by the founding fathers of the Zhou dynasty approximately 3,000 years ago — the same sage kings who inspired Confucius - but his ideal is radically inconsistent with the key Confucian value of graded love. Zhao’s global government is supposed to be supported by the world’s people which are psychologically bound like an intimate family,64 but this ideal owes more to Mohism and imported traditions like Buddhism, Christianity, Marxism, and liberal cosmopolitanism that aim to break down particularistic attachments. Every Chinese intellectual knows the famous passage from the Great Learning — a Han dynasty work subsequently canonized by the Song dynasty scholar Zhu Xi (1130—1200) as one of the four Confucian classics — that lays out the road to tianxia: “The personal life is cultivated, the family will be regulated; when the family is regulated, the state will be in order; and when the state is in order, there is peace throughout the world (tianxia)”. Starting from the moral ordering of the individual person and the family, an important goal of Confucianism is to bring order to the state and thereby spread peace throughout the world. The ideal is a harmonious political order of global peace. But nowhere does the Great Learning state that ties to the people outside of the state should be as strong as, or stronger than, ties to people within the state. The reason is simple: ties should be extended from intimates to others, but with diminishing intensity as we move beyond the circle of intimates. We owe more to intimates (starting with the family) than to strangers, both because they are the main sources of happiness and because we need to reciprocate for what they have done for us. In other words, the key social relations do not matter equally: our ethical obligations are strongest to those with whom we have personal relationships, and they diminish in intensity the farther we go from those relationships. We do have an obligation to extend love beyond intimates, but it is not expected that the same degree of emotions and responsibilities will extend to strangers. The web of caring obligations that binds family members is more demanding than that binding citizens, the web of obligations that bind citizens is more demanding than that binding foreigners, and the web binding humans is more demanding than that binding us to non-human forms of life. The ideal of graded love is not meant to deny that we have obligations to the wider world. Just as we should extend ties beyond the family, so too should we extend ties beyond the nation.

Extending this concern to outsiders, although with less concern as they extend further and further from the political community, is also natural and right. Hence, Confucians should not just view special concern for fellow citizens as a politically necessary compromise or a second-best deviation from an ideal world. Nor is it just a necessary step on the way to the politics of global love and government. At least some sort of special commitment to the political community is required by the logic of graded love, a commitment that should be extended (in diminishing degrees) to outsiders. Zhao’s interpretation of tianxia, in short, has it backwards: attachments to particular political communities should have ethical and political priority over attachments to the world. We do need to think about obligations to the world, but not if it entails systematically overriding obligations to particularistic attachments.

The second problem with Zhao’s interpretation of tianxia is that it’s not realistic. He doesn’t provide any plausible mechanism for realizing his ideal. As Zhang Feng puts it, “The critical flaw of Zhao’s thesis is his failure to outline any clear pathway that might lead to the creation of the world institutions of the tianxia system ... He insists on the priority of the world institution, yet surprisingly fails to provide any description of how it might come about ... and [be] maintained”.1” Zhang wrote these words in 2010, and with the rise of nationalist populism that gap between the ideal and the reality has further widened, almost to the point of no return.

But we can reformulate Zhao’s ideal so that it is both realistic and desirable, and it’s not so complicated: all we have to do is change “the world” to “East Asia” and defend the ideal of attachment to the East Asian region without the implication that this attachment needs to override ethical and political attachments to the state (or other “lower” forms of communal attachments, such as attachment to the family). So here’s the reformulation of the tianxia ideal: (1) a geographical meaning referring to East Asia; (2) a psychological meaning in the sense that the hearts of the East Asian peoples are unified, minimally in the sense of weak reciprocity, with an aspiration for strong reciprocity; and (3) an institutional meaning in the sense of a hierarchical East Asian political order led by China that pays lip service to the ideal of the equal sovereignty of states. On this modernized account of tianxia, China is the center of East Asia by virtue of its dominant economic status and increasing ability to project military power and it has both extra powers and extra responsibilities in the East Asian region. In practice, it might mean setting up East Asian regional institutions with China as the major power, similar, perhaps, to Germany’s role in the European Union. As a nuclear state, China can give security guarantees and economic benefits to weaker states such as North Korea in exchange for nuclear disarmament. It might mean common East Asian financial institutions (or even a common currency), with China as the major player accompanied by the responsibility to bail out weaker states in times of economic crisis. And the more flexible (or hypocritical) approach to sovereignty might actually contribute to solving territorial disputes with China’s neighbors because China’s leaders might place less emphasis on the sanctity of territorial boundaries than is currently the case: as Allen Carlson puts it, “In a reconstituted tianxia system, the territorial and jurisdictional concerns which have so preoccupied China’s leaders over the course of the last century could be re-imagined as issues involving peripheral regions, not zero-sum disputes over sovereign recognition. In this sense, a tianxia order might pave the way for novel solution of such controversies, and as such lead to greater stability in within the region”. The problem, as Carlson recognizes, is that states along China’s periphery are likely to construe an attempt to impose (or even articulate) a new normative hierarchical order in the East Asian region as a threat: “Within such a system it is clear that China is to occupy the paramount position, while those along its margins are expected to accept such dominance and show fealty to the center”.6'’ But China’s “peripheral” states need not show fealty in any official sense (hence the key difference with the tributary system), as long as they usually defer to the major power (China) on issues of global significance.

Such arrangements seem unlikely now, but stranger things have happened: who could have imagined the European Union in the midst of the Second World War? And, unlike Europe, the long history of an East Asian region with China as the center could provide a psychological basis for the re-establishment and maintenance of attachments to an East Asian region led by China. Still, it must be recognized that China’s neighbors such as South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam - the same countries that were tightly integrated in the China-led tributary system — seem distinctly worried by China’s growing economic and military might.

So how could China regain the trust of its neighbors? Obviously a bellicose approach to solving regional disputes cannot be effective in the long term. At the end of the day, China must set a good model at home. As Yan Xuetong puts it, “For China to become a superpower modeled on humane authority, it must first become a model from which other states are willing to learn”.67 As a regional leader, China would also try to provide neighboring states with mutual benefits that underpin weak reciprocity. At a minimum, it means securing the peace. Whatever we think of China’s foreign policy, the fact that it has not launched any wars since 1979 should be a source of comfort. But China should aim for more. Ideally, it would provide the conditions for strong reciprocity by relying on such means as Ashoka-style respectful and restrained speech and Xunzi-style common rituals that generate a sense of community. Unlike the tributary system which involved China teaching the cultural and moral inferiors, the learning curve would work both ways, with “peripheral” states learning from Chinese culture and China learning from neighboring states. The deepest ties between states in a hierarchical system are underpinned by the strongest possible form of reciprocity.

From a realpolitik point of view, the United States’ military hegemony in the East Asian region is perhaps the main obstacle to the development of an East Asian tianxia hierarchy led by China. But things could change. North Korea is the major military threat in the East Asian region, and it is possible that the divided Korean peninsula will unify over the next few decades in some form or other. At that point, there would be a weaker case for United States’ troops in the East Asian region and a unified Korea would fall under the “natural” influence of China due to its proximity and superior power in East Asia.68 China need not (and should not) send troops to Korea to replace the Americans, but it could provide security guarantees to Korea, such as protection against invasion by neighboring countries. This kind of scenario may not appeal to Koreans in favor of full sovereignty, but sometimes less powerful countries need to make the best of less-than-ideal solutions. Canada, for example, was invaded twice by its more powerful southern neighbor (in 1775 and 1812, before Canada became an independent country) and still today many Canadians take pride in being different from Americans. But Canadians know they are a small country (in terms of population and global influence) and the government usually refrains from doing things that antagonize the bigger and more powerful southern neighbor. Canada can occasionally object to United States foreign policy (for example, the Canadian parliament objected to the 2003 invasion of Iraq), but Canadians would never dream today of, say, inviting the British (or the Chinese) to build military bases in Canada as a buffer against the United States. Such arrangements also benefit the weaker party: good ties with the Americans are valuable for Canadians because Canada does not have to spend much on the military, with the consequence that the Canadian government can devote more resources to improving the welfare of the Canadian people. So, yes, Canadians are not the equals of Americans on the international stage, but what’s the problem if a bit of inequality under the umbrella of an American-led regional tianxia arrangement benefits the Canadian people?69

Still, it could be argued that American military bases in the East Asian region are really meant to check China’s rise. China may well become the biggest economic power in the world over the next few decades, with more demands for status and global influence, and perhaps the United States has no intention of reducing its military influence in the East Asian region. This kind of attitude can lead to a disastrous war between two major powers. Jonathan Renshon demonstrates empirically that states attributed less status than they are due based on material capabilities are overwhelmingly more likely (than “satisfied” states) to initiate militarized disputes.7'1 The policy implication should be obvious: "... conflict may be avoided through status concessions before the escalation to violent conflict occurs”.71 Renshon has Russia in mind, but exactly the same point applies in the case of China: if the United States genuinely wants to avoid war in the East Asian region, it should try to accommodate and make concessions to China’s desire to establish a regional hierarchy with itself at the head of the table. In the 1970s, the United States did courageously cut its official diplomatic ties to Taiwan in order to recognize the pre-eminent role of China in the East Asian region, and it should make more such concessions in the future.

In short, the most viable path towards global peace in the region involves a bipolar world with the United States and China as heads of two regional hierarchies of states that also benefit the weaker states in the hierarchical relationships. Both China and the United States recognize each other’s leadership in their respective regions, and they work together to solve common global problems such as climate change. But why should other major regional powers such as the

European Union and Russia accept such an arrangement? The most important reason is that too many global leaders would make it more difficult to coordinate peaceful relations and work on joint global projects. It is fine if Russia and the European Union are recognized as less-than-major powers with more say in their own neighborhoods, but they can’t be equals with China and the United States on the world stage. There must be a hierarchy of regional hierarchical systems.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be to accommodate India. The country’s rate of economic growth has recently overtaken China, and India may well achieve rough parity with China in terms of population and global clout over the next few decades.72 So how can the two countries work together? The situation may not look promising now (the two countries were on the brink of another border war in 2017). Again, we need to invoke Kautilya’s insight that two countries with contiguous borders often regard each other as natural enemies. China and India went to war in 1962, and they have yet to resolve their territorial conflicts (in contrast, China has peacefully resolved territorial conflicts with 11 of its other neighboring countries). But the two countries were both members of the non-aligned movement during the Cold War, and today China is India’s biggest trading partner, thus underpinning mutually beneficial relations of weak reciprocity. Ties between India and China have been improving since early 2018 — China’s President Xi Jinping suggested that “shared Asian values” should trump the geo-political differences between the two countries — and India has emerged as the biggest beneficiary of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.73 Past history also points the way to a stronger form of reciprocity that underpins lasting peace.74 Buddhism spread peacefully from India to China, to the point that it has become far more influential in China. In the 1920s, the poet Tagore deeply marked Chinese intellectual culture when he visited China.7

The great Chinese intellectual Liang Shinning regarded Indian spiritual culture as the apex of human moral growth.76 And the learning was mutual: India benefited from China’s paper, gunpowder, and silk. Perhaps China’s greatest gift to India, according to Amitav Acharya, was the preservation of Buddhist texts. Chinese and Indian translators lived and worked in China and translated and preserved Buddhist texts.

After Buddhism disappeared in India and the original Indian texts were lost or destroyed by invaders, these Chinese translations preserved Buddhist sutras and could be re-translated for Indians.7' Buddhism would have been lost to Indians without Chinese help, just as Arabs preserved Greek texts in science and philosophy that would otherwise have been lost.

Of course, some differences between China and India, such as different ways of selecting political leaders, need to be respected. But such differences pale when compared to what ought to be deep mutual respect between two countries with thousands of years of history and such glorious and diverse civilizations. Given that India and China had ties of strong reciprocity in the past, how might it be possible to re-establish such ties in the future? Once again, we need to turn to the insights of ancient thinkers. If the leaders of the two great

Asian powers follow Ashoka’s guidelines for respectful and restrained speech and implement Xunzi’s ideas for rituals that generate a sense of community, their diplomatic, cultural, and people-to-people interactions might well (re) generate a strong sense of reciprocity. It is not impossible to imagine a future world with an Asian hierarchical system jointly led and managed by India and China, to the benefit of both countries, surrounding smaller states, and perhaps even the whole world.'8


  • 1 See Daniel A. Bell and Wang Pei, Just Hierarchy: Front China Io the World, Princeton University Press, forthcoming, ch. 2. This essay draws on chapter 3 from the same book.
  • 2 David A. Lake, Hierarchy in International Relations, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2009, p. 3. See also Jonathan Renshon, Fighting for Status: Hierarchy and Conflict in World Politics, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2017 and John M. Hobson and |.C. Sharman, “The Enduring Place of Hierarchy in World Politics: Tracing the Social Logics of Hierarchy and Political Change”, European Journal of International Relations, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 63—98; and Alexander Wendt and Daniel Friedheim, “Hierarchy Under Anarchy: Informal Empire and the East German State”, International Organization, Sept. 1995, Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 689-721.
  • 3 According to “hegemonic stability theory”, the international system is more likely to remain stable when a single state is the dominant power, Joshua Goldstein. International Relations, New York: Pearson-Longman, 2005, p. 107. Whatever the truth of this theory in the past, it is no longer an option given the rise of China. But perhaps the international system is more likely to be stable if two rather than several states are dominant global powers.
  • 4 Yan Xuetong, Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011, p. 105
  • 5 Lake, David A. “Hierarchy in International Relations”. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2009, p. 138.
  • 6 Xuetong, Yan. “Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power”, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011, p. 105.
  • 7 Lake, David A. “Hierarchy in International Relations”. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2009, p. 178.
  • 8 See Patrick Olivelie, trans., King, Governance, and Law in Ancient China: Kautilya’s Arthasastra, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • 9 Olivelie, Patrick, trans., “King, Governance, and Law in Ancient China: Kautilya’s Arthasastra”, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 401-402.
  • 10 Ibid, p. 48.
  • 11 https://www.
  • 12 Olivelie, Patrick, trans., “King, Governance, and Law in Ancient China: Kautilya’s Arthasastra”, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 302.
  • 13 Ibid, p. 283.
  • 14 Quoted in Patrick Olivelle, “Relations between States and Rulers in Ancient India: Asoka, Kautilya, and Manu”, p. 13. Paper presented at the workshop on “Classical Indian & Chinese World Views on Global Order: A Comparison”, Berggruen Institute. January 28-31, 2018, Bangkok.
  • 15 Patrick Olivelle, “Relations between States and Rulers in Ancient India: Asoka, Kautilya, and Manu”, p. 9. Paper presented at the workshop on “Classical Indian & Chinese World Views on Global Order: A Comparison”. Berggruen Institute, January 28-31, 2018, Bangkok.
  • 16 Mark McClish and Patrick Olivelie, eds and trans., “Introduction , The Arthasastra: Selections from the Classic Indian Work on Statecraft, Indianapolis: Hackett. 2012, p. xlix.
  • 17 Quoted in Patrick Olivelie, “Relations between States and Rulers in Ancient India: Asoka, Kautilya, and Manu”, p. 13. Paper presented at the workshop on “Classical Indian & Chinese World Views on Global Order: A Comparison”, Berggruen Institute, January 28-31, 2018, Bangkok, p. 18.
  • 18 Quoted in Theodore de Bary et al, eds. Sources of Indian Tradition, Delhi: Motilal Banardidass, 1963, pp. 153.
  • 19 Quoted in Olivelie, “Relations between States and Rulers in Ancient India,” pp.18,19.
  • 20 Edict XII, quoted in Rajeev Bhargava, “Asoka’s Dhamma as Civic Religion: Toleration, Civility. Communal Harmony,” Paper presented at the workshop on “Classical Indian & Chinese World Views on Global Order: A Comparison,” Berggruen Institute, 28-31 January 2018, Bangkok, pp. 58-59.
  • 21 Ibid, p. 47.
  • 22 Rajeev Bhargava draws a parallel with the Confucian ideal of harmony. See Bhargava. "Asoka’s Dhamma as Civic Religion”.
  • 23 Arguably, Xunzi’s student Han Feizi, who systematized the “Legalist” tradition in ancient China, is a more consistent amoral realist than Kautilya. See Daniel A. Bell, Beyond Liberal Democracy: Political Thinking for an East Asian Context, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006, ch. 8. Han Feizi, however, went rogue. He systematically rejected key assumptions of his teacher's theory - that human nature can be improved, that legal punishment should come second to rituals, and that “humane authority” should set the moral standard for evaluating rulers — and proposed cruel policies, such as killing Confucian thinkers, that would have resulted in the execution of his own teacher.
  • 24 These translations ofXunzi draw on John Knoblock’s translation of Xunzi, Changsha: Hunan Publishing House, 1999, but they have been modified.
  • 25 This section draws on Daniel A. Bell, China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008, ch. 3.
  • 26 Ritual perse is not sufficient. As we will see, rituals can engage and thus transform the emotions, but Xunzi also argues for extensive and life-long reading of great works to enhance the mind. Xunzi leads with chapter 1, “An Exhortation to Learning”, a work well known to Chinese university students because they are forced to memorize passages for the national university examinations.
  • 27 Eric L. Hutton. “Introduction”, Xunzi: The Complete Text, trans, with an introduction by Eric L. Hutton, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014, p. xxvii.
  • 28 Patricia Buckley Ebrey, Confucianism and Family Rituals in Contemporary China, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014, p. 228.
  • 29 The one exception, of course, is the hierarchical relationship between the living and dead: the dead cannot be conscious about the common fate with the living and they do not have the ability to reciprocate in any way, assuming that ghosts are not real.
  • 30 The next section draws on Yan, Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power, chapter 2, as well as Daniel’s introduction to this book.
  • 31 Xunzi, 10, “Enriching the State”, quoted in Yan, Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power, p. 81.
  • 32 Xunzi, 11. “Humane Authority and Hegemony”, quoted in Yan, Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power, pp. 88—89.
  • 33 Xunzi, “On the regulations of a humane authority”, 9.5. Here we mark an area of disagreement with Yan Xuetong, who criticizes Xunzi’s notion of humane authority on the grounds that he neglects to mention that it also needs a foundation in hard power. Xunzi does have an extensive discussion of domestic policies, including the need for an extensive bureaucracy, see esp. books 9 and 13, designed to benefit the people and strengthen the state: policies that the humane authority should try to implement.
  • 34 Xunzi, “Enriching the state .
  • 35 Quoted in Yan, Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power, p. 96
  • 36 Xunzi 18, “Correcting: A Discussion”. Quoted in Yan, Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power, pp. 96—97.
  • 37 Yan. Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power, p. 98.
  • 38 John K. Fairbank and Ssu-Yu Teng, “On the Ch'ing Tributary System”, in Ch’ing Administration: Three Studies, ed. John K. Fairbank and Ssu Yu-Teng, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960, pp. 112-113.
  • 39 D.C. Kang, East Asia before the West: Five centuries of trade and tribute. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010, p. 105.
  • 40 Ibid. p. 63, 114. See also Ge, What Is China? p. 138.
  • 41 Wang G.W., “Ming foreign relations: Southeast Asia", in D. Twitchett and F.W. Mote, eds., The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 8: The Ming Dynasty, part 2, pp. 1,368-1,644, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 301-332, quote on p. 320.
  • 42 Babones, American Tianxia, p. 23.
  • 43 Immanuel C.Y. Hsu, China’s Entrance into the Family of Nations, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960, pp. 8—9. Contemporary research shows that common Confucian values still inform the former “tributary states” of East Asia such as Korea and Vietnam. See, e.g., Nisbett, The Geography of Thought: The Cultural Foundations of Learning: and Bell, Beyond Liberal Democracy. The Confucian values that were transmitted to Vietnam also helped the Vietnamese to resist foreign invaders in subsequent history, see Neil Sheehan. A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, New York: Vintage, 1989.
  • 44 Kang, East Asia before the West, pp. 8-9, ch. 3-4.
  • 45 Zhang Feng, Chinese Hegemony: Grand strategy and international institutions in East Asian History, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015, pp.7, 177
  • 46 Alastair Iain Johnston, Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995, pp. xi. As David Kang notes, however, Johnston’s study focuses mainly on nomads on China’s northern and Western frontier; Korean, Japan, and Vietnam shared China’s “Confucian” worldviews and had far more stable and peaceful relations with China, Kang, East Asia before the West, pp.10.
  • 47 Zhang Feng, “Rethinking the 'Tribute System': Broadening the Conception Horizon of Historical East Asian Politics,” Chinese Journal of International Politics, 2009, 2, pp. 545-574.
  • 48 Zhuang Guotu, “On the Illusiveness of Tributary System: A Case of the Tributary Relations between Ancient China and Southeast Asia”

, [An account of the unreality of the tributary system; An example of the relationships in tributary system in ancient China and East Asia], Southeast Asian Affairs [Research on problems in

Nanyang], 2005, N0.3, pp. 1-8.

  • 49 Yan. Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power, p. 104.
  • 50 For an argument that “untruths” can be useful despite knowing they are false, see Anthony Appiah, As If: Idealization and Ideals, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2017.
  • 51 Dennis C. Rasmussen, The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship that Shaped the Modern World, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2017, pp. 174-175.
  • 52 Hutton, “Introduction”, Xunzi: The Complete Text, p. xxix.
  • 53 See Bell, Beyond Liberal Democracy, ch. 2.
  • 54 Courtney ]. Fung, “China and the Responsibility to Protect: From Opposition to Advocacy”, United States Institute of Peace, June 8, 2016, ications/2016/06/china-and-responsibility-protect-opposition-advocacy
  • 55 James Kynge, China Shakes the World: A Titan’s Rise and Troubled Future — And the Challenge for America, New York: Mariner Books, 2017.
  • 56 See President Trumps speech at Davos on January 26, 2018, https://www.weforum. org/agenda/2018/01/president-donald-trumps-davos-address-in-full-8el4ebcl-7 9bb-4134-8203-95efcal82e94/
  • 57 “Making the world”, to convey an active, non-static ideal, may be more appropriate, thanks to Koger Ames for this insight).
  • 58 Yangfan, Li. “On the Concept of Tianxia” Research in International Politics, NO. 1, 2002. pp. 107, 111.
  • 59 iSemlA*'Ж/J гФИЗи r5^"Fj Fang, Li. “An Analysis of‘China’ and 'tianxia' in the Tang Dynasty" Research on the history and geography of China’s borderlands, June 2007, VOL. 17, N0.2.
  • 60 Pines, Yuri “Changing Views of Tianxia in Pre-Imperial Discourse,” OE 43 (2002), 1/2, pp.108,
  • 61 Tingyang, Zhao “All-under-Heaven and Methodological Relationism: An Old Story and New World Peace” Contemporary Chinese Political Thought: Debates and Perspectives, eds. Fred Dallmayr and Zhao Tingyang, Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2012.
  • 62 William A. Callahan. “Chinese Visions of World Order: Post-hegemonic or a New Hegemony?" International Studies Review, 2008, 10, pp. 749-61.
  • 63 Zhao, “All-Under-Heaven and Methodological Relationism: An Old Story and New World Peace”, in Contemporary Chinese Political Thoguht: Debates and Perspectives, pp. 73-74.
  • 64 Ibid, p. 79.
  • 65 Zhang Feng, “The Tianxia System: World Order in a Chinese Utopia”, Chinese Heritage Quarterly, March 21, 2010.
  • 66 Allen Carlson, “Moving beyond Sovereignty? A Brief Consideration of Recent Changes in China’s Approach to International Order and the Emergence of the Tianxia Concept”, Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 20, No. 68, 2011, pp. 101-102.
  • 67 Yan, Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power, p. 99.
  • 68 For an argument that China and Korea should re-establish a Ming-like system under

pinned by the principle that “Ritual lies in the deference of the small to the big and the caring of the big for the small” but without adherence to the formal

tributary system, see Orun Kihyup Kim, “Korea’s Experiences with Big Neighbors”, paper presented at the Berggruen Institute workshop “What Is Tianxia?”, Peking University, June 16-17, 2008.

  • 69 Salvatore Babones puts forward the idea of an “American tianxia” appropriate for the modern world, with Canada and other Anglo-Saxon allies in the zone of “internal barbarians”, Babones, American Tianxia: Chinese money, American power, and the end of history, Bristol: Policy Press, 2017, p.22. This proposal may work as a defense of an American-led tianxia hierarchical system in North America and Europe, but it is a complete non-starter if China and other “wild” barbarians are meant to endorse such an order.
  • 70 Renshon, Fighting for Status, ch. 5.
  • 71 Ibid, p. 270.
  • 72 See Gideon Rachman, Easternization: Asia’s Rise and America’s Decline from Obama to Trump and Beyond, New York: Other Press, 2017.
  • 73 Amy Kazmin and Ben Bland, “China and India use summit to push for improved ties”, Financial Times, April 28, 2018; Kiran Stacey, Simon Mundy, and Emily Feng, “India benefits from AIIB loans despite China tensions”, Financial Times, May 18. 2018. More generally, China has been seeking better ties with its neighbors, at least partly because the United States has been more aggressively working to counter China's rise.
  • 74 The point here is not that strong reciprocity should replace weak reciprocity: strong reciprocity that is not founded on common economic interests may not be very stable. In other words, the most stable form of reciprocity between states would be founded on both forms of reciprocity.
  • 75
  • 76 Liang Shunting, MB[Eastern and Western Cultures and Their Philosophies!, Beijing: The Commercial Pres, 2009; orig. pub. 1921.
  • 77 Email sent to Daniel on February 24, 2017.
  • 78 It’s worth speculating about the implications of an Asian regional order led by China and India bound by strong ties of reciprocity on the international political system. The global order might be less centered on liberal individualist values promoted by Western powers but that might not be a bad thing if the alternative value system is more communitarian in the sense of family and group-oriented values promoted by India and China. The relevant dichotomy might be individualistic-communitarian rather than liberal-authoritarian. I am grateful for written comments by Chu Yun-han and Zheng Yongnian as well as the oral comments by participants of the workshop.


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