Sovereignty has become something of a modern buzzword, used by world leaders and diplomats in the United Nations and other international settings to further states’ political goals.
But where did this concept come from? Is it still relevant today? And how have interpretations of this concept evolved, particularly in China, one of the world’s most vocal proponents of sovereignty as a justification for non-intervention in other states’ affairs?
Maria Adele Carrai is an associate research scholar at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and a fellow at KU Leuven. Her latest book, Sovereignty in China, A Genealogy of a Concept Since 1840 (Cambridge University Press, 2019), examines the contested notion of “sovereignty” and how it was appropriated by Chinese diplomats and intellectuals over the course of the past two centuries. Despite the strong critiques of sovereignty in the 1990s, since the global expansion of international law over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, sovereignty has defined and continues to constitute, the normative framework against which countries and polities define themselves.
We sat down with Dr. Carrai to discuss the evolution of the concept of sovereignty and how sovereignty is being interpreted in China and the West today.