Power, Shared Ideas, and Order Transition: China, the United States, and the creation of the Bretton Woods order

Date: Thursday, 10 October
Time: 11am - 12pm
Venue: MY632, Murphy Building, Kelburn Campus, Victoria University of Wellington (map)

(Image source: United Nations Photo - The United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, 1944, Bretton Woods, United States)


Transitions in international order are not only products of transitions in power, but also products of transitions in shared ideas. Ideas are shared through interactive, mutual processes that involve both hegemonic and subordinate states. This talk unpacks the mechanics of international order transition by exploring the interaction between a key hegemonic and subordinate state – the United States and the Republic of China – in shaping the shared ideas that underpinned the transition to a post-World War II economic order at Bretton Woods. It shows how US and Chinese ideas about international economic order came to be shared via US structural power, and via Chinese strategies of amplification, grafting, and rejection through re-appropriation. China played a key role in injecting ideas about equality and development for post-colonial, war-torn, non-industrialised states into the content of the Bretton Woods order. However, as a subordinate state, China’s ideas were more likely to be adopted when it deployed ideational strategies that reinforced US power, and US structural power was frequently involved in the prior shaping of Chinese ideas. Ultimately, this talk demonstrates the agency of subordinate states in shaping international order transition, but argues that their efforts to do so tend to reinforce a hierarchical order.

China, the United States, and the creation of the Bretton Woods order (PDF)

About the speaker

Dr Amy King is a Senior Lecturer at the Australian National University, specialising on Chinese foreign and security policy, China-Japan relations, and the international relations of the Asia-Pacific region. She is concurrently an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow and a Westpac Research Fellow, and is engaged in a three-year research project examining China’s role in shaping the international economic order. Amy is the author of China-Japan Relations After World War II: Empire, Industry and War, 1949–1971 (Cambridge University Press, 2016). She received her M.Phil and D.Phil from the University of Oxford.