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Who defends the Liberal International Order and why? The case of contestation in digital standard-setting

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Recent scholarship has illuminated growing threats to the so-called Liberal International Order (LIO), emanating from both rising and established powers. Circumstances of power transition lead China and other rising powers to demand increased voice within existing multilateral institutions. Rising powers dissatisfied with their degree of influence may attempt to revise rule-making more fundamentally by “regime shifting” or “competitive regime creation” (Morse and Keohane 2014). Yet, as recent literature shows, rising powers are not the only ones seeking to revise the international system. Challenges to LIO institutions emanate increasingly from established powers, principally the US (Morse and Keohane 2014; Zürn 2018; Chan 2021; Kruck and Zangl 2020; Kruck et al. 2022)

This paper looks at the other side of the coin, by analyzing the politics of institutional defence. Amid rising contestation across global governance arenas, who stands up to defend multilateral institutions? And why are they loyal to the old order? How do they go about trying to save it? We develop a theoretical framework to identify the structural attributes of LIO defenders and the alternatives. We also conceptualize the how of instititutional defense. We then carry out a plausibility probe of the framework through case study analysis of current contestation in the arena of digital standardization, shaped largely by China’s emergence as a central player in this issue area.

'Who defends the Liberal International Order and why? The case of contestation in digital standard-setting' is co-authored by Sarah Eaton and Daniel Fuchs.

About the Speaker

Sarah Eaton is Professor of Transregional China Studies at Humboldt University Berlin and co-founder of the Berlin Contemporary China Network (BCCN). She is interested in the study of contemporary Chinese politics and political economy from comparative and transregional perspectives. A major focus of her current research are rising powers in the field of digital standardization, for which she has received funding from both the European Research Council (Consolidator Grant) and the German Research Foundation. With support of Germany's Federal Ministry of Education and Research, she and colleagues in the BCCN are developing innovative means of nurturing China competence within Berlin's academic landscape.

Before joining HU Berlin in October 2019, she held professorships at the University of Göttingen, the University of Oxford and the University of Waterloo. She holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Toronto (2011).

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