Delegitimization and ‘Re-socialization’: China and the Diffusion of Alternative Norms in Africa

AuthorObert Hodzi
Publication Date01 Oct 2018
Delegitimization and
China and the
Diffusion of Alternative
Norms in Africa
Obert Hodzi1
Socialization of Africa into the liberal international order was largely a preserve
of the West. However, as China expands its economic and political influence
across Africa, the liberal international order is being put to the test. Representing
alternative global governance norms and values, China is seeking the legitimation
of its emerging global leadership by delegitimizing its rival, the United States. How
the delegitimization and expected ‘re-socialization’ of Africa are unfolding is this
article’s subject of enquiry. Based on expert interviews conducted in Africa and
China, the article examines the interlink between legitimation and ‘re-socialization’
within the context of China’s rising influence in Africa. It advances the argument
that China is concerned with having a global order, operating based on norms
and values favourable to its national and geopolitical interests. In making this
argument, the article refocuses the attention onto the subtle making of a global
order preferred by China, at least in Africa.
China, socialization, legitimation, liberal international order, norms
This article is concerned with how China, a non-Western global power, is seeking
legitimation of its imminent global leadership through delegitimization of the
United States and re-socialization of other actors. The window of opportunity for
International Studies
55(4) 297–314
2018 Jawaharlal Nehru University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0020881718805215
1 Department of Cultures, University of Helsinki, Yliopistonkatu, Helsinki Finland.
Corresponding author:
Obert Hodzi, Department of Cultures, University of Helsinki, Yliopistonkatu 4, 00100 Helsinki,
E-mail: obert.hodzi@helsinki.
Creative Commons Non Commercial CC-BY-NC: This article is distributed under the terms of
the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.
org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/) which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the
work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access
pages (
298 International Studies 55(4)
China is that the liberal international order is under strain on multiple fronts. First,
the order’s foundational principles are being tested by the rise of populism
(ultra- nationalism, anti-globalization and protectionism) in Europe and in the
United States. Second, non-Western global powers such as China are challenging
the liberal international order seeking the material revision of its operational
structure and establishing alternative multilateral institutions premised on a dif-
ferent set of norms and principles. What is emerging is a ‘triangular convergence’
of rising powers demanding more say and authority in global governance, shifts
in global power distribution from West to East and the United States’ rethink of its
role in global governance. These frontal challenges to the liberal international
order are gradually opening more space and opportunity for non-Western rising
powers to question the legitimacy of the liberal international order and its main
proponent, the United States. Accordingly, this has led to assertions that the ‘old
order dominated by the United States and Europe is giving way to one increas-
ingly shared with non-Western rising states’ (Ikenberry, 2011, p. 63). However,
more than the ‘old order’ giving way to one ‘shared with non-Western rising
states’, it appears that non-Western rising states are actively seeking means to
expedite the material revision or replacement of the ‘old order’.
At the fore of non-Western rising states seeking more global influence is a
pragmatic China. It acknowledges the insufficiency of its military and economic
capabilities to directly challenge the United States’ global dominance. Also, prag-
matic in that while some emerging powers historically expanded their influence
abroad ‘through invasion, colonization, expansion or even large-scale wars of
aggression’ (Zheng, 2005, p. 20), China is using its economic capabilities—mak-
ing natural resource and trade deals ‘in America’s backyard, in Africa, in the Gulf
and on its southern and western peripheries’ (Stein, 2010, p. 12). Underlying its
pragmatic strategies of global influence expansion is an agenda to delegitimize
the liberal international order and attempt to reverse Western socialization in
some parts of the Global South, with Africa being a case in point. The commonal-
ity between China and Africa, and most parts of the postcolonial Global South, is
that both do not entirely subscribe to the Western-centric order or Western norms
of intervention, responsibility to protect (R2P), human rights, good governance
and democracy. These norms, which came to define the liberal international order
were for most countries in the Global South, and to some extent China unchal-
lengeable due to their position in the international system. China and countries in
the Global South constituted ‘lesser states in an international system [that] follow
the leadership of more powerful states’ (Gilpin, 1983, p. 30). However, as the rela-
tive economic power of China increases and its global influence expands, it is
steadily challenging the legitimacy of the liberal international order that it did not
create but was socialized into.
Premised on this background, and with reference to qualitative expert inter-
views conducted with government officials and diplomats in Addis Ababa,
Harare, Pretoria and Beijing in 2017, this article examines the interlink between
legitimation and ‘re-socialization’ within the context of China’s rising global
influence. Socialization is understood as the ‘process of inducting actors into

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