Dr. Kristen Hopewell: Balancing, Threats & Wedges in International Political Economy: The Origins and Impact of the Sino-Indian Alliance at the WTO

Monday November 1, 2021
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM


The IR Colloquium hosts Dr. Kristen Hopewell for a talk titled, “Balancing, Threats & Wedges in International Political Economy: The Origins and Impact of the Sino-Indian Alliance at the WTO.”


This article draws on balance of power theory to analyze contemporary China-India relations in the multilateral trading system.  Although balance of power theory has rarely been applied to the economic realm, global economic institutions are an important site of power politics, including dynamics of balancing and alliances among states.  Analysis of power struggles within such institutions can therefore offer important insights for our understanding of institutional soft balancing.  In prevailing accounts of institutional soft balancing, there has been a tendency to see international institutions as providing a set of pre-existing rules and norms that can be used to constrain the threatening or aggressive behavior of powerful states, by delegitimizing and sanctioning violations of the established rules of the game.  Yet states do not simply use the rules of international institutions; they are also engaged in an ongoing struggle to set those rules.  Despite bilateral tensions, I show that China and India formed a surprising alliance at the WTO to counterbalance the US and other traditional powers.  Their alliance proved highly successful, bringing an end to American dominance and sharply curtailing the ability of the US to set the rules of global trade.  However, I argue, a key risk of soft balancing to counter the influence of a dominant power within an international institution is that, if successful, it may ultimately cause that state to abandon the institution altogether.  The US responded to China and India’s soft balancing by turning away from the WTO, actively undermining its rules and enforcement mechanism, and instead pursuing its interests through bilateral channels.  The article thus identifies a distinct and previously unrecognized wedge strategy – vertical forum-shifting, or moving the action from international institutions to bilateral negotiations, to split an adversary coalition.


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Dr. Kristen Hopewell

Kristen Hopewell is the Canada Research Chair in Global Policy in the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia.  Her research specializes in international trade, global governance, and development, with a focus on emerging powers such as China, India and Brazil.  She is the author of Clash of Powers: US-China Rivalry in Global Trade Governance (Cambridge University Press, 2020) and Breaking the WTO (Stanford University Press, 2016).  Her policy analysis has appeared in venues such as The Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, The South China Morning Post, The Globe and Mail and the BBC.  She has held visiting fellowships at Peking University in Beijing, the Max Planck Institute in Cologne, Germany, and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.  Her research has been supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada as well as a number of other major international funding agencies.  She is currently a Wilson China Fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC.

Please RSVP for this event before Wednesday, October 27 @ 4 p.m.