China and the WTO

Indiana University Research Center for Chinese Politics & Business Working Paper No. 5

27 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2012

See all articles by James Scott

James Scott

University of Manchester

Rorden Wilkinson

Brooks World Poverty Institute

Date Written: October 1, 2011


The 'rise' of China stands as one of the most significant developments in global politics in the post-cold war era. Yet, China's rise has not been uniformly welcomed. For some, it has generated fears that the PRC's growing global prominence will inevitably be malignant; for others the rise of China has been largely 'system-preserving' in character. While a consensus has yet to emerge, the dominance of the debate has ensured that investigations into the factors shaping the PRC's international relations and, with regard to the subject of this paper, its behaviour in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have been too bound up with, and as a result too distracted by, the search for proof of 'real' intentions and less concerned with clear analysis. We seek to move beyond the strictures of this debate to investigate more thoroughly the factors shaping China's trade diplomacy.

We argue that an examination of the factors shaping China's trade diplomacy must take into account the strong effects exerted on that diplomacy by its membership of the WTO. To substantiate our argument, we begin by setting out some conceptual markers on what we know about the peculiarities of international institutions as a framework for understanding how the WTO as an institution affects China. We then explore key developments in China's political economy to the point at which the PRC acceded to the organisation before considering how the pursuit of WTO membership has shaped Chinese development, its trade diplomacy, and impact on the WTO of China's membership. We conclude that while WTO accession may have altered the composition of the organisation's core decision-making group by placing China at its heart, it has been sufficiently, and perhaps uniquely costly to China in terms of concessions made, in closing down room for manoeuvre in the current Doha round and in constraining the PRC's capacity to switch from an export-led to a domestic consumption based model of development.

Suggested Citation

Scott, James and Wilkinson, Rorden, China and the WTO (October 1, 2011). Indiana University Research Center for Chinese Politics & Business Working Paper No. 5, Available at SSRN: or

James Scott

University of Manchester ( email )

Oxford Road
Manchester, M13 9PL
United Kingdom

Rorden Wilkinson (Contact Author)

Brooks World Poverty Institute ( email )

Humanities Bridgeford Street Building
Manchester, M13 9PL
United Kingdom

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