Discourse Analysis and International Politics: Rethinking Relations between the United States and China
With the re-emergence of China as an economic powerhouse and growing military presence in the Asia-Pacific, we are now beginning to see the re-inscription of boundaries between China and the United States, which have the potential to intensify a sense of fear about what the future holds. In this context, it is necessary to ask some critical questions about the nature of this relationship and the assumptions that underpin the dominant interpretations of it. It is also essential that we remain suspicious of any attempts to portray the relationship between these 'great powers' as one of intractable hostility and inevitable rivalry that can only be managed through the threat or exercise of military force. Any attempt to reconstruct the dynamics of the Cold War 'balance of terror' should, therefore, be resisted if we are serious about building a more secure and prosperous world. But the questions remain: How can mutual trust and understanding be built amid an anarchical international order? How can differences over political and social organisation be set aside in pursuit of a better future? Is there any coherent way of challenging the embedded norms of international relations in order to prevent the onset of yet another costly and violent battle between two great powers? In order to more fruitfully explore these issues, this paper will give an overview of the critical challenges posed by new theories of discourse to the dominant paradigms of international relations. It will begin with an explanation of the key principles of contemporary discourse theory and conclude with some critical reflections on the current state of relations between China and the United States. In particular, it will seek to break down the sense of inevitability that figures in many analyses of the relationship between China and the United States and suggest that there is a need for those in journalism and academia to resist easy conclusions about the nature of the 'other' that would only harden the boundaries between the people of the two countries and lead to an intensification of hostilities with the potential for military conflict.