(4) Future Realizations of Sovereignty and Governance

Political thought, and particularly the issue of sovereignty, has generated utopian aspirations as well as dystopian fears of risk and threat. These were and continue to be predicted in order to legitimize present action. The Datong shu (Book of Great Unity) by the Chinese political philosopher Kang Youwei (1858‒1927) is often cited as the first formulation of utopias that transcended national borders. Even though “Great Unity” (datong) is originally a Confucian concept, it has been applied in communist thought by Mao Zedong (Wang Ban 2017) and is also evoked in the present discourse on International Relations (Noesselt 2015b, Carrai 2019). Will “Great Unity” help the East Asian states and polities to find common ground within the region, or will claims to sovereignty sharpen conflicts on Hong Kong and Taiwan, and on the issue of the islands in the South China Sea? A Chinese school of International Relations has proposed endogenous traditions that can be traced back to Confucian concepts (Zhao Tingyang 2005). In this view, Western International Relations amount to mere zero-sum games of competing powers, lacking ethical codes of conduct, while Chinese concepts, such as “great nation” daguo 大国 or “all under heaven” tianxia 天下 are said to guarantee benevolence and peaceful coexistence with neighbouring states (Noesselt 2015b).

Regarding its internal affairs, the Chinese state maintains its sovereignty in the sense of “supreme normative power” (van Duffel 2007). The Statutes of the Chinese Communist Party envision the realization of communism as the ultimate goal. Although religious freedom is granted within limits in the Chinese Constitution (Article 36), religious beliefs and practice have been a contentious issue since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. State authorities tightly control non-sanctioned religious activities. On the other hand, religious groups in China assert their rights to transcendental thought and practice. An important potential field of inquiry for our project is therefore the tensions between the future aspirations of an atheist state that aims to secure the material well-being of its citizens and representatives of Tibetan Buddhism who pursue spiritual objectives that seem hard to reconcile with the reality of socialist spiritual civilization (Meinert 2009).

China’s role in East Asia and in the world as well as Chinese concepts of global governance in the twenty-first century have increasingly gained scholarly attention. The question arises what type of economic governance and institutional set-up China aspires to the future. There is a substantial distrust in the US-dominated market system and a desire to establish more Sino-centric institutional arrangements. The BRI is one conduit for these endeavours in the global sphere (Li/Taube 2019, Taube 2020a). Nevertheless, new market-oriented structures continue to be established in the Chinese economy itself, often under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF 2022). In how far these contradictory approaches can be aligned in the context of an unfolding “dual circulation” strategy that combines elements of a future of risk perspective with those of a pro-active planning approach, is a question for research (Cheng 2020). Dissertations in this field can analyse Chinese concepts of future global economic interaction and especially formative claims to future economic integration along the Belt and Road.

In the contemporary Korean political discourse, the expectant “better future” is a paradigm of great importance. The divided country is still “at war with itself” (Mosler 2020b) concerning the roads to take in the future and the lessons to be learned from the past. How to evaluate the history of a compressed modernity, including developmental dictatorship, which took a heavy toll on large parts of society, but at the same time provided economic success at lightning speed? This is disputed in South Korea among conservatives who consider a future of further economic growth as most desirable, whereas the progressives aim at overcoming social and political rifts. Both sides utilize the future as a legitimising tool (Mosler 2020a) but follow different concepts of preservation and formation. On top of this internal division, the Korean situation is specific in that the unachieved unification of South and North ranks high in the visions of the future of all concerned parties (Mosler 2017). The dynamics at play need to be researched using discourse analysis, clearly distinguishing the normative from the pragmatic views.

In the cultural field, our project proposes to research the fundamental preconditions for communication within the region and worldwide. With the waning of the US as a global power, an era in which East Asia will play a far more prominent role on the global stage comes into focus. Yet in view of the relative inaccessibility of Chinese to a global audience due to its character-based script, will Chinese politicians exert their influence in political and economic terms through the English language and the Latin script? A comparison with Japan shows that the power of tradition and the will to preserve the cultural legacy of the character script can outweigh practical necessities. Policies of script reform are prime indicators of the underlying ideologies of those in power, and inherently steeped in ideological views of the future. Therefore, Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, and South Korean education policies on this prime symbol of East Asian culture provide substantial clues, not only to likely future developments in the writing systems, but also to the philosophies and views of the future underlying these policies.

Possible dissertation themes

  • Role Conceptions and Theoretization of Power in East Asia (Noesselt / Schwermann)
  • Embattled Fields of Memory Politics and Antagonistic Projections of the Past into the Future in South Korea’s Memorial Landscape (Mosler /Eggert)
  • Struggle and Competition for Global Leadership and the Paradigm of “Belt and Road” (Noesselt / Moll-Murata)
  • State and Religious Policies in the People’s Republic of China: The Case of the Tibetan Buddhist Institute Larung Gar in Sichuan (Meinert / Noesselt)
  • Reconciling Diverging Economic Governance Systems: Chinese Domestic Regimes vs. International Ordering Structures (Taube / Schwermann)
  • The Conceptions of the Future of Chinese Character Script in East Asia and in a Globalizing World (De Boer / Meinert)