Relationship Between International Law & Morality

In the Zuo Zhuan, China’s earliest surviving historical text, one can see the emergence of Chinese cultural consciousness about how to organize an “international political system,” in this case the system that existed in the feudal (Confucian) era of warring states.

信不由中,質無益也,明恕而行,要之以禮,雖無有質,誰能間之

Without trust, the exchange of hostages is of no use;

If rules are followed, even without hostages, who could feel doubt?

Or, to render the above loose translation in modern political terms:

What is the value of international law without mutual trust or the need for international law if countries adhere to principles?

In a decade when the very concept of international law was rejected by both sides in the Western-Islamic conflict, one can appreciate the effort of early Chinese statesmen to wrestle with these concepts.

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