The Roots of China’s Assertiveness in East Asia

Analysing the Main Driving Forces in Chinese Foreign Policy

  • Camilla T. N. Sørensen Royal Danish Defence College
Keywords: foreign policy, realism, rising powers, authoritarianism, China


In order to analyse the main driving forces in Chinese foreign policy, this article advances a neoclassical realist argument detailing how certain domestic dynamics that develop between an authoritarian leadership and the society when the country is ‘rising’ constrain its foreign policy behaviour in complex ways. Subsequently, the derived analytical framework is applied in an analysis of China’s ‘assertive turn’ in East Asia. It shows how certain authoritarian regime concerns intensify as China’s great power capabilities and influence grow, resulting in a different room to manoeuvre for Beijing in East Asia, which both encourages and enables a more assertive foreign policy behaviour. In the foreign policy literature, there is general agreement that regime type matters and has explanatory power when seeking to specify the domestic restraints on states’ foreign policy. However, there is still a lack of systematic conceptualisation of the regime type variable and theoretical explanations for how it matters. The neoclassical realist argument on the foreign policy of rising authoritarian states developed in this article is a step in this direction bridging the research fields of international relations, comparative politics and area studies.

Author Biography

Camilla T. N. Sørensen, Royal Danish Defence College
CAMILLA T. N. SØRENSEN is Associate Professor at the Institute for Strategy and War Studies at the Royal Danish Defence College in Copenhagen. Her research interests include great power politics, Chinese foreign and security policy, East Asian security, and Arctic politics and security.


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