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

Abstract

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.

References

Allison, Graham 2017. Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap? Wilmington: Houghton Mifflin Co. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11615-018-0092-x.

Blanchette, Jude, and Evan S. Medeiros 2021. ‘Is the Chinese Communist Party Ready for the Future?’ The Washington Quarterly 44 (2): 21-43. https://doi.org/10.1080/0163660x.2021.1933739.

Brooks, Stephen G., and William C. Wohlforth 2016. ‘The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers in the Twenty-first Century’. International Security 40 (3): 7-53.

Buzan, Barry 2014. ‘The Logic and Contradictions of ‘Peaceful Rise/Development’ as China’s Grand Strategy’. The Chinese Journal of International Relations 7 (4): 381-420. https://doi.org/10.1093/cjip/pou032.

Dittmer, Lowell 2010. ‘On China’s Rise’. In B. Womack (ed.) China’s Rise in Historical Perspective. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, pp. 39-59.

DoD 2019. Indo-Pacific Strategy Report. Washington D.C.: Department of Defence. 1 June DEPARTMENT-OF-DEFENSE-INDO-PACIFIC-STRATEGY-REPORT-2019.PDF

Fiammenghi, Davide et al. 2018. ‘Correspondence: Neoclassical Realism and Its Critics’. International Security 43 (2): 193-203. https://doi.org/10.1162/isec_c_00332.

Guo, Sujian 2013. Chinese Politics and Government: Power, Ideology and Organization. New York: Routledge.

Hameiri, Shahar, Lee Jones, and John Heathershaw 2019. ‘Reframing the Rising Power Debate: State Transformation and Foreign Policy’. Third World Quarterly 40 (8): 1397-1414. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436597.2019.1594182.

Hansen, Birthe 2011. Unipolarity and World Politics: A Theory and Its Implications. London: Routledge.

Heath, Timothy R. 2014. ‘China and the U.S. Alliance System’. The Diplomat, 11 June.

Jia, Qingguo 2007. ‘Danji Shijie yu Zhongguo de Heping Fazhan’ (Unipolarity and China’s Peaceful Development). International Politics Quarterly 4 (November): 51-64.

Jin, Canrong, Liu Xuanyou, and Huang Da 2013. ‘Meiguo Yatai zai Pingheng Zhanlue dui Zhong Mei Guanxi de Yingxiang’ (Impact of the U.S. Asia-Pacific Rebalancing Strategy on Sino-U.S. Relations). Northeast Asia Forum 5: 3-12, 117-127.

Kneuer, Marianne 2018. ‘Autocratic Regimes and Foreign Policy’. In C. G. Thies, (ed.) The Oxford Encyclopedia of Foreign Policy Analysis. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, pp. 96-115. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.392.

Kuik, Cheng-Chwee 2021. Irresistible Inducement? Assessing China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia. Council of Foreign Relations, 15 June. https://doi.org/10.4337/9781789906226.00009

Levy, Jack S. 1988. ‘Domestic Politics and War’. Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18 (4): 653-73.

Manyin, Mark E. et al. 2012. Pivot to the Pacific? The Obama Administration’s Rebalancing Toward Asia. Washington DC: Library of Congress.

Morgenthau, H.J.. 1947. Scientific Man vs. Power Politics. London: Latimer House Limited.

Morgenthau, H.J. 1948. Politics Among Nations. The Struggle for Power and Peace. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Murphy, Martin, and Peter Roberts 2018. ‘The Reality of China's Maritime Capability’. The RUSI Journal 163 (3): 74-86.

Nathan, Andrew J., and Andrew Scobell 2012. China’s Search for Security. New York: Columbia University Press.

Nye, Joseph S. Jr. 2010. ‘American and Chinese Power after the Financial Crisis’. The Washington Quarterly 33 (4): 143-153. https://doi.org/10.1080/0163660x.2010.516634.

Overholt, William H. 2018. China’s Crisis of Success. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Paul, Thazha V. 2004. ‘Introduction: The Enduring Axioms of Balance of Power Theory and Their Contemporary Relevance’. In T. V. Paul, J. J. Wirtz, and M. Fortmann (eds.) Balance of Power. Theory and Practice in the 21st Century. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 1-25. https://doi.org/10.1177/00223433070440020715.

Paul, Thazha V. 2018. Restraining Great Powers: Soft Balancing from Empires to the Global Era. New Haven: Yale University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1537592720001954.

Reilly, James 2014. ‘A Wave to Worry About? Public Opinion, Foreign Policy and China’s Anti-Japan Protests’. Journal of Contemporary China 23 (86): 197-215. https://doi.org/10.1080/10670564.2013.832519.

Rose, Gideon 1998. ‘Neoclassical Realism and Theories of Foreign Policy’. World Politics 51 (1): 144-172. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0043887100007814.

Schweller, Randall L. 2004. ‘Unanswered Threats: A Neoclassical Realist Theory of Underbalancing’. International Security 29 (2): 159-201. https://doi.org/10.1162/0162288042879913

Schweller, Randal L., and Pu Xiaoyu 2011. ‘After Unipolarity: China’s Visions of International Order in an Era of U.S. Decline’. International Security 36 (1): 41-72. https://doi.org/10.1162/isec_a_00044.

Scobell, Andrew 2020. Something Old, Something New: Continuity and Change in China's Foreign Policy. Rand Report, 9 September. https://doi.org/10.7249/cta774-1.

Smith, Nicholas Ross 2018. ‘Can Neoclassical Realism Become a Genuine Theory of International Relations’. The Journal of Politics 80 (2): 742-49

Svolik, Milan W. 2012. The Politics of Authoritarian Rule. New York: Cambridge University Press

Swaine, Michael D. 2014. ‘Chinese Views and Commentary on Periphery Diplomacy’. Chinese Leadership Monitor 44 (1): 1-43.

Taliaferro, Jeffrey W. 2006. ‘State Building for Future Wars: Neoclassical Realism and the Resource-Extractive State’. Security Studies 15 (3): 464-495. https://doi.org/10.1080/09636410601028370.

Taliaferro, Jeffrey W., Steven E. Lobell, and Norris M. Ripsman 2009. ‘Introduction: Neoclassical Realism, the State and Foreign Policy’. In S. Lobell, N. M. Ripsman, and J. W. Taliaferro (eds.) Neoclassical Realism, The State, and Foreign Policy. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-41. https://doi.org/10.1017/cbo9780511811869.001.

Wallace, Jeremy L., and Jessica C. Weiss 2015. ‘The Political Geography of Nationalist Protest in China: Cities and the 2012 Anti-Japanese Protests’. The China Quarterly 222: 403-429. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0305741015000417.

Waltz, Kenneth 1979. Theory of International Politics. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Wang, Feiling 2005. ‘Beijing’s Incentive Structure: The Pursuit of Preservation, Prosperity, and Power’. In D. Yong and F. Wang (eds.) China Rising. Power and Motivation in Chinese Foreign Policy. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, pp. 19-50. https://doi.org/10.1017/s1598240800004926.

Weiss, Jessica Chen 2019. ‘How Hawkish is the Chinese Public? Another Look at “Rising Nationalism” and Chinese Foreign Policy’. Journal of Contemporary China 28 (119): 679-695. https://doi.org/10.1080/10670564.2019.1580427.

White House 2021. Interim National Security Strategic Guidance. Washington: The White House. March. NSC-1v2.pdf (whitehouse.gov)

Wohlforth, William C. 1999. ‘The Stability of a Unipolar World’. International Security 24 (1): 5-41.

Womack, Brantly 2015. ‘China and the Future Status Quo’. The Chinese Journal of International Politics 8 (2): 115-137

Xi, Jinping 2014a. ‘Xi Jinping zai Yazhou Xianghui Xiezuo yu Xinren Cuoshi Huiyi disici Fenghui shang de Jianghua’ [Xi Jinping’s speech at the fourteenth summit meeting of the Conference on Confidence-Building Measures in Asia]. Xinhua, 21 May.. https://doi.org/10.1142/9789813146310_0046.

Xi, Jinping 2014b. The Governance of China. Beijing: Foreign Language Press.

Xu, Jin and Du Zheyuan 2015. ‘The Dominant Thinking Sets in Chinese Foreign Policy Research: A Criticism’. The Chinese Journal of International Politics 8 (3): 251-279. https://doi.org/10.1093/cjip/pov002.

Zhou, Fangyin 2016. ‘Between Assertiveness and Self-Restraint: Understanding China’s South China Sea Policy’. International Affairs 92 (4): 869-890. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2346.12657.

Zhu, Feng, and Peng Lu 2015. ‘Be Strong and Be Good? Continuity and Change in China’s International Strategy under Xi Jinping’. China Quarterly of International Strategic Studies 1 (1): 19-34. https://doi.org/10.1142/s2377740015500025.

Zuo, Xiying 2021. ‘The Trump Effect: China’s New Thoughts on the United States’. The Washington Quarterly 44 (1): 107-127. https://doi.org/10.1080/0163660x.2021.1893515.

Published
2021-12-08