CHATHAM HOUSE: Engaging an Emerging Superpower: Understanding China as a Foreign Policy Actor
- China should not be seen as a threat intent on deposing the United States as the world’s No.1 superpower or as a dormant, peaceful status quo power with no ambitions. Such views hamper the efforts of outsiders to engage Beijing.
- It is difficult to gauge a uniform, coherent Chinese foreign policy not only because of the opacity of the state, but also because of the multitude of actors influencing and shaping policy. To engage the Chinese, foreign partners need to have an understanding of this pluralism.
- Historical factors continue to be strong drivers of Chinese foreign policy in Asia. China’s leading position in the region is unequivocal, and it has shown a growing confidence in flexing its muscles. Key Chinese priorities in Asia are keeping American power from expanding and securing economic and security needs. To these ends, bilateral and informal ties are favoured over multilateral ones.
- Outside Asia, China is not as shy as before in asserting itself. This has increased after the global economic crisis, which significantly underlined a shift of power from the West to Asia. While internal stability and security remain a top priority, in recent years, Beijing has shown that it is ready to take a more assertive international stance and stand up for itself to protect its interests.
- An understanding of and sensitivity about the roles nationalism and history continue to play in Chinese foreign policy, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, are crucial. Strengthening business ties with Beijing will no doubt advance bilateral relations, but gaining an understanding of China’s preferred strategies in foreign partnerships – namely soft diplomacy and non-confrontational persuasion – will help those relations go further.
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