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OLEMISS POL 324 - A Rising Power’s Emerging Choice

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The Diplomatic Face of China’s GrandStrategy: A Rising Power’s Emerging Choice*Avery GoldsteinMuch of the debate about the rise of China since the early 1990s hasaddressed two questions: how fast are China’s economic and militarycapabilities increasing; and how should the world, especially the UnitedStates, respond to this emerging great power (for example, contain orengage)?1Assessing the significance of China’s growing capability andthe advisability of alternative ways of responding to it, requires a graspof the way leaders in Beijing seek to realize their nation’s interests giventhe constraints imposed by their own resources and the internationalcontext within which they must operate. This article analyses such effortsby examining the role of diplomacy in China’s grand strategy. It arguesthat after several years of ad hoc attempts to deal with the new challengesthat accompanied the end of the Cold War, a clearer consensus onChina’s basic foreign policy line began to emerge among Party leaders in1996. This consensus, tantamount to the country’s grand strategy, hasprovided a relatively coherent framework for the PRC’s subsequentinternational behaviour and the expected contribution of diplomacy to thecountry’s security.2During much of the Cold War, Beijing’s overriding challenge was toensure a relatively weak China’s security in the face of pressing threatsfrom the superpowers. The priority was clearly to address core survivalconcerns (territorial and political integrity) and the imperatives for Chi-*Inaddition to cited publications, this article draws on approximately 105 hours ofinterviews the author conducted in Beijing (65 hours in June–July 1998, March–April andOctober 2000), Shanghai (15 hours in June–July 2001), Washington, D.C. (10 hours inFebruary 2000), Tokyo (15 hours in March 1999). The interview subjects (promisedconfidentiality) were civilian officials and military officers, as well as advisers andindependent analysts. Their institutional affiliations are available upon request from theauthor. I thank Tang Wei and Chen Cheng for their research assistance. Research support forthis project has been provided by the Smith Richardson Foundation as well as the Universityof Pennsylvania’s Research Foundation and Center for East Asian Studies.1. See Michael E. Brown, Owen R. Cote, Jr., Sean M. Lynn-Jones and Steven E. Miller(eds.), The Rise of China (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000). For overviews of thecontainment versus engagement debate, see especially David Shambaugh, “Containment orengagement of China: calculating Beijing’s responses,” International Security, Vol. 21, No.2 (Fall 1996), p. 202; Gerald Segal, “East Asia and the ‘constrainment’ of China,”International Security, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Spring 1996), pp. 107–135.2. This consensus constitutes a grand strategy for China in the sense the term is oftenemployed by international relations scholars – the distinctive combination of military,political and economic means by which a state seeks to ensure its national security. For thisbroad understanding of grand strategy, as distinct from military strategy, see Paul Kennedy,“Grand strategy in war and peace: toward a broader definition,” in Paul Kennedy (ed.), GrandStrategies in War and Peace (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991); Barry Posen, TheSources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars (Ithaca:Cornell University Press, 1984). Richard Rosecrance and Arthur A. Stein (eds.), The DomesticBases of Grand Strategy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993). Thomas J. Christensen,Useful Adversaries: Grand Strategy, Domestic Mobilization, and Sino-American Conflict,1947–1958 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996). The China Quarterly, 2001836 The China Quarterlynese diplomacy were correspondingly straightforward. The tight con-straints of bipolarity resulted first in alliance with the Soviets as anecessary counter to the perceived threat from the U.S. and then, after afruitless effort to unite with the Third World in opposing both superpow-ers, in a security entente with the U.S. to counter the perceived threatfrom the Soviets. Today, however, China has greater strength and alsobelieves it faces few immediate threats. In addition to providing for coresurvival concerns, China’s contemporary grand strategy is designed toengineer the country’s rise to the status of a true great power that shapes,rather than simply responds to, the international system. Achieving thisgoal, however, will take several decades of continued economic andmilitary modernization during which China must sustain its recentlyimpressive record of growth. It also presents a tough diplomatic chal-lenge. As had become clear by the mid-1990s, China’s expanding, yetstill limited, power had already begun to elicit worried reactions from theU.S. and China’s Asian neighbours. Concerned about the dangerouspossibilities inherent in these reactions, since 1996 Beijing has forged adiplomatic strategy with two broad purposes: to maintain the internationalconditions that will make it feasible for China to focus on the domesticdevelopment necessary if it is to increase its relative (not just absolute)capabilities; and to reduce the likelihood that the U.S. or others with itsbacking will exploit their current material advantage to abort China’sascent and frustrate its international aspirations.3These considerationshave resulted in efforts to reassure potential adversaries who had grownincreasingly worried about China’s rise and also efforts to encourage theother major powers to view China as an indispensable, or at leastattractive, international partner.Elements of China’s present diplomatic approach were evident before1996,4indeed, as far back as the early 1980s. As tensions with the Soviet3. Swaine and Tellis refer to China’s current grand strategy as “the calculative strategy,”also emphasizing that China’s approach is one for a state that faces a very tough challengein trying to become a peer competitor of the currently dominant U.S. See Michael D. Swaineand Ashley J. Tellis, Interpreting China’s Grand Strategy: Past, Present, and Future (SantaMonica, CA: RAND, 2000), p. xi. On the alternative possibilities for adjusting relationsbetween a dominant and rising power, see Robert Powell, In the Shadow of Power: Statesand Strategies in International Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press,


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