Chinese foreign policy is the most astounding part of the twenty first century. Its rise from an isolated country to a regional power, to a potential great power, proficient of wielding much authority not only in the Asia pacific, but internationally has been of much debate (Lanteigne 2016: 1). The Chinese behaviour and its approach towards the international relations remained under deep investigation by the western scholars. Some argue that China will soon replace the US in the international system (Walter 2011: 2). Others contend that China has nothing superior to surpass US in the near future and it will become a formidable power, but not surpassing US in any manner (Nye 2015).
As the states’ are security maximizers and seek the self interest, according to realists, and China is a realist in its foreign policy behaviour. This makes the Chinese foreign policy revolving around its self interest and protection. It has a maxi-mini principle according to Kim (1992), which revolves around safeguarding interests and driving the modernization with utmost ease and minimal costs. The social fabric of Chinese society is embedded in the concept of civilization and a greater nation, transformed into the modern nation state, but the sense of greatness is still there, resulting in the inherent make-up of striving to gain the status quo again. The conduct of China with the international organizations could be examined in the same light. Its journey from isolation to reformation and modernization has been seen approaching the great power status and with that its foreign policy behaviour is getting aggressive, in a quest to make the world according to its interests. The Chinese conduct with the non-state actors is also of the same ideology, along with the ‘image’ of China, which is the cultural values, depicted in its foreign policy conduct, and it’s argued that the image is always different than the actual.
This paper argues that the Chinese foreign policy behaviour holds the same principle of maxi-mini, where China wants to maximize the interests and minimize the normative cost of the endeavour and make the international organizations safe for its modernization drive, as China is always watching over new opportunities for its economic market through international institutions.
The foreign policy behaviour of the state is a study of its foreign relations with key characteristics and the factors that shape the relations among the states. There is an intrinsic relation of foreign policy with the domestic setting, ideology, culture, politics, geography, social structure and economy. The domestic relation with the outer world is important to measure the foreign policy course of a state. What constitutes the foreign policy of a state? It is the sum of external affairs of a state. Christopher Hill contends that the foreign policy constitutes of the sum of independently conducted official foreign relations of a state in international relations (Hill 2003: 3). In the modern times this could be further said that the non-state actors, like International Governmental Organizations (IGO’s), National Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), multinational corporations are also entities which constitute of the external relations of the state.
Chinese foreign policy behaviour is that of engagement and peace propagation, but with a larger portion of integration of its state sovereignty, where it does not compromise on its own defined premises (Gill and Reilly 2000:41).
Image and appearance: The Chinese image building is part of its foreign policy. The image of a responsible international actor is the part and parcel of the Chinese foreign policy, in that it takes the image seriously into consideration. It does not want to break its image of a moral preacher (Yuan 2005:118). For example, China did not sign the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), but quickly signed the regional Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (NWFZ) approach, which indicates that China morally attaches itself to the ‘have not’s’ concerns, despite having possession of nuclear weapons since 1964 (Yuan 2005:118). China has always shown a tilt towards ‘have not’s’ owing to its link to the communist paradigm.
Gerald Chan (2008: 83) argues that the change in the Chinese behaviour is likely the result of its changing policies due to the status of major power status. The global governance may be affected by the Chinese rise to the extent that China will maximize its interests, by all means. This could be evident from the historical conduct of China.
There are domestic political constraints on the Chinese policy makers to restrain their policies to the national make up of society (Walter 2011). One of the schools of international relations believed that China will not change its existing order and norms as China progressed in the same order. Now China is behaving more aggressively in the international system and challenging the existing norms in its backyard. Chinese model of foreign policy is peculiar and this is made by Chinese themselves, same is the case with the Chinese institutions. Hence the philosophy of one party system and communism is also a factor in Chinese behaviour. To enhance the power and perusal of foreign policy goals Chinese tend to focus on the cultural particularlism, and translate the European models into Chinese culture. The Chinese peculiar facebook is an example of Chinese cultural peculiarity and the closed societal norms. The roots of the Sino-US confrontation are this sharing of international responsibilities.
Regarding international institutions, the major powers use them as tools to further their agenda of global dominance and enhancement of their power and exert influence and pursue the foreign policy goals (Lanteigne 2013: 62). China is sceptical of current international institutions on the very ground that China did not participate in their formulation. These institutions are the tools of existing powers. China is participating so that it can be considered the part of international system, as its image really matters to the Chinese domestic politics (Yuan 2005:118).
According to Ann Kent (2007: 34), the international institutions have power to integrate and socialize the states, and here she quotes the example of China in that it was isolated state and converted to an integrated one, after UN accepted it and it became a member, albeit, Mearshemeir rejects the notion of institutions altering the state behaviour (Mearsheimer 1994-5: 7). He contends that institutions does not affect the state behaviour towards other states, but it’s their national interest that drives them to take decisions of behave in a certain manner. Historically, since 1971 China voluntarily participated in the international organizations and after the economic modernization its participation increased manifold (Kent 2007:34), but its active participation was not before the economic modernization of China after 1978 (Kim 1992: 42). The gradual reintegration of China in the international system can be analysed to watch, if the Kim’s mini-maxi principle still coins its value.
The harsh past experiences of China could be one reason that China is reluctant to fully participate in the international organizations. The unequal treaties with the west particularly in the nineteenth and twentieth century, therefore Chinese attitude to the international organizations was superficial and influential, as China considered all these to control and penetrate in Chinese society (Kent 2007: 34). China first accepted the international law just to save itself from the British unequal treaties and used it as a defensive shield, hence adhering to the principle of security maximization of China and reluctant in the active and free participations (Kent 2007: 35). The three Danish arrested by Prussia in 1864 were condemned by China in that it stipulated that it was her territory. The appeals to the international law were not as early as the development of the republic in 1911 to promote Chinese interests. Hence China used the international law to just further its self interest, adhering to the rights more than performing its duties.
Chinese participation in the Shanghai International Settlement in 1863 was also to stop regulating the foreign interference in China (Kent 2007: 35). This was again an unequal cooperation and a setback for Chinese sense of cultural and political superiority.
China participated in the Universal Postal Union in 1897. It also participated in the Paris peace conference in 1919 (Lanteigne 2013: 60), and helped in the draft of League of Nations and its foundational membership of International Labour organization. This participation could not reduce Chinese harsh experiences as it experienced the military intervention and the indemnity imposed after the Boxer rebellion and concessions to Japan by Germany and sparked protest across the country and the May 4th Movement started. The last nail in the coffin was the inability of League of Nations against the Japanese attack of Manchuria in 1931. The traumatizing effects of World War II (WWII) and the thought of new organizations were in pipeline (Kent 2007: 35).
China was invited to participate on equal basis in the charting out of new organization, owing to its role in the WWII against Japan. The new organization (United Nations) was formed in a hope to establish peace in the world and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) were the founding members of the United Nations (U.N); the US, U.K, Russia, China and France (Kent 2007: 36). Franklin D. Roosevelt said the big four will guarantee the collective effort to bring peace in the world. The nationalist regime of Taiwan brought a deadlock to the Chinese participation in the UN resulting in isolation of the Chinese regime. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) was not recognized by UN due to Taiwan. The Maoist China was shut out of UN on the grounds of claims of Taiwan (Lanteigne 2013: 60). China also fought with the UN forces in the Korean peninsula. Hence, there was an isolated period of China, which saw least amount of connection to the outside world particularly the international institutions, for instance, China refused to join the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM).
During Maoist regime, China was more apprehensive of the international regimes terming them as the imperialist and designed to control the world. China was under the impression that these regimes are not to benefit, but to control the periphery nations. One reason of Chinese opposition was its exclusion from the international regimes like UN, General Agreements on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which benefitted other countries in coming out of crisis (Lanteigne 2013: 62).
The Chinese foreign policy changed altogether with the Deng government (Lanteigne 2013: 60). As the state interests maximized, Chinese participation in the international institutions also increased, so as to engage in getting more information about how to expand the trade network and new opportunities, beginning a new era of multilateralism. This structural stability of China has resulted in more intensive engagement in the international organizations like Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Shanghai Corporation Organization (SCO) etc. There is obviously some effect on the foreign policy of China as well. The Chinese ability to socialize in the international system is increased and the negligible structural power during Mao is increased manifold. This structural power makes the state exert pressure on the norms, values and structure of the relation pattern among the international actors and gain political and material benefits (Lanteigne 2013: 60). The material benefit of the membership of the international organizations has been availed much by China. It also tried to maintain its soft image in the world, with a policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states, which has been changed in the recent period of time, where China is seen formulating the security policy of Africa, to befit its interests (Alden and Large 2015).
China was a formidable actor in the past pertaining to no or very negligible role in the international system, but after the evolution of Chinese system, in particular, after the economic liberalization of the state or the open door policy, according to Kim (1992:141), it has become more assertive in dictating its will to the international organizations and aspiring to reform proposing policies (Lanteigne 2013: 60). The new paradigm of containment via security alliances is seen sceptically by China. Beijing has asserted that it will no longer remain passive in the organizations it will join, as it did in the past. China has not developed organizations of its own to create a counter balance to the Western regimes, but either not remained inactive (Lanteigne 2013: 61). It joined all the IGO’s (of the UN in particular) in 1980’s and started actively participating in them (Kim 1992:141).
The international system is now evolving into a system dominated by laws, norms, institutions and regimes contrary to the situations faced by other rising powers like US UK or USSR in their own period of time. The historical event of Tiananmen was a blow to the Chinese image in the world (Kim 1992: 145). The human rights violation invited the condemnation throughout the world and there was a resolution passed in the UNSC against Chinese (being a UNSC permanent member) violation of human rights. China lost credibility and its image was badly shattered. It tried to rebuild its image at home by legitimizing herself in the international organizations. Deng formed the New International Political and Economic Order (NIPEO) based on peaceful coexistence principles, although they resemble the same order as before Nuremberg state centric national legal order, as UN does not mind the discrepancies in the conduct of China towards its religious minorities or other marginal sectors of the society (Kim 1992: 145).
The international institutions like UN and its tributaries now control the international structure in multicultural society and China is efficient enough to use its might to seek power and goods through international institutions instead of using hard power every time (Lanteigne 2013: 61).
Samuel Kim was theorist who extensively wrote about China and its foreign policy. He pointed towards the gap between the Chinese principles and actual policies, which occurs due to the difference between Chinese image building and rhetoric. Kim pointed out the tendency of Chinese declaration of foreign policy ahead of its potential and compliance to put into practice. There is a conflict between the normative and geostrategic concerns in the Chinese foreign policy (Kim 1992). The Chinese principle standing is enhanced through stronger statements and moral conviction. The normative structure is consumed to build Chinese image while the geostrategic concerns are out of the security considerations of China (Yuan 2005: 119).
China is also using these IGO’s to portray its own image in the world. International legitimating is an essential problem for China, pertaining to the loss of her face after the incident of Tiananmen Square. Deng had three primary objectives for the foreign policy; anti-hegemony, reunification and modernization (Kim 1992: 142). If we see the policies of recent Chinese regime, it occurs that with more aggression, Chinese foreign policy does not change much towards the global institutions in that her policies are maxi-mini.
Chinese want to be heard in the international politics. This is manifested with the above example of refusing to join NPT and remain the voice of ‘have not’s’. But as the Kim’s maxi-mini principle’ holds that China has a selective course of action towards active participation in the global issues and selective involvement in the regional issues pertaining to maximization of state interests (Yuan 2005:119). This selective participation is out of the fear that non-participation pertains to a negative image (Yuan 2005:119), and China likely do not afford to shatter its image of a peaceful state with benign ambitions and behaviour towards the region as well as globe. Chinese economic interdependence is creating increased participation in the international organizations (Yuan 2005:120).
Institutions are the set of rules where states cooperate and compete (Mearsheimer 1994-5: 8). These rules are formed in the international agreements and are not imposed on the states, but they chose to obey them. Pertaining to China, it is a realist state with purely realist designed foreign policy. According to Mearsheimer, many scholars believe that the international relations are driven by the international institutions (1994-5: 5). Instituitionalists consider the institutions as a stabilizing force of the world. For instance, Robert Keohane emphasises that the efficacy and working of institutions will determine the condition of peace in the world (cited in Mearsheimer Winter 1994-5: 6). There are three core theories of institutionalism. These are liberal institutionalism, collective security and critical theory. As China has a sheer realist paradigm, which contradicts with the institutionalists, but since China has an image building factor; it simultaneously tries to keep its face at the international level. Realists think that the international institutions are the reflection of distribution of power in the world and the manifestation of self-interest of the major powers having no significant impact on the individual states’ behaviour. Institutionalists argue that institutions can alter the state behaviour and are the driving force of states for the calculation of their relative power, moving them away from war (Mearsheimer Winter 1994-5: 7). Here the institutions are the independent variables.
Chinese participation in UN peacekeeping missions is often not considered much, but analyzing the notion can lead to a manifestation of Chinese intentions of constructive engagement in the international politics (Gill and Reilly 2000:42). Necessarily the notion of maximization of state interests is not the deconstructive engagement and hence Chinese conduct is also seen as positively engaging in the international system and become less malign.
Lampton argues that there is a consensus of scholars over Chinese tendency of joining international organizations, mainly, to lose its face/image in the international arena (Lampton 2001: 232). Presumably, the gap between Chinese image building and rhetoric with intrinsic presence of maxi-mini principle compels China to remain limitedly involved in the international system, so as to avoid isolation, but also avoid unnecessary involvement in the international affairs, hence securing its material benefits. Lampton criticizes China in that it is only interested in the ‘free rides’, so as to build its economic might and get access to technical development to assist its industry and attract foreign aid. China still negotiates the maxi-mini principles, while solving range of issues (Lampton 2001: 232). What are these issues and what could be the possible negotiating terms of China, Harding and Shambaugh argue that the Chinese keep up with its principles of eliminating the foreign influence, maintain its territorial integrity and its trade capability and the upholding its political power (Lampton 2001: 233). These all principles indicate that the Chinese openness to the globe as well as its involvement in the international system has not reduced its isolationist normative structure. Alastair Johnston notes that the Chinese thinking on nuclear weapons involves the safety of its territorial integrity and the autonomy of its foreign policy and the preservation of its political power as well as the status of major power assumed by China (Johnston 2013). (Its one reference taken from google scholar and not the core readings I think)
These values have been embedded in the Chinese outlook towards the international regimes. For instance Chinese are apprehensive of foreign incursions in its telecommunications (spiritual pollution), human rights and the environment (forbidding formal checking of environmental measures (Shambaugh 1996). China has its own version of facebook and there is a ban on the global form of facebook, this clearly manifests the level of insecurity of China regarding the international system penetration in its peculiar culture and norms. It wants to transform the outside effect on its population into Chinese experience.
China has a value based orientation towards international regimes in that it deems the consent, impartiality and the importance of territorial integrity. Alastair Johnston contends that China has a state centred balance of power approach as it’s a proponent of staunch realism and the rule of self help and unilateralism.
Economic stability and growth is another aspect of Chinese foreign policy. This started with the opening of its economy in the era of Deng Xio Peng in 1978 to 1994, where short term goals were meshed with long term economic benefits. The second stage was the integration of China with the international economic regimes like WTO and GATT. Despite its integration in the economic forums, there has been a considerable resistance on the domestic level to integrate China in the international regimes with fear of slowing economic growth and raising the unemployment (Lampton 2001: 234).
China always tried to maintain its image particularly in the developing world, in that the more money must be served to the African poverty stricken countries by the International developmental agency (IDA) (China is a member of), thus showing commitment to the international development. The quest to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) also rose from the international pressure, particularly from the developing nations (Lampton 2001: 235). Another important example is that of Middle East, where China sought to remain neutral reaping the benefits from both sides, as Middle East is an oil rich region and having adversity with this region is not useful. Hence China sold weapons to the both side during Iran-Iraq war and also voiced against the war in the UNSC, but at a negligible level voicing the peace and security as the foremost priority of China for the Middle East (Kim 1992: 150). In the present day, Chinese policy towards Middle East is not changed and it still did not indulge in the fiasco in the region. Regarding Syrian war, China vetoed the resolution to use force by the coalition forces. It saved her face value and norms, but did not involve in the region practically, as did the US and the Russia. The quarrel between the great powers to dominate the region seemed irrelevant to China. It did not use any force or other covert logistical support to any of the parties in Syria pertaining to its principles of securing its trade capability and here there were no stakes of China.
Chinese will always remain suspicious to the regimes they are part of, specifically the ones they were not part of writing the manifestos of (Lampton 2001: 232). This has been the fragile point of Chinese involvement in the international organizations and limiting its experience to develop its economy and stabilize the country into a strong and great power. Now that China is developed much it has started to expand its involvement, showing its zeal to become a global power and exerting enough pressure on the world.
The Chinese claim over the South China Sea is 4 decades old. The escalation of the conflict and the tension is due to the Chinese position and the military doctrines claiming now to defend itself in the wake of any threat to its interests as compared to its isolationist behaviour in the past (Rolf and Agnew 2015). This reveals that China is even more aggressive in its behaviour and more self interest and security maximization oriented. The claim of South China Sea was on the basis of the historical treaties, for instance the Cairo Declaration 1943 and the Potsdam declaration 1945, though it’s not mentioned in these treaties directly, but China is a claimant. The history revealed a cooperative share of all the stakeholders, but China is asserting much over the area due to its core interests of natural resources, as well as the security concerns in lieu of US influence in the region. It’s argued that Chinese economy and the stability has contributed to Chinese aggressive postures in the region (Rolf and Agnew 2015: 2). It is also aggressive on the international forums towards securing its national interests keeping in view the security issues.
Chris Alden and Daniel Large (2015) argue that Chinese involvement in the African region to develop the norms of security is the evidence of the changing behaviour of China towards the world. It is more pronounced in securing its interests and has reduced its policies of refraining from domestic intervention. Now that China is economically involved in the African region, so it is also trying to fully control the region with its own policy implementation and governance. This implies that the change in the Chinese foreign policy towards the world would also hail the same principles of ‘self interest’ and commercial benefits.
The Chinese foreign policy behaviour is that of engagement and cooperation with the world as regards to the international organizations. The study of its foreign conduct reveals that China does not want to involve in the international system, which may hamper its vital interests and commercial benefits. The all three vital components of state mechanism are kept in consideration, during any new interactions with the IGO’s and NGO’s, maintaining its image of peaceful state with values and norms.
As Kim analyzed the Chinese foreign policy, he found a gap between image and rhetoric. This was the manifestation of Chinese quest of looking peaceful to the world, pertaining to its image destruction after the event of Tiananmen Square and worst human rights violations. The international stature of China changed from isolated to regional and now international with more assertive posture, meaning that it is now engaged in the world politics more actively. Generally, its more difficult to sustain the principles while actively participating with more and more states and entities such as the international organizations, but China owing to a closed society, has maintained its level of sovereignty and autonomy, in that it is still not close, but not as open as it seems to be. Its selectiveness in its dealings with the international organizations clearly manifest its zeal to be the important part of the international community as well as the reluctance it shows demonstrates the maxi-mini principle of Samuel Kim, who argued that Chinese foreign policy is the maximization of its security and rights while minimizing the normative costs attached to it. This is not only domestic pressure, but also the fact that china is a one party system, which has been intact since long time. The economic liberalization of 1978 and the market oriented economy do not affect the basic thinking process of the foreign policy decision making elite of China. Hence, there could be numerous examples related to the Chinese behaviour of maximization of its security interests while securing its economic interests intact, like that of involvement in the African affairs.
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