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Table of Contents

China Today Series

Title page

Copyright page






1: Continuity and Change in China's Foreign Policies

The Role of History and Culture

The Leadership Challenge

An Outline of the Chapters

2: Foreign Policy Decision Making

China's Government

The Military

Global Diplomacy

Information Sources

3: China, the World and the International System

China's Worldview

China's Broad Foreign Policy Response

China's View of the Global Order

The UN and International Law

China As a Responsible Power?


China and Human Rights

4: Insecurity and Vulnerability

Vulnerability of the Political Regime

A Historical Sense of Vulnerability

A Geographic Sense of Insecurity and Vulnerability

A Specific Vulnerability to the US

5: Military Threats and Responses


Nuclear Policy

China and Space

Cyber Warfare

Conventional Weapons

6: Economic Foreign Policy

Currency and Exchange Rates

The World Trade Organization

‘Going Out’

The Use of Economic Power

7: China, Its Neighbours and Beyond


The United States/Trans-Pacific Partnership

North Korea

South Korea


Shanghai Cooperation Organisation





The European Union

8: Foreign Policy in Transition

Domestic Influences on Foreign Policy

The Economy

Markets and Resources

Consistency of Foreign Policy

Use of Force

Challenging the US

The Pivot

China and International Order




China Today Series

Michael Keane, Creative Industries in China
Pitman Potter, China's Legal System
Xuefei Ren, Urban China
Judith Shapiro, China's Environmental Challenges
Title page

To Pamela



1839–42First Opium War
1857–60Second Opium War
1894–5First Sino-Japanese War
1900–1Boxer Uprising
1911Chinese Republican Revolution and the fall of the Qing dynasty
1912Republic of China established under Sun Yat-sen
1927Split between Nationalists (KMT) and Communists (CCP); civil war begins
1931Japan invades Manchuria
1937–45Second Sino-Japanese War: Japan invades China
1937Nanjing massacre
1945–9Chinese Civil War between the Nationalists (KMT) and Communists (CCP)
1949Mao Zedong founds People's Republic of China (PRC), KMT retreats to Taiwan
1950–53Korean War: North Korea invades South Korea
1953–7First Five-Year Plan: PRC adopts Soviet-style economic planning
1954First constitution of the PRC; first meeting of the National People's Congress
1955Afro-Asian (Bandung) Conference
1957Hundred Flowers Movement: Brief period of political debate followed by repressive Anti-Rightist Movement
1958–60Great Leap Forward: Chinese Communist Party aims to transform agrarian economy through rapid industrialization and collectivization
1959China invades Tibet; Dalai Lama flees to India
1959–61Three Years of Natural Disasters, widespread famine with millions of deaths
1960Sino-Soviet split
1962Sino-Indian War
1964First PRC atomic bomb detonation
1966–76Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and its Effects
1971PRC regains UN seat and Security Council membership
1972President Richard Nixon visits China; ‘Shanghai Communiqué’ pledges to normalize US–China relations
1976The Great Tangshan Earthquake: Largest earthquake of the twentieth century by death toll
1976Death of Mao Zedong
1976Ultra-leftist Gang of Four arrested and sentenced
1978–89Democracy Wall Movement
1978Introduction of one-child policy restricting married, urban couples to one child
1978Deng Xiaoping assumes power; launches Four Modernizations and economic reforms
1979US and China establish formal diplomatic ties
1979PRC invades Vietnam
1980China joins International Monetary Fund, World Bank
1980Chins joins Conference on Disarmament
1984Sino-British Joint Declaration agreeing return of Hong Kong to China in 1997
1989Tiananmen Square protests culminate in 4 June military crackdown
1989Fall of the Berlin Wall
1991Dissolution of the Soviet Union
1992Deng Xiaoping's Southern Tour re-energizes economic reforms
1992China accedes to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
1993–2002Jiang Zemin President of PRC
1996China signs the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
1996Missile ‘crisis’ across the Taiwan Strait
1999China initiates its ‘going out’ overseas investment policy
1999US missile hits Chinese embassy in Belgrade
1999Falungong demonstrations in Beijing
2001Collision of US EP3 surveillance plane and Chinese fighter plane
2001China accedes to membership of World Trade Organization
2002–12Hu Jintao President of PRC
2003SARS outbreak
2006First Forum on China–Africa Cooperation
2007China overtakes the US as world's biggest emitter of CO2
2008Sichuan earthquake
2008Summer Olympic Games in Beijing
2010Shanghai World Expo
2010Google closes its self-censored mainland China search engine service
2013Xi Jinping President of PRC


This is a book about China's foreign policy. It is not about China as a whole. The distinction is important. To implement foreign policy, states need to deal bilaterally and multilaterally with a wide range of countries. With some they will be comfortable; with others there may be elements of moral distaste or a lack of trust. States need to be able to co-habit with both, even where warmth and mutual trust are lacking, if they are to pursue effectively their interests and maintain peace. Mao Zedong and Richard Nixon were prepared to deal with each other despite the fact that China had long seen Nixon as a ‘warmonger’ and Americans did not trust Mao. Commonly, foreign policy involves dealing with people who think differently from us. Yet having been involved in international dealings with other countries over much of my career, I was often surprised by assumptions of colleagues that there is a similarity in how problems are seen and approached; or, at times, that others ought to think like us. Knowing not just where your counterparts differ, but understanding why they differ, facilitates handling of differences and makes cooperation possible.

One of Britain's most distinguished historians, Michael Howard, in his 1988 E.H. Carr memorial lecture, said that ‘[t]he first duty both of the theorist and of the practitioner of international relations … is empathy: the capacity to enter into other minds and understand ideologies which have been formed by environment, history and education in a very different mould from our own’.1 This book is sensitive, however imperfectly, to that requirement, and seeks to place foreign policy decisions in the context of the challenges and vulnerabilities that Chinese leaders believe they face in their international environment. It is less sensitive, for space reasons, in the use of the term ‘China’ despite acknowledging that in reality there are many Chinas; even more problematic is the use, lacking an alternative, of the ambiguous term, the ‘West’, often meaning the developed world and, for China, usually now the US and its allies in the developed world.

Looking at China, it is not hard to find examples of the good, but also the bad and the ugly. I have tried to avoid judgements about China and its policies, although clearly there are policies that reflect values that conflict sharply with our own. While there are many reasons for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party's often abused monopoly of political power, its claims to have maintained social and political stability in China, at least since 1989, improved the material wellbeing of its citizens, and increased China's standing and status in the world are not without substance. I have also been inclined to assess China's foreign policy responses not against absolute criteria, but relative to the general practice of other countries. While not done systematically, it is useful to remind ourselves from time to time that, where interests are involved, few, if any, countries are totally trustworthy or compliant with international rules and norms. The following study reflects a view that the international discussion on the rise of China underestimates its governing regime's perceptions, valid or not, of international and domestic challenges and vulnerabilities. It also draws out some of the implications of Western foreign policy that is looking for regime change.

When I first became interested in China, as a government official in the 1960s, most around me were sceptical that it could progress or were fearful of it – a yellow peril or a communist threat. I first visited China in 1973, during a period commonly seen as the latter part of the Cultural Revolution, and have returned on numerous occasions since. I come to this subject not as a Chinese linguist, but as one who has dealt extensively with China in the foreign policy field and studied China on and off for over four decades, both as a government official and an academic. I have negotiated with Chinese officials on a diverse range of subjects, including various bilateral issues (from export contracts to human rights), broad regional, political and economic cooperation issues, and specific issues related to Cambodia, Taiwan and Japan. Over the years, and on innumerable occasions, I have discussed many of the issues in this book with officials and scholars in China. I have also discussed and debated China extensively, at the official and scholarly level, with colleagues in the West, notably in the US and in Australia.

I wish to acknowledge the considerable support and encouragement I received in undertaking this study from the Department of International Relations at the Australian National University, under the headship of Professor Bill Tow. I have also been greatly assisted in writing this book by colleagues who have been good enough to read drafts. Special thanks are due to Kathy Morton who read a full draft and to Pete Van Ness who read almost every chapter. Both made many valuable suggestions. Others who read and commented helpfully on chapters or significant parts are Shiro Armstrong, Greg Austin, Paul Dibb, Frank Frost, Ian Hall, Michael Harris, Ron Huisken, Kirill Nourzhanov, John Ravenhill, David Shambaugh, Brendan Taylor, Ramesh Thakur and You Ji. Their input was substantial and is gratefully acknowledged here. Helpful comments were also received from two anonymous reviewers. I have benefited substantially from discussions on the ChinaPol listserv as I did from the earlier ChinSec listserv. Numerous translation sites, especially China Wire and BBC Monitoring, were very helpful.

Particular thanks are due to two special people. Mary-Louise Hickey, the Publications Editor of the Department of International Relations, was a continuing help throughout the development of the study and brought the manuscript into its final shape. My wife Pamela not only read each chapter and greatly improved the logic and consistency of the argument, but also provided sustained support and understanding of the demands of the book at the expense of time we would otherwise have spent together.


1 Michael Howard, ‘Ideology and international relations’, reproduced in Michael Howard, The Lessons of History, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991, p. 150, emphasis in original.


APEC Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
ARF ASEAN Regional Forum
ASAT anti-satellite
ASEAN Association of Southeast Asian Nations
ASEM Asia–Europe meeting
BRICS Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa
CAFTA China–ASEAN Free Trade Agreement
CCP Chinese Communist Party
CD Conference on Disarmament
CMC Central Military Commission
CMI Chiang Mai Initiative
CMIM CMI Multilateral
DDA Doha Development Agenda
DoC Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea
EAEC East Asia Economic Caucus
EAS East Asia Summit
EEZ exclusive economic zone
EU European Union
FALSG Foreign Affairs Leading Small Group
FOCAC Forum on China–Africa Cooperation
G2 Group of Two
G7/8 Group of Seven/Eight
G20 Group of Twenty
GATT General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
GDP gross domestic product
IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency
ICCPR International Convention on Civil and Political Rights
IMF International Monetary Fund
LSG leading small group
MFA Ministry of Foreign Affairs
MOFCOM Ministry of Commerce
MTCR Missile Technology Control Regime
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NDRC National Development and Reform Commission
NOCs national oil companies
NPC National People's Congress
NPT Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
NSA National Security Agency
ODA official development assistance
ODI outward direct investment
OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
PBSC Politburo Standing Committee
PLA People's Liberation Army
PRC People's Republic of China
R2P responsibility to protect
RCEP Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership
RMB renminbi
SARS severe acute respiratory syndrome
SCO Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
SOE state-owned enterprise
TND New Tang Dynasty television station
TPP Trans-Pacific Partnership
UN United Nations
UNSC United Nations Security Council
WTO World Trade Organization


Continuity and Change in China's Foreign Policies

China is no longer just an emerging power; it is already a regional great power with major global significance. Although not yet a superpower, it is still rising, even if with some potential fragility. For the more than 60 years since the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, its foreign policies have been of particular international interest. Over that period, those policies have reflected both ideology and pragmatism, and have undergone considerable change and development as China has developed and global circumstances have changed. China is now more active in the international arena and there is considerable interest in whether its future foreign policies will follow peaceful lines or will become aggressive and eventually seek to dominate.

Inevitably, much of the international discussion of China's foreign policy has focused on the concerns of the international community. Among security analysts and media commentators, the focus is on China's military modernization/expansion and the future of China–US relations; among policy officials and academics, the spotlight is on whether China will support or challenge the existing international system of rules, norms and institutions. In the early 2000s, there appeared a widely held view that China was demonstrating broad acceptance of the status quo, accommodating to, and integrating with, the existing international system, with no strongly articulated views about changing that system (Johnston 2003; Kang 2007). In recent years, however, there has been heightened media attention on an apparent increase in China's self-confidence and assertiveness, even to the point, it is argued, of arrogance in its international dealings.

Examples of this apparent assertiveness include its responses to US ‘spying’ on China's military developments when, in 2009, Chinese ships harassed an American surveillance ship, the Impeccable, in China's exclusive economic zone; and abrasive responses of some Chinese officials to statements by US officials about the South China Sea. In the economic field, examples include China's strong response to criticisms of China's trade surpluses and to pressures to revalue its currency; China's criticism of US mismanagement of its economy and weakening of the dollar, threatening China's large investment in dollar-denominated securities; and its strongly stated views in Group of Twenty (G20) meetings and particularly at the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in November 2009.

To what extent do these examples portray China as a confident, assertive power, demonstrating hubris and increased nationalism, unwilling to accept the international system as it is and wanting, as is often argued, to push its own ideas on norms and policies, indeed wanting to remake the global rules? How much substance is there, as well, in the argument that China sees a faltering and weakened US and a failing Western capitalist model, whereas now there is a successful Chinese model that enables it to challenge the American leadership of the global system? These are important questions with major implications for the future.

China's greater self-confidence and pride in its achievements no doubt contribute to what can be termed ‘assertiveness’. Whether this is arrogance is unclear. Is it, as Swaine (2011b) has observed, that China is less willing to accept US positions, notably US arms sales to Taiwan, political leaders' meetings with the Dalai Lama, US coastal surveillance of China, and Western lectures on human rights?

Despite the priority given to domestic issues, China's elites generally aspire for China to be accepted as a global great power. The implications of this for China and its foreign policies are part of our more general consideration of which domestic and international factors will influence the formulation of China's future foreign policies. For this purpose, we start by noting on the one hand the substantial changes in China's foreign policies since 1949 and, on the other, various continuities that have framed the context in which these changes have taken place and that have influenced China's policies from 1949 to the present. The purpose is to identify, as far as possible, continuities that may remain significant in China's future foreign policies.

In practice, even today, China's foreign policies are unlikely to be fully consistent over time, for several reasons. These include: the idea that past experiences probably still affect decision makers, although not uniformly; China's integration in the international system continues to make its foreign policy increasingly complex; because of globalization, few domestic interests are now unaffected by international developments, and those people representing those interests have risen to influential positions in the foreign policy decision-making process; and debate within China about foreign policy objectives and the methods to be employed has become more active and widespread, with public opinion playing an important role. In China, as elsewhere, moreover, foreign policy is contingent, often simply responsive to events and based on incomplete information.

Finally, the influence of strong leaders on foreign policies can often be decisive. Although China's top leaders today have less personal power, the judgements that they will make in the future, and the decisions that will emanate from this more diffuse decision-making process, with less powerful leaders, are fundamentally important to the international community. We cannot expect to know what the decisions of China's leaders will be in the coming decades: China's leaders today would themselves not know. The intellectual challenge, however, is that we inevitably project our vision of what China's future decisions will be in discussions of China's foreign policies, and we need to examine why we have a particular vision.

In this book, we look at what were understood to have been China's foreign policy objectives since 1949, and the methods that China has used to pursue those objectives. China's ability to pursue those objectives has been shaped by international and domestic developments. Major international developments that have impacted on foreign policies include the Cold War, already underway in 1949 when the PRC was established, the war on terror that began in the early 2000s, and the global financial crisis of 2007–8. Critical events include China's rapprochement with the US in the 1970s, and three major developments outside China's control – the international response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square tragedy, the fall of the Berlin Wall in the same year, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and, effectively, the fall of international communism in 1991.

In this introductory chapter, we do two things. First, we look briefly at how history and culture have influenced and may influence China's approach to foreign policy. Second, we look at the main elements of the PRC's foreign policies under Mao Zedong and the first decade of Deng Xiaoping's leadership. We do this both to illustrate the major changes that took place over that 40-year period, and to provide a perspective from which to consider changes and continuities in China's foreign policies in the decades since. Subsequent chapters are concerned with China's current foreign policy starting with developments since the beginning of the 1990s.

The Role of History and Culture

This is a book about contemporary foreign policies, not about China's history or culture. We cannot, however, totally ignore the likely historical and cultural influences on the views of China's political leaders, on their perceptions of national interests, and on their foreign policies. Each state develops its own foreign relations culture, including not only strategic and military considerations, but also how peaceful intercourse with other states should be conducted (Stuart-Fox 2004: 119).

China's foreign policies since 1949 have reflected how China's leaders perceived world developments from within their worldviews that were themselves changing. Those worldviews reflected their beliefs and ideological conceptions of the way the world should work. The priorities given at any time to domestic needs versus its international objectives also influenced foreign policy judgements; this became clear over the past three decades with examples of China's reform programme and its related economic priorities and imperatives.

We can be confident that in some form, China's foreign policies will be a reflection of China's past and its culture, although there is considerable debate about what and how much influence each has had. If we examined US foreign policy without recognizing US self-perceptions of exceptionalism, we would fall short of a reasoned understanding of US foreign policy. Similarly, from discussions with Chinese scholars and officials over the years, it is clear that the Chinese people believe in China's exceptionalism, based on its different history and culture that is perhaps seen as superior to that of the West.

China's history, cultures and related traditions play important roles in its literature, public discourse, academic discussion and, indeed, in domestic political contestation; however, when looking at how these traditions have influenced foreign policy, problems emerge, as its history reflects many such traditions and many changes in cultures (Hunt 1996: 8). In the case of history, for example, these reflect the politically salient ‘humiliation’ in the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries, the patriarchal Middle Kingdom sinocentric worldview of much of the last millennium, the cosmopolitanism of much of the previous millennium, the cautionary lessons of the ‘warring states’ periods (whether in distant history or during the years of the Republic in the early twentieth century), and the quasi-imperialism that the Qing dynasty pursued to try to protect its core cultural areas from the potentially vulnerable peripheral areas such as Tibet, Xinjiang, Mongolia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. As Spence (2005) has noted, China's contemporary concerns about Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan stem from China's conquests in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and now constitute complex domestic grievances.

While today China's concerns for security have diminished in some respects – notably with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the altered if still prickly relationship with the US, and the return of the territories of Hong Kong and Macau – it maintains its historic sensitivity to threats to its territorial integrity in its peripheral areas. Particular security concerns about its periphery and its unity have not diminished. Hong Kong and Macau have been reunited, but Taiwan has not. Periodic international developments, some seen as assisted by the West, particularly the US – such as ‘colour revolutions’, redolent in China's leaders' eyes, of the US's Cold War ‘peaceful evolution’ strategy,1 and the Arab Spring – and some not, such as Islamic militancy and Buddhist activism, are considered potential threats to that periphery, notably to Tibet, Xinjiang and, to a lesser extent, Inner Mongolia.

China sees the world in a different way than countries in the West, for various reasons, but most notably because of the Confucian belief in hierarchy. Moreover, while Western analyses commonly assume that the characteristics of the global system are best understood as anarchic, for China this is not necessarily the case. Van Ness (2002: 132–3) argues that for China, it is hegemonic rather than anarchic. China (and Japan), he argues, ‘perceive a hierarchical world environment, structured in terms of a combination of US military-strategic hegemony and a globalized economic interdependence. They devise strategies based on the perceived benefits/costs of participation in that system, as compared with opting out of it’.

For China's elites, global politics is concerned with the rise and fall of hegemonic powers. In this view, great powers rise to where they seek global domination and expansion, followed ultimately by the overextension of that great power and decline into passivity (Harding 1984; Shi 2012). This was reflected in China's recent close examination of the history of the various empires of the past, as China has sought to learn lessons as it rises to great power status. It is why China's leaders see that broader security in global terms, but also why they expect the US ultimately to decline, although with uncertainty about when.

Another dimension, however, comes from the different internal views about China's domestic relationship with the world. In the nineteenth century, views about how China should relate to the world were divided, in very broad terms, between a form of nativism (or nationalism) wanting autonomy, little global involvement and avoidance of contacts with foreigners who would contaminate China's culture and polity; and a cosmopolitanism or modernism that saw global involvement with importing technology, values and institutions as essential for China's development, which would provide means to counter imperialist depredations. Within Mao's PRC, nativism remained a favoured view among the more radical segments of the leadership, and Mao held both views at different times.

This division of views created tensions and sustained debates among the Chinese Communist Party leadership, as it had in China long before Mao, and as it does today.2 Under Hu Jintao, the domestic problems arising from China's rapid economic growth led to concerns with a ‘harmonious society’ drawing on Confucian thinking; it also led to divisions between those favouring continued acceptance of globalization, implied by the linked ‘harmonious world’ construct that Hu put forward in 2005 at the UN General Assembly, and those critical of globalization and its influence on society in China (Zheng and Tok 2007). This division accounts for some of the frequent shifts in China's foreign policies, as the influence of one or other interest groups varies.

A further perspective is a moral one in the sense of China's view of how the international order ought to operate over time. The PRC has sought different changes to the international order, being variously critical of capitalism, imperialism and, more recently and currently, hegemonism; it now seeks a harmonious world. Shih (1993: 201) argues that the changes to China's worldview are frequent, but that China is less interested in changing the world order than in establishing a position of moral superiority. In addition, while Mao saw a world of imperialist powers threatening China, he also viewed China's status as one of leadership, whether as a revolutionary state or in terms of the Third World. This reflected a carryover of Chinese history's concern with status and a conviction that China constitutes an exemplar.

While it is often convenient to talk about whether China is a ‘status quo’ power or not, that term lacks clarity. Johnston (2003) has argued that China wants the increased status and respect that acceptance as a great power and recognition of its increased material power will provide, including a bigger role in international institutions, but that it is difficult to see it as a status quo power, even if only ‘revisionist-lite’. At a broader level, its leadership has long held views as to how the international order ought to change, which is effectively a moral judgement. This is not surprising; the US is not a status quo power either, given its interests in the spread of democracy, human rights and market capitalism. As Van Ness has stated, the two states are the civilizing states (quoted in Shih 1993: 126).

As observed earlier, China aspires to be accepted as a global great power and to receive the status and respect that accompanies such recognition. On the other hand, to be acknowledged by others as having great power status is generally understood to mean that one should accept a responsibility to contribute to the preservation of the international order (Bull 1977: 199–222). A Maoist view would be that China had no responsibility, in the sense of obligation, to an international system that was run by two imperialist powers that had in the past humiliated China and continued to exclude it. Since gaining its permanent UN Security Council seat with the explicit special responsibilities of that position, and following Deng Xiaoping's economic reform and opening up programme that began in 1978, however, China has increasingly participated in the global system and benefited substantially from that participation. Moreover, since the 1990s, with its growing concern about its national image, China has increasingly argued that it acts responsibly in its international activities. Consequently, another aim of this study is to consider what constitutes ‘international responsibility’, and to what extent China is responsible in its foreign policies. This is not a simple matter as it is not always clear what is meant by ‘responsibility’, how it can be addressed and assessed, and what it implies for China (Chan 2001).

A related interest here is the extent to which history is relevant to China's future decisions on foreign policies and, if so, which particular history? Considerable attention is commonly given, both in discussions with Chinese officials and scholars and in Western analyses, to the influence of ‘victimhood’ which arose from the century of humiliation; it is also important in official Chinese rhetoric. Although this notion of victimhood is perhaps declining in importance among elites, it remains one amongst a number of influential factors. China's related sense of insecurity and vulnerability has led to a historically conditioned emphasis on sovereignty and the development of comprehensive strength which are now key elements of China's foreign policy.

Besides the ‘victimhood’ period, there are various experiences that one could draw upon to illustrate the present. There are many cultural traditions in China that provide other precedents for ‘after-the-event’ explanations of almost any conceivable line of foreign policy. Notably, there is a different imperial history which could ultimately become more important in shaping Chinese views – whether thought of in terms of the Middle Kingdom or, in a regional context, as the hierarchical tributary system. More recent elements of history have also imprinted memories. For example, not only was China subject to sustained hostility from both superpowers in the 1950s and 1960s, but both the US and the Soviet Union implicitly and explicitly threatened China with nuclear weapons in the same period.

A further continuity, which is a legacy of the ‘victimhood’ period of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was the ‘traitor’ syndrome which stemmed from the need to blame someone for China's weakness in the nineteenth century. Whilst many Chinese officials negotiated from a weak position versus the foreigners' strengths, many others collaborated with the foreigners for practical or self-serving reasons, as happened under Japanese occupation. It remains a sensitive process to avoid blame for betraying national interests in dealing with international developments, notably over Taiwan. Lampton (2001: 15) reports a Chinese academic's comment to the effect that a hard approach to a problem, even if it fails, is understood, but a leader who has a soft approach that fails is seen as guilty in the eyes of future generations.

Culture is a problematic concept for foreign policy analysts. It generally refers to the norms and values of a society and the rules and standards, as set by law or custom, to reflect these norms and values. Culture matters and contributes, perhaps substantially, to differences in understandings and approaches among different countries. The question, however, of how it matters and how one can get a grip on something that is a mix of ideas is difficult to answer (Bobrow et al. 1979: 23). Under normal conditions, the issue of culture is not seen as relevant, because Westernization and modernization have been so successful in penetrating other parts of the world, that Westernization is assumed to equate to ‘civilization’. The distinguished historian Wang Gungwu noted that in international relations today, norms of behaviour and discourse have been established by the West. These are assumed to be accepted by people in all responsible countries and this is often taken for granted. When this happens, it is ignored that these norms have come from a distinct culture, and actually represent a large expansive political culture that has developed since the post-Enlightenment world of European nation states. Moreover, when we talk about international order, ‘what China sees today is not an international order at all, least of all the international order, but merely the product of the struggles among the Great Powers of half a century ago’ (Wang Gungwu 2008: 24). China now argues the importance of the UN and international law which, however, it believes is under challenge by the West.3 As we see in chapter 3, China has largely adapted to this international system, but with a degree of ambivalence, despite Western pressure to be more fully involved. China's integration within the international system is largely true in material and institutional terms; integration, however, is an ambiguous concept and is more limited in respect of China's values and identities, which relate to its participation as part of a changing international community.

At the general level, world cultures impact not only on values and the way a country pursues its international objectives, but also on what it sees as effective approaches to problems. In the strategic field, the idea that China's way of thinking is different from that of the US received some serious discussion when a US congressional report noted that ‘Chinese strategic thinking and military planning differ markedly from our own’ (US–China Security Review Commission 2002: 15). Henry Kissinger revived the idea that China's way of war and diplomacy is shaped by attitudes developed from the game of weiqi (or go in Japan), commonly linked to the writings of Sun Tzu, while in the West (or perhaps just in the Anglo-Saxon countries), the way of war and diplomacy is seen as more linearly oriented (Sun Tzu 1963; Lai 2004; Kissinger 2011). A strong case was made for the weiqi basis of Maoist strategy, both in the insurgency period to 1949 and in China's revolutionary strategy towards the developing countries after 1949. Kissinger emphasized that China's defensive concerns and its quest for territorial security of its long borders encompassing 14 countries could be linked to the relational non-linear approach of weiqi.

While some features of post-Mao foreign policy, such as the development of strategic partnerships in the 1990s and the political links associated with the ‘going out’ process of the early 2000s may seem consistent with such thinking, the connection is not clearly established. Indeed, given the interactive process of strategic interrelationships and changes over time in strategic structures, China may have simply absorbed lessons from others. Sisci (2011) has argued that the difference between the US and the Chinese traditions of dealing with problems can be likened to the difference between a scalpel – reflecting the US inclination to solve a problem, often by militarily eliminating its cause – and a needle, reflecting the Chinese medical tradition of preventing a problem through the practice of acupuncture.4

Strategic culture reflects, among other things, the circumstances in which coercion may be judged appropriate. Some analysts see the Chinese approach as a realpolitik one (Christensen 1996), but today it lacks a realpolitik response such as balancing or alliance building as Van Ness (2002) has argued. Periods of Chinese history, however, such as that of the ‘warring states’, lend support to the realpolitik argument. Nevertheless, cultures are changeable. Although ideology has not completely declined in importance, as evidenced by the ‘upholding socialism’ mantra, a greater Chinese aim is likely to be one of achieving increased national power through its foreign policy. China's realpolitik is more likely to be time and circumstance-related, rather than an inherent collective personality of the Chinese people. After an examination of China's response to its membership of multilateral institutions, Johnston (2008: xviii–xxvii) concludes that certain parts of China's decision-making processes have been weaned off realpolitik calculations. Moreover, as noted earlier, a moral component can also be found in China's traditional approach that continued in Mao's foreign policy, and indeed that of Hu Jintao's with his ‘harmonious world’. Whether China's leaders will seek to present themselves again as ‘the supreme moral rectifiers of the world order’, as Shih (1993: 243) implies, is an open question.

We will return to these issues in later chapters when we look at how history, culture, values and China's political and strategic views, as distinct from its interests, influence China's foreign policies. Our purpose is ultimately to see what will influence China's future foreign policies and what changes to the status quo we might expect.