China’s Foreign Policy Today and Tomorrow

Since Deng Xiaoping “swung the door open” in the 1970’s, China has become increasingly relevant to the international community and foreign policies in this now global market economy. Technological, cultural, economic, and political advancements occurring world-wide has incited a rise in the dire significance of Chinese policy and its effects on United States national interests. Since just before the turn of the century, China has engaged in a number of international policy advancements that could be determined to be a “threat” to status-quo politics. (Roy)

Important to this analysis is perspective. Chinese policy has drawn attention to a “soft power” increase that is certainly taking place while steel driven “hard power” has been rhetorically downplayed by some actors yet remains relevant to the discussion of China’s future in the international system. A “soft power” approach is at the forefront of this foreign relations issue. The hard power grab made by China in the past 20 years since the fall of Russia is undeniable but it is the strides made in development of soft power that should concern U.S. interests. (Roy)

Evidence of China’s desire to become a regional superpower is focused on military buildup, chairing 6 party non-proliferation talks with North Korea and hard-line rhetoric stemming from dialogue concerning the sovereignty of Taiwan (or Republic of China, ROC). Utilization of increased foreign investment and the liberalized trade policies of Deng’s “Socialist Market Economy” has allowed for China to increase military production at a large rate. New access to resources and increased dialogue with developed nations has given way to technological advances and capital necessary to expand China’s military spending. China has sought a competitive naval force and invested lots of capital in missile technology and construction. Regional military hegemony is imminent. Official declarations of Chinese Foreign policy called “white papers” provide only limited insights on the motivations behind the objectives, or the specific strategies to achieve them. The linkages between the occasional strategic pronouncement and actual policy decisions in China are not apparent, especially during periods of crisis. As a result, the study of PLA views on grand strategy remains an inexact science. (Military Report)

In addition to hardware advancements, China has made new efforts in creating alliance networks and security organizations such as Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). China’s increased participation in international security community is a direct indicator of desire to increase influence in the region and find a place in the world order. Security policy in People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the product of historical cultural norms with regards to peace and isolationism but has seen the effect of new challenges such as the death of global communism and increasing pro-independence activism in Taiwan. (Shambaugh)

The modern approach to security is a pragmatic one with emphasis on mutual trust, mutual equality, and cooperation. This approach is not in line with any traditional security policy since there is no focused goal such as territorial expansion or establishment of extensive client states. This approach provides some grey area in dealing with China and should be handled carefully. (Shambaugh),(Medeiros)

Whether it was bilaterally, within existing multilateral organizations, or creating new multilateral institutions, China has successfully entered the global system of politics and maneuvers with more confidence than a decade ago.
Bilaterally, China has entered into free trade agreements, strategic partnership agreements, and even created “Chinese Friendship Associations” featuring 203 “Confucius Institutes” as of 2007 including 40 U.S. States. A problem arises however when considering the grounds for these agreements. Human rights conditions, good governance requirements, and environmental standards that are an integral part of international agreements in the U.S. dominated Western system are not a necessity for Chinese investment and cooperation. Authoritarian nations that find themselves held in these constraints when dealing with Western nations have no incentive for passing on Chinese investment. China’s policy of mutual trust and mutual equality has lead to agreements being made despite differences that derail traditional agreements. Issues are often pushed aside at the diplomacy table to be addressed later or ignored completely. This practice does create many profitable partnerships for the PRC but has a destabilizing effect on the international system. The lack of depth in these agreements could lead to a destabilizing shift should the actors face crisis. (Mediros)

Multilateral endeavors have also taken their toll on the increase in the selling power of Chinese culture and policies. China’s status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and involvement in the World Trade Organization as well as the World Bank show a desire to have more input in the structure and order of an international system that they did not create. Though this input is certainly welcome, motives are easily called into question when examining exactly where Chinese participation focuses. The PRC still often engages in unrestricted investments that remain off the books of these established international entities. China instead has focused much effort in the creation of new organizations such as the SCO and 2005 East Asia Summit that are not bound by Western norms and don’t include the United States.

A central focus in the study of China’s foreign policy tendencies should be the continent of Africa. Greatly ignored by superpowers of the past, Africa is a new frontier in policy development. China, wishing to (a) Obtain natural resources and oil reserves once ignored by US government and abandoned by U.S. multinational corporations (b) expand its own markets (c) build its reputation as a major player in what they desire to be a multi-polar international system, has established entities such as China-Africa Cooperation Forum in 2000 and engaged in bilateral agreements such as previously mentioned. The deep pockets of the state-run oil company coupled with its lack of transparency for stakeholders have allowed China a head start in creating ties in unstable areas of Africa that proved to be too unprofitable or too downright dangerous for American interests.

Now that the policies of modern China have been outlined, the United States is left with a simple choice. Does the status quo satisfy U.S. national interests sufficiently? If the status-quo of allowing the policies delineated in this report to continue unchecked is maintained, many popular foreign policy theories, such as power-transition theory, dictate that a rising power such as China will soon dominate the international system whether those are its true intentions or not. Future U.S. Policy should be either geared toward taking more hard-line approaches that would be a product of perceiving China and its emergence as a regional power as a threat, or centered on improving the soft power capabilities of the U.S. and creating an international environment that is conducive to China’s seamless involvement after a benign rise to power. Choosing which approach to take will guide policy for the U.S. moving forward. A hard-line engagement approach could scare China from its current security policy and destroy benign intentions dictated by CCP policy makers. Giving up a possibility of a constructive Sino-U.S. relationship by adopting a policy of containment could be a mistake for U.S. interests because of the confrontation that could transpire and the economic opportunities missed. There is also no sense in giving up the game before China’s intentions are truly known by utilizing full appeasement. A soft watchdog approach is the option that would allow for general support of China’s ongoing development.
In order to create the ability to successfully provide a positive watchdog role in China’s development, the U.S. will need to reinvigorate is global engagement. Seeking membership in the organizations created by China such as the SCO and the EAS would show positive, multi-polar efforts to assist in development of the Asian region. This could also be accomplished by seeking more cooperation between regional superpowers like the E.U., China, and Russia to assist fragile states in development and introduction of those developing nations into a multi-polar system as China prefers.
Very key to improving the outcome of Chinese development is increasing transparency in China’s diplomatic actions. Putting more effort into figuring what aid is actually disbursed instead of reported totals from PRC officials would help accomplish this goal. Also by encouraging the PRC to adhere to good governance agreements and drawing it from the bilateral melee currently in place, and in to a system of multilateral agreements with oversight coming from compromised policies put in place by all member nations.

Increasing U.S. soft power by cutting red tape that constrains foreign investment and aid to developing countries could prevent China from engaging in more liberal bilateral agreements is another way to help combat the power transition.

Related Essays Political Science