China’s Foreign Policy
- LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0025
- LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0025
Since the late 20th century, China has been transforming itself from an isolated and backward agrarian society into a modern economic superpower with global interests and responsibilities. To adjust to changing international and domestic conditions, Chinese foreign policy has become more active, pragmatic, and flexible. With continued economic growth China is expected to widen and deepen its global search for energy and other resources and to expand its investment, market, and political clout. China is vigorously projecting soft power and presenting a peaceful image abroad by promoting cultural, educational, sports, tourism, and other exchanges. It has also become more active in global governance. In addition to its roles in existing international institutions, China has played a leadership role in establishing and expanding the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), setting up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICS Development Bank. It has also proposed the “Belt and Road Initiative” to enhance connectivity and cooperation in global development. There is good reason to believe that China’s reemergence to great-power status will be peaceful, as it serves China’s fundamental interests. However, China will be a half-baked “responsible stakeholder” in the 21st century world if it does not help tackle global challenges such as climate change and North Korea. China remains a vulnerable nation surrounded by powerful rivals and potential foes. Understanding China’s foreign policy means fully appreciating these geostrategic conditions. Although its foreign policy has become more sophisticated, China is still learning to become a peaceful, responsible, and respectable great power in the ever-changing world. Indeed, there is much to learn. In addition to traditional diplomatic challenges, China also needs to give more attention to nontraditional security threats such as infectious diseases, economic crises, terrorism, cyber hacking, piracy, transnational crimes, natural disasters, and environmental degradation. China will need to boost cooperation with other countries and international institutions to deal with these challenges.
This article first provides an overview and history of China’s foreign relations; it then addresses a few important aspects of the foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC): foreign policy theories, foreign and security policymaking, the role of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), domestic–foreign policy nexus, soft power, new diplomacy, US-China relations, relations with other major powers, China and Africa, China in other developing areas, and China’s role in global governance. China follows an independent foreign policy and does not form political or military alliances with other countries. To understand China’s foreign policy in the early 21st century, one needs to know of the so-called century of humiliation in Chinese history—roughly from 1839 to 1949, during which China was humiliated by and suffered from Western and Japanese domination. The “century of humiliation” has a profound impact on China’s foreign relations. The PRC considers itself a country whose historical greatness was eclipsed by Western and Japanese imperialist aggressions. The Chinese public is constantly reminded that only the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was able to “save China” and end the “century of humiliation.” Knowing this history helps one understand why the Chinese are obsessed with issues of sovereignty, national unification, and territorial integrity. As China becomes more powerful, nationalism will continue to grow when foreign countries, especially those former invaders and colonizers, are perceived to be encroaching on China’s sovereignty, such as supporting independence for Taiwan or Tibet. No matter how its foreign policies may change, China considers such “core interests” to be inviolable. To have a general understanding of Chinese foreign policy, one needs to study its objectives, guiding principles, and strategies. The following books offer excellent overviews of Chinese foreign policy—its changes and continuities since 1949 as well as more recent issues and challenges. Lanteigne 2015 serves as a great introductory text on Chinese foreign policy. Rozman 2012 and Kornberg and Faust 2005 focus on the various actors and issues. Sutter 2012 and Wang 2012 highlight international and domestic constraints, whereas Hao, et al. 2009 and Johnston and Ross 2006 underline challenges and directions in Chinese foreign relations. Cheng 2016 offers an overall framework of Chinese foreign policy before examining important bilateral ties and significant challenges, while Qu and Zhong 2018 chronicles China’s diplomatic strategies since the 1980s to cope with complicated and changing international situations. Zhongguo Waijiao (China’s Foreign Affairs) has presented the official Chinese version of major issues in China’s foreign affairs every year since 1987. The website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China (zhonghua renmin gongheguo waijiaobu wangzhan “ziliao” lan) is a rich source of useful information on the PRC’s foreign relations and foreign policy.
Cheng, Joseph Yu-shek. China’s Foreign Policy: Challenges and Prospects. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 2016.
Cheng examines the Chinese foreign policy framework and traces its evolution since the post-Mao era. The volume also looks at China’s relations with other major powers and its management of various challenges.
Hao, Yufan, C. X. George Wei, and Lowell Dittmer, eds. Challenges to Chinese Foreign Policy: Diplomacy, Globalization, and the Next World Power. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009.
The contributors argue that the challenges in Chinese foreign policy remain daunting and that some of them come from within. Interesting perspectives of Chinese scholars.
Johnston, Alastair Iain, and Robert S. Ross. New Directions in the Study of China’s Foreign Policy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.
The authors draw on a wide range of materials to explore traditional issues, such as China’s use of force since 1959, and new issues, such as China’s response to globalization and the role of domestic opinion in its foreign policy.
Kornberg, Judith F., and John R. Faust. China in World Politics: Policies, Processes, Prospects. 2d ed. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2005.
Introducing students to the history of China’s foreign policy, the authors outline the political, security, economic, and social issues the country faces in the early 21st century. Each chapter familiarizes the reader with the Chinese framework for analyzing the issues in question.
Lanteigne, Marc. Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction. 3d ed. New York: Routledge, 2015.
Explains how China’s foreign policy is being reconstructed and who (and what) makes policy in the early 21st century. Examines the patterns of engagement with various domestic and international factors. An in-depth look at the key issues, problems, and trends of China’s modern global relations.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China (zhonghua renmin gongheguo waijiaobu wangzhan “ziliao” lan 中华人民共和国外交部 网站“资料”栏).
Contains rich information on the PRC’s foreign relations, including key speeches by Chinese leaders, a list of statements and communiqués, a list of treaties, diplomatic history, a list of China’s diplomatic allies, and a directory of foreign diplomats in China.
Qu, Xing, and Zhong Longbiao. Contemporary China’s Diplomacy. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2018.
Written by two of the best Chinese scholars on international relations and foreign policy, this book gives a comprehensive and systematic introduction to the development of China’s diplomatic strategies since the 1980s.
Rozman, Gilbert, ed. China’s Foreign Policy: Who Makes It, and How Is It Made? Seoul, South Korea: Asan Institute for Policy Studies, 2012.
A collection of essays written by some of the leading China scholars. Topics include China’s leadership, think tanks, national identity, and financial factors in Chinese foreign policymaking as well as China’s foreign policy toward the Korean Peninsula.
Sutter, Robert G. Chinese Foreign Relations. 3d ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.
A nuanced analysis showing that despite its growing power, Beijing is hampered by both domestic and international constraints. China’s leaders exert more influence in world affairs but remain far from dominant.
Wang, Zheng. Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.
A study of history education in China in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and how it affects China’s worldview and foreign policy.
Zhongguo Waijiao (China’s Foreign Affairs 中国外交). Beijing: World Affairs, 1987–.
A comprehensive and authoritative account of major issues in Chinese foreign relations in the previous year, compiled by the Policy Planning division of the PRC’s Foreign Ministry.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Academic Theories of International Relations Since 1945
- Arab-Israeli Wars
- Arab-Israeli Wars, 1967-1973, The
- Armed Conflicts/Violence against Civilians Data Sets
- Arms Control
- Arms Races
- Arms Trade
- Asylum Policies
- Authoritarian Regimes
- Balance of Power Theory
- Bargaining Theory of War
- Case Study Methods in International Relations
- Challenge of Communism, The
- China and Japan
- China's Defense Policy
- China’s Foreign Policy
- Civil Resistance
- Civil Society in the European Union
- Cold War, The
- Conflict Behavior and the Prevention of War
- Conflict Management
- Countermeasures in International Law
- Criminal Law, International
- Critical Theory of International Relations
- Cuban Missile Crisis, The
- Cultural Diplomacy
- Cyber Security
- Cyber Warfare
- Decision-Making, Poliheuristic Theory of
- Demobilization, Post World War I
- Democracies and World Order
- Democracy and Conflict
- Democracy in World Politics
- Deterrence Theory
- Diplomacy, History of
- Diplomacy, Public
- Disaster Diplomacy
- Drone Warfare
- Eastern Front (World War I)
- Economics, International
- Embedded Liberalism
- Emerging Powers and BRICS
- Empirical Testing of Formal Models
- Energy and International Security
- Epidemic Diseases and their Effects on History
- Ethics and Morality in International Relations
- Ethnicity in International Relations
- European Migration Policy
- European Security and Defense Policy, The
- European Union as an International Actor
- European Union, International Relations of the
- Face-to-Face Diplomacy
- Fascism, The Challenge of
- Feminist Methodologies in International Relations
- Feminist Security Studies
- Food Security
- Forecasting in International Relations
- Foreign Policy, Theories of
- French Empire, 20th-Century
- From Club to Network Diplomacy
- Future of NATO
- Game Theory and Interstate Conflict
- Gender and Terrorism
- Genocide, Politicide, and Mass Atrocities Against Civilian...
- Genocides, 20th Century
- Geopolitics and Geostrategy
- Germany in World War II
- Global Citizenship
- Global Civil Society
- Global Constitutionalism
- Global Environmental Politics
- Global Ethic of Care
- Global Governance
- Global Justice, Western Perspectives
- Grand Strategy
- Greater Middle East, The
- Hague Conferences (1899, 1907)
- History and International Relations
- Human Rights
- Human Rights and Humanitarian Diplomacy
- Human Rights Law
- Indian Perspectives on International Relations, War, and C...
- Intelligence Oversight
- Internal Displacement
- International Conflict Settlements, The Durability of
- International Criminal Court, The
- International Economic Organizations (IMF and World Bank)
- International Health Governance
- International Justice, Theories of
- International Law
- International Monetary Relations, History of
- International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
- International Nongovernmental Organizations
- International Norms for Cultural Preservation and Cooperat...
- International Organizations
- International Relations, Aesthetic Turn in
- International Relations as a Social Science
- International Relations, Practice Turn in
- International Relations, Research Ethics in
- International Relations Theory
- International Security
- International Society
- International Society, Theorizing
- International Support For Nonstate Armed Groups
- Internet Law
- Interstate Cooperation Theory and International Institutio...
- Intervention and Use of Force
- Interviews and Focus Groups
- Iran, Politics and Foreign Policy
- Iraq: Past and Present
- Just War Theory
- Korean War
- Kurdistan and Kurdish Politics
- Law of the Sea
- Laws of War
- Leadership in International Affairs
- League of Nations
- Lean Forward and Pull Back Options for US Grand Strategy
- Mediation and Civil Wars
- Mediation in International Conflicts
- Mediation via International Organizations
- Middle East, The Contemporary
- Middle Powers and Regional Powers
- Military Science
- Minority Rights
- Multilateralism (1992–), Return to
- National Liberation, International Law and Wars of
- National Security Act of 1947, The
- Nations and Nationalism
- NATO, Europe, and Russia: Security Issues and the Border R...
- New Multilateralism in the Early 21st Century
- Nonproliferation and Counterproliferation
- Nonviolent Resistance Datasets
- Normative Aspects of International Peacekeeping
- Normative Power Beyond the Eurocentric Frame
- Peace of Utrecht
- Peacebuilding, Post-Conflict
- Political Demography
- Political Economy of National Security
- Political Extremism in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Political Learning and Socialization
- Political Psychology
- Politics and Islam in Turkey
- Politics and Nationalism in Cyprus
- Popular Culture and International Relations
- Post-Civil War State
- Post-Conflict and Transitional Justice
- Post-Conflict Reconciliation in the Middle East and North ...
- Power Transition Theory
- Preventive War and Preemption
- Prisoners, Treatment of
- Private Military and Security Companies (PMSCs)
- Process Tracing Methods
- Pro-Government Militias
- Prospect Theory in International Relations
- Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
- Public Opinion and the European Union
- Quantum Social Science
- Race and International Relations
- Religion and International Relations
- Religiously Motivated Violence
- Reputation in International Relations
- Responsibility to Protect
- Rising Powers in World Politics
- Role Theory in International Relations
- Russian Revolutions and Civil War, 1917-1921
- Sanctions in International Law
- Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), The
- Shining Path
- Social Scientific Theories of Imperialism
- Soviet Union in World War II
- Space Strategy, Policy, and Power
- Spatial Dependencies and International Mediation
- State Theory in International Relations
- Strategic Air Power
- Strategic and Net Assessments
- Sustainable Development
- Systems Theory
- Teaching International Relations
- Territorial Disputes
- Terrorism, Geography of
- Terrorist Financing
- Terrorist Group Strategies
- The Changing Nature of Diplomacy
- The Queer in/of International Relations
- the Twenty-First Century, Alliance Commitments in
- The Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relation...
- Theories of International Relations, Feminist
- Theory, Chinese International Relations
- Time Series Approaches to International Affairs
- Trade Law
- Transnational Actors
- Transnational Social Movements
- Trust and International Relations
- UN Security Council
- United Nations, The
- Uppsala Conflict Data Program
- US and Africa
- US–UK Special Relationship
- Voluntary International Migration
- War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714)
- Weapons of Mass Destruction
- Western Balkans
- Western Front (World War I)
- Westphalia, Peace of (1648)
- Women and Peacemaking Peacekeeping
- World Economy 1919-1939
- World Polity School
- World War II Diplomacy and Political Relations