Beijing Foreign Policy Hurts China
Image Credit: U.S. Navy

Beijing Foreign Policy Hurts China

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Veteran China watchers have always wondered what kind of foreign policy China would have adopted had the country been a democracy.  There are two schools of thought.  One, the realist school, insists that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.  States pursue power and seek security regardless of the type of political regimes in control.  What influences the behavior of states is the amount of power they possess and the external constrains on the use of such power. From this perspective, Chinese behavior is determined by its power, not by its political regime. For example, China’s abandonment of its low-profile foreign policy in favor of a more assertive one in recent years is the result of growing Chinese power, not a change in its domestic political system (which has remained the same).

The other school argues that differences in domestic political regimes are fundamental to understanding state behavior. Democratic states and authoritarian ones view the world from decidedly different lenses – their threat perceptions aren’t the same. The foreign policy decision-making processes are completely different in two systems. Democracies have far greater transparency and openness, in sharp contrast to the opaque and closed nature of decision-making in autocracies. Most importantly, there’s no conflict between regime security and national security in democracies because in such systems the democratic political regime is fundamentally legitimate and accepted by all the key players. Governments may fall due to a lack of public support, but the democratic system always endures. As a result, leaders in democracies don’t have to sacrifice national security in order to ensure regime security.

In contrast, in autocracies, regime security and national security often conflict. Because in such systems the fall of government also means the collapse of the regime, the ruling elites characteristically assign a higher priority to protecting regime security than national security. In other words, regime interests override national interests in autocracies. Moreover, threat perception by autocracies is notable for its political nature. While democracies perceive external threats exclusively in terms of physical security, autocracies see such threats in both political/ideological and military terms. Consequently, autocracies tend to devote costly resources to defending against external political threats and make unnecessary enemies of democracies not because of their military threat, but because of their political threat. So in their pursuit of regime security, autocracies simply can’t avoid undermining the security of the nation, both in terms of wasting national resources and antagonizing major democratic powers they otherwise should befriend.

This perspective may help us better understand the constant tensions between the regime security of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the national security of China. Chinese foreign policy today is frequently torn by these two conflicting objectives.  Two examples can serve as illustrations.

China’s policy toward North Korea should be exhibit A of this conflict. Chinese national security interests dictate that China shouldn’t tolerate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program or aggressive behavior toward its neighbors. Yet, because the ruling CCP regards a reunified democratic Korea that is a close military ally of the United States as a greater threat to its regime security than a nuclear-armed hereditary dynasty (which is a threat to Chinese national security, but not the CCP regime’s security), Beijing has pursued a policy of keeping the Kim dynasty in power almost at any cost. The price China has paid in terms of diminished national security is exorbitant – an untrustworthy neighbor armed with nuclear weapons, heightened risks of regional war, real danger of being dragged into another conflict on the Korean peninsula, alienation of South Korea as a long-term strategic ally, Japan’s rearmament and antagonism toward China, and increase in American offensive capabilities in the region.

Comments
56
CaptJack
June 20, 2012 at 13:00

Godfree,
What is overspending on security? How much is enough?  The US Navy is the principal guardian of the shipping lanes that make possible the economic prosperity the world enjoys, but we foot the bill. Awful nice of us, huh?  You know what happens in the Strait of Malacca? Off the coast of Somalia?
Additionally, a lot of those 'wasteful' R&D dollars become technologies that we use on a daily basis were originally DoD programs and systems, such as the Internet, but the world uses them. Still overspending?
Many people take for granted that the US maintains a techonological advantage over its potential adversaries, but give little thought to how that edge is maintained.  It's expensive to stay number one!
And China is far from surrounded by any single military, let alone the US. That's just silly.  Also, as a percentage of GDP, China's military spending is on the rise. And if you think they're some gentle peaceniks, research China's invasions of India, Tibet, Vietnam, as well as the funding of murderous regimes in Cambodia, Laos, communist insurgencies in Thailand, and actual military skirmishes with the Soviets.
The lion's share of US GDP goes to entitlement spending. Look at GDP breakdown. You should always brush your teeth and do your homework, my friend.

Hideyuki
February 22, 2012 at 03:06

Don’t get it wrong. I love USA.China loves USA. USA is the best cemotsur and borrower. Chinese are businese minded people. They love money. Therefore, they love their cemotsurs and the persons who are paying back the loans plus interests.

richard
February 7, 2012 at 14:38

It is true that US has been a benign super power,this fact has been the conclusion of many Asian leaders who have direct experience with US,Europe,China and Russis.

My question is: would US stay as a benign power once it is over taken by China?when its economy decline and cease to be the sole super power of the world.

That is a very difficult question to answer.

Butter
January 31, 2012 at 23:56

Liang1a is correct. Just because China doesn’t have a formalized democratic system yet, it doesn’t mean the Chinese people doesn’t have a voice. Beijing may not be perfect but it does try to listen to the people as a matter of connect with them. Western anti China propagandists gives scant regard for the voice of the Chinese. They are just determined to bring down China’s rulers or government, or as they put it in their selectively negative words – “regime”. Take a poll on any issue and see what the Average Chinese think of the many international issues that has Washington’s signature all over it. The attacking of the government of China by foreigners is akin to attacking the Chinese people and the intent is seriously in doubt especially when it is from racist b*st*rds on the internet, Congress, the American newsmedia and other opportunistic politicians.

Liang1a
January 27, 2012 at 19:05

Douglas wrote:

January 26, 2012 at 11:11 pm

@Fu-Man, your thinking is a typical Chinese CCP thinking, ie. Land grabbing. The view of an expansionist and agressively, bullying behaviours.
———————–
Liang’s comment:
Mongolia is a part of China for hundreds of years. Repatriating Mongolia is not “land grabbing.” It is defending China’s sovereignty. It is the sacred duty of all Chinese to defend the sovereign integrity of the Chinese motherland. And if Douglas doesn’t like it then why doesn’t he do something about it?

Godfree Roberts
January 27, 2012 at 15:38

The USA spends more per capita on internal security than China, and more on external security, both calculated ppp.
China is far larger and more diverse than the US, and is surrounded by the largest, most violent, hostile military on earth. Yet it manages to keep security spending modest.
The US, by contrast, is bankrupting itself by overspending on “security”, as have every empire in history.

asa
January 27, 2012 at 02:30

That’s right!, USA can have Nuclear weapons, the chosen country as righteous world ruler, for the balance of world stability, while Russia will control the other side of the world, not mighty China, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, for they are not to be trusted. And any country against US doctrine are not allowed to have nukes, only US,UK,France side, but not allowed to produce any,especially Germany, Japan, Korea..they’re too smart, fought against UN, can be dangerous! Furthermore,Israel, India,Pakistan must give up their nuclear weapons, should destroy their nuclear bombs, for in case of any dispute, the world’s supreme powerhouse, USA will take care of it, trust USA.. Note: USA is the only country so far, use the atomic bombs during WWII against mighty Japan, when losing,wanted finish the war, it’s only two times!! and moved on to Korea, then to Vietnam, Arab world,etc. to dumb their bombs, war surplus, tested for new weapons.. now move on to Asia again, and most importantly, make the economy get going.. Hahaaaaa!

asa
January 27, 2012 at 02:29

That’s right!, USA can have Nuclear weapons, the chosen country as righteous world ruler, for the balance of world stability, while Russia will control the other side of the world, not mighty China, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, for they are not to be trusted. And any country against US doctrine are not allowed to have nukes, only US,UK,France side, but not allowed to produce any,especially Germany, Japan, Korea..they’re too smart, fought against UN, can be dangerous! Furthermore,Israel, India,Pakistan must give up their nuclear weapons, should destroy their nuclear bombs, for in case of any dispute, the world’s supreme powerhouse, USA will take care of it, trust USA.. Note: USA is the only country so far, use the atomic bombs during WWII against mighty Japan, when losing,wanted finish the war, it’s only two times!! and moved on to Korea, then to Vietnam, Arab world,etc. to dumb their bombs, war surplus, tested for new weapons.. now move on to Asia again,
and most importantly, make the economy get going.. Hahaaaaa!

tnd
January 27, 2012 at 00:35

Thank you Professor Pei for your insight.

Your framework of realism vs. regime/national security tension makes alot of sense. Seems applicable to Vietnam, Iran, Burma, Pakistan, Russia, etc. Irony is that many of these regimes have relied upon nationalism to bolster regime legitimacy and then are forced to contain it later—-in these cases, it is the regime that is trying to act responsibly in the face of xenophobic nationalism (i.e. Belgrade Embassy bombing 1996).One could argue that (illiberal?) democracies can give rise to more aggressive international behavior.

I do think though, that the realist camp often under-estimates the role that ideologicial distrust plays as the root-cause of why China and the US are unable to cooperate for the sake of mutual interests. Autocracies, especially China, seem to be paranoid about their legitimacy.

Douglas
January 26, 2012 at 23:11

@Fu-Man, your thinking is a typical Chinese CCP thinking, ie. Land grabbing. The view of an expansionist and agressively, bullying behaviours.

Liang1a
January 26, 2012 at 12:00

Quote from the article:
For example, China’s abandonment of its low-profile foreign policy in favor of a more assertive one in recent years is the result of growing Chinese power, not a change in its domestic political system (which has remained the same).
——————————
Liang’s comment:
Actually the official policy of the Chinese government has not budged an inch from the “hide the light” dictum of Deng for decades. It is the Chinese people who have been disgusted with the 奴才外交 (lackey foreign policy) and called vocally for some more nationalistic assertiveness. The minimally stiffer Chinese response to foreign aggressions is a reflection of Chinese vox populi and not the growing strength of the Chinese military. The Chinese military itself is growing stronger due to the Chinese popular sentiment that a stronger military is needed and not because the Dengists want to develop a powerful military. The Dengist clique has been emasculating the Chinese military for decades. And the Chinese military had to support themselves by growing their own food and making their own uniforms and support themselves in any way possible such as selling arms internationally.

Fu Man-chu
January 25, 2012 at 22:44

“Mongolia seems to enjoy flaunting the differences between it and China and making deals with nations besides China”.

Mongolia with such a small population, has no business having such a land area. I am all for it being annexed into China proper as it was before.

Liang1a
January 25, 2012 at 18:29

Grant wrote:
Incidentally the problem is larger than the Korea’s, Japan and the U.S. Russia is hardly a friend of the U.S but it’s certainly not going to be an unflinching ally of China against the U.S**. Sri Lanka is the same with the additional problem of not wanting to be trapped as an enemy of India. Burma may or may not be serious about liberalizing but it is not a perfect ally and enjoys good relations with India as well. Nepal has made it clear that it doesn’t want to take a side between India and China (even if that’s less possible these days). Mongolia seems to enjoy flaunting the differences between it and China and making deals with nations besides China. Pakistan is friendly to China but has increasing trouble holding itself together and even if it survives there’s still the chance it will become a radical state just as unfriendly to China as it is to the U.S.

Writers constantly mention how China’s buildup could destroy the American navy but it seems to me that it’s in China’s strategic interests to avoid any major wars with the U.S.
——————————–
Liang’s comments:
No country will ever be any other countries’ “unflinching” ally. But if Russia feels itself being harassed and endangered then it will use China against the US and be China’s “unflinching” ally for the duration. Now Russia is feeling itself hard pressed by the missile shield in eastern Europe. It is also feeling pressed by what is happening in Syria and Iran. If the US gained dominance in these 2 countries will it increase the danger of Russia? Probably. So it is to Russia’s advantage to have China as its new ally. So even though Russia may not selflessly stand “unflinchingly” by China when its own interests are not involved, yet Russia will always feel itself endangered by the West, especially by America, therefore it will stand unflinchingly by China for the foreseeable future.

Mongolia is a part of China’s sovereign territories and will be returned to the motherland. There is nothing to say about this. Mongolians have no more say in this than “Taiwanese” can say about Taiwan independence.

As to the other countries such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh, etc. These are small countries. Their sentiments can change with the changing power of China. If they perceive China to be weak, then they will side with India or Japan or the US. If they see China to be strong then they will side with China. If China can wipe out Vietnamese military in a matter of hours, then there will be major shift in sentiment in all countries of the region with the result of many of them moving closer to China. If China can push India out of Zhang Nan in a matter of days, then Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, etc. will all declare themselves eternal friends of China. This is just practical politics as well as simple human nature.

With respect to China, I’ve always said that it is in the best interest of both countries to be close allies. But it is also not going to happen as long as America sees itself as superior than China. But when Chinese economy exceeds 200% of America and its military is twice as powerful as America then the relationship will change dramatically from the current situation. Imagine China with 20 aircraft carrier groups to America’s 11, 5,000 4th and 5th generation fighters to America’s 2,200, 200 nuclear attack submarines to America’s less than 100 crusing in the Mixican Gulf, etc. It will make no difference to China’s strategic interests whether it is at war with America or not. It will then be in America’s strategic interest to avoid war with China. Things change. Americans really haven’t truly waken up to the implications of a resurged China to its fullest potential. Most Americans are living in denial that China can ever be more powerful than America let alone many times more powerful.

a_canadian_observer
January 25, 2012 at 11:58

@John Chan: Look into your mirror before insulting others. Chinese are now wearing all western clothes and taking on English lessons. Even you have an English name. What do these tell you?

Wolf B Litzer
January 25, 2012 at 06:16

It is extremely funny that you have signed your post “50 Cent Brigade”. Unless you are being sarcastic (and I wish you were, but I don’t detect sarcasm within your post) this is the most unintentionally hilarious post I’ve read all day.

Grant
January 25, 2012 at 03:52

Once again my main point was ignored. This isn’t a debate, it’s more like someone shouting incomprehensibly.

Speaking of shouting, in the U.S I can shout ‘the president’s an idiot’ at the top of my lungs and I don’t have to worry about police beating me or my parents being punished. I can, and have, taken part in several protests and I never even was given a warning. A few years ago, even though a candidate I volunteered for lost a race I could still get a job on regulating housing laws and no one punished me for supporting the wrong side.

Incidentally can you provide a single example of ‘slaves’? Maybe South Korea, a rich nation that’s far better off than North Korea? Maybe India, which votes as it pleases at the U.N? What about Brazil, a nation that decided in the 1980s to move away from the U.S and the U.S didn’t order a coup? If people actually thought about it for a moment instead of simply reading anti-American propaganda they’d realize that if the U.S was really that powerful it wouldn’t have the problems that it does. But no, that would require independent thought and access to uncensored news that doesn’t rely on government approval.

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