The Post’s View
Chinese media open up about Beijing smog
By Editorial Board, Published: January 16
Editorials represent the views of The Washington Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the editorial board. News reporters and editors never contribute to editorial board discussions, and editorial board members don’t have any role in news coverage.
Editorial Board JAN 16
In a symbolic move, Mr. Obama will use ‘Taxation Without Representation’ plates.
Editorial Board JAN 16
State organs break their silence over the smog crisis facing the nation.
Editorial Board JAN 16
Now make sure that at least some of it gets done.
Nevertheless, the high readings recorded in recent days underline that the continuing push for rapid economic growth is creating problems — from pollution to growing inequality and massive official corruption — that are fueling discontent, especially among the country’s growing urban middle class. Last week, China’s microblogs pulsed with outrage over the censorship of a weekly newspaper that attempted to publish an editorial supporting adherence to the constitution. Now they are echoing with complaints over the pollution emergency and the policies that caused it.
China’s outgoing cohort of leaders, led by Hu Jintao, responded to the discontent by trying to suppress it. But it’s becoming clear that that strategy will not work for their successors, under Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi’s regime will have to face the underlying problems or risk a crisis in Beijing much greater than any spike in air pollution.
Read more from Opinions:
Capitals & NHLThe lockout that lasted 119 days has ended, the new collective bargaining agreement is in place and the NHL is finally about to play games again after hastily arranged weeklong training camps around the league. Here are 10 questions and answers about the upcoming season:
Associated Press, AP 6:09 AM ET
BusinessTOKYO — Reaffirming his hawkish stance on China, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday that Japan will not negotiate with Beijing over a contested cluster of uninhabited islands and that China was “wrong” for allowing violent protests over the territorial dispute.
Associated Press, AP JAN 11
National SecurityWASHINGTON — A high-level U.S. delegation will urge key allies Japan and South Korea to mend strained ties that have hurt security cooperation. It will also likely remind the new government in Tokyo that any disavowal of its apology for the use of sex slaves in World War II would make matters worse.
Associated Press, AP JAN 10
WASHINGTON — A high-level U.S. delegation will urge key allies Japan and South Korea to mend strained ties that have hurt security cooperation. It will also likely remind the new government in Tokyo that any disavowal of its apology for the use of sex slaves in World War II would make matters worse.
Associated Press, AP JAN 10
Obama’s pick for DoD gets mixed reaction from former colleagues who will vote on his nomination.
Natalie Jennings, The Washington Post JAN 7
LOS ANGELES — Although the Los Angeles Lakers have inspired plenty of strong emotions during their title-laden history, the Denver Nuggets felt something that’s been rare in recent decades.
Associated Press, AP JAN 7
Liberal Democrats’ rise to power could make U.S. foreign policy rebalace a reality.
Glen S. Fukushima, The Washington Post DEC 20, 2012
Powerful factors point toward an alliance between Islamic nations and China, says author.
Allan Topol, The Washington Post DEC 12, 2012
A free trade zone across the Atlantic would be the largest in the world — but politically difficult to negotiate
Howard Schneider, The Washington Post DEC 11, 2012
Expanding trade between Europe and the U.S. is a win-win.
David Ignatius, The Washington Post DEC 5, 2012
- © 1996-2013 The Washington Post
Obama’s Foreign Policy Needs Sharper Definition In Second Term
Posted: 01/17/2013 12:10 am EST | Updated: 01/17/2013 12:31 am EST
South China Sea Tensions
Author: Beina Xu, Online Writer/Editor
January 11, 2013
- What territories are involved and disputed?
- What is the 9-Dash Line?
- What resources are at play in the region?
- How does the dispute affect trade routes in the sea?
- What are the military stakes?
- What is being done to resolve the disputes?
- What does this mean for the United States’ pivot to Asia?
- Further Reading
Territorial spats over the waters and islands of the South China Sea have roiled relations between China and countries like Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei in recent years, and tensions continue to escalate in the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s announced “pivot” of focus to the region. A handful of islands comprise the epicenter of the territorial dispute, making up an area known as the “cow’s tongue” that spans roughly the entire South China Sea. The region is home to a wealth of natural resources, fisheries, trade routes, and military bases, all of which are at stake in the increasingly frequent diplomatic standoffs. China’s blanket claims to sovereignty across the region and its strong resistance to handling disputes in an international arena have mired attempts at resolving the crises and intensified nationalist postures in all countries involved, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines. Experts say the potential for an escalated conflict in the South China Sea–while seemingly distant for now–presents an ongoing crisis for the region, as well as for U.S. interests in the area.
What territories are involved and disputed?
The South China Sea comprises a stretch of roughly 1.4 million square miles in the Pacific Ocean that encompasses an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan, spanning west of the Philippines, north of Indonesia, and east of Vietnam. The South China Sea islands number in the hundreds, although the largest and most contentious territories include the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, Pratas Islands, Macclesfield Bank, and Scarborough Shoal, all of which the six major Southeast Asian nations lay various claims to. The islands are mostly uninhabited and have never had an indigenous population, making the issue of historical sovereignty a thorny one to resolve.
Map of Territorial Claims
Source: http://www.southchinasea.org/ Map: Hagit Bachrach
The disputes aren’t limited to land, however; each country has an Exclusive Economic Zone, prescribed by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), over which it has special rights to marine resources and energy exploration and production. An EEZ spans outward 200 nautical miles from the coast of the each state’s territorial sea, and may include the continental shelf beyond the 200-mile limit. These zones come into play during disputes over sea territory, as displayed in China’s December 2012 spat with Vietnam (WSJ) over oil and fishing activity in the waters near the Paracel Islands.
What is the 9-Dash Line?
The 9-Dash line is a controversial demarcation line used by China for its claim to territories and waters in the South China Sea, most notably over the Scarborough Shoal and the Paracel and Spratly Islands–the two most important disputed island groups. The line, which is contested by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam, encompasses virtually the entire South China Sea region and caused immediate controversy when China submitted a map to the UN in 2009 that included the demarcation. Beijing’s issuance of a new passport (Reuters) in late 2012 containing a map of the disputed region based on the line drew fresh international criticism and backlash.
ASEAN countries have contested this boundary, but China has insisted on the historical legitimacy of the line based on survey expeditions, fishing activities, and naval patrols dating as far back as the fifteenth century, putting it at odds with the boundaries UNCLOS has enforced for the region since 1994.
What resources are at play in the region?
The immediate source of conflict in the region is competition over resources, says David Rosenberg, professor of political science at Middlebury College. There are roughly half a billion people who live within 100 miles of the South China Sea coastline, and the volume of shipping through its waters has skyrocketed as China and ASEAN nations increase international trade and oil imports. The need for resources, especially hydrocarbons and fisheries, also has intensified economic competition in the region, particularly given the rapid coastal urbanization of China. “Behind it all, it’s essentially the industrial revolution of Asia,” Rosenberg said. “And the South China Sea has become the hub of that.”
According to the World Bank, the South China Sea holds proven oil reserves of at least seven billion barrels and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which offer tremendous economic opportunity for smaller nations like Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, and energy security for China’s large, growing economy. In December 2012, China’s National Energy Administration named the disputed waters as the main offshore site (NYT) for natural gas production, and a major Chinese energy company has already begun drilling in deep water off the southern coast. Competitive tensions escalated when India’s state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp announced it had partnered with PetroVietnam (Reuters) for developing oil in the disputed waters. While oil exploration presents one of the higher conflict risks in the region, no major encounters have occurred since June 2011, when Vietnam accused a Chinese fishing boat of cutting cables (BBC) from an oil exploration vessel inside its EEZ.
Smaller-scale fishing incidents have instead become the hub of maritime confrontation as declining fish stocks have driven fishermen farther into disputed areas to search for supply, as well as highly profitable illegal species. In the most recent clash, the Philippines’ naval forces intercepted (al-Jazeera) eight Chinese fishing vessels in the Scarborough Shoal in April, finding what they viewed as illegally fished marine life on board. The attempted arrest of the poachers led to a two-month standoff between the two countries.
Annual fishing bans and arrests of fishermen are a convenient proxy for sovereignty claims since they can be presented as legitimate attempts to enforce marine resources protection, according to a report by the International Crisis Group. “This is an issue that doesn’t make big headlines, but 1.5 billion people live there and rely heavily on fisheries for food and jobs,” Rosenberg said. “That’s where most of the conflict goes on, and most of these have been dealt with on a routine conflict management basis.”
How does the dispute affect trade routes in the sea?
As much as 50 percent of global oil tanker shipments (GlobalSecurity) pass through the South China Sea, which sees three times more tanker traffic than the Suez Canal and over five times that of the Panama Canal, making the waters one of the world’s busiest international sea lanes. More than half of the world’s top ten shipping ports are also located in and around the South China Sea, according to the International Association of Ports and Harbors. As intra-ASEAN trade has markedly increased–from 29 percent of total ASEAN trade in 1980 to 41 percent in 2009–maintaining freedom of navigation has become of paramount importance for the region.
“This is a very important issue, and has become the main concern of Japan, the United States and even right now the European Union,” said Dr. Yann-Huei Song, a fellow at Academia Sinica in Taiwan. However, Yann-Huei says China is unlikely to instigate an interruption in traffic because its business, exploration, and importation rely entirely on freedom of navigation as well. Experts argue that the mutual benefits from regional economic integration provide an extremely compelling incentive for cooperation on resources, conservation, and security movements, according to a Harvard Quarterly paper.
What are the military stakes?
The region has also seen increased militarization in response to China’s burgeoning power, raising the stakes of a potential armed conflict and making disputes more difficult to resolve. Vietnam and Malaysia have led regional military buildups and increased arms trade with countries like Russia and India, while the Philippines doubled its defense budget in 2011 and pledged five-year joint military exercises (TheDiplomat) with the United States. The Philippines also embarked on a modernization program costing roughly $1 billion that will rely heavily on U.S. sales of cutters and potentially fighter jets.
“Behind it all, it’s essentially the industrial revolution of Asia. And the South China Sea has become the hub of that.” — David Rosenberg, professor of political science at Middlebury College
Ships are commonly involved in naval disputes, as exhibited in the Scarborough Shoal incident in April when the Philippines said its largest warship–acquired from the United States–had a standoff (Guardian) with Chinese surveillance vessels after the ship attempted to arrest Chinese fishermen but was blocked by the surveillance craft. The involvement of the navy made political compromise more difficult, says the ICG.
“There’s nothing like NATO in Asia, and that’s what’s worrisome,” Rosenberg said. “Unlike the U.S. and EU, which are engaged in other regions of the world, the Southeast Asian countries are compelled to spend more protecting their most immediate interests. It’s not the Cold War by any means, but they’re still not very open with each other about military modernization.”
What is being done to resolve the disputes?
One of the largest impasses to a resolution is China’s insistence on conducting most of its diplomacy on a bilateral basis, writes CFR’s Stewart Patrick. Nationalism has also fueled many of these stalemates. International tribunals, like the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, are available, but nations use it selectively in light of the potential domestic political ramifications of appearing conciliatory. China also has repeatedly rejected the mechanisms (GlobalNation) for arbitration provided by the UN.
A July 2012 ASEAN summit attempted to address ways to mitigate the conflict but ended without producing any communiqué (CNA), which some experts say highlights the difficulties the region of multilateral approaches. ASEAN’s six-point statement in July made no reference to specific incidents, and only outlined an agreement (Reuters) to draft and implement a regional code of conduct, respect international law, and exercise self-restraint. CFR’s Josh Kurlantzick said in August 2012 that while ASEAN was an appropriate venue to mediate this dispute, the organization still has not yet found its footing in transitioning to a “more forceful, integrated organization that can provide leadership.” In a November 2012 IIGG working paper, Kurlantzick looks at how ASEAN can strengthen its role in the region to meet challenges such as the South China Sea.
Consequently, joint management of resources has been widely proposed by experts as the best way to ease current tensions, according to the ICG. China and Vietnam have managed to cooperate on a common fishery zone in the Tonkin Gulf, where the two countries have delineated claims and regulated fishing. However, oil development has remained a highly contentious issue, as both Vietnam and the Philippines have gone ahead with gas exploration projects (PDF) with foreign companies in disputed areas.
What does this mean for the United States’ pivot to Asia?
The U.S. pivot to the area, coupled with the region’s myriad conflicts, raises concerns about the future of U.S. interests in Southeast Asia. The Obama administration has not only worked to strengthen ties with ASEAN, but has also forged tighter relations with individual countries like Myanmar, where it has developed a new focus and strategy of engagement. The U.S. has also ramped up security cooperation with Vietnam, while Malaysia and Singapore have also signaled desire for increased security cooperation.
A 2012 Johns Hopkins paper notes that Southeast Asia has transformed in the last two decades to an area where Chinese power and strategic ambition confront an established U.S. military presence, and where a Chinese perception of the status of the South China Seais fundamentally at odds with a long-settled consensus among major maritime states.
Experts say that the United States faces a dilemma and tough balancing act in the region, as some countries in ASEAN would like it to play a more forceful role to counter what they see as a greater Chinese assertiveness, while others want to see less U.S. involvement. The priority on all sides should be to avoid military conflict, according to CFR’s Bonnie Glaser in this Contingency Planning Memorandum; even as China spars with its Southeast Asian neighbors, it is becoming the largest trading partner and one of the biggest direct investors of most Southeast Asian states since an ASEAN-China free trade area came into effect.
In this International Institutions and Global Governance program Working Paper, Joshua Kurlantzick analyzes the major obstacles facing ASEAN today and prescribes recommendations for the both the United States and ASEAN that will enable ASEAN to firmly establish itself as the essential regional organization in Asia.
David Rosenberg’s article for the Harvard Asia Quarterly delves into what’s at risk in the South China Sea, including the region’s resources profiles, shipping lanes and fisheries.
The Economist discusses ASEAN in crisis and wonders if Indonesia is capable of healing the deepening rifts in Southeast Asia in this article.
The International Crisis Group published an in-depth report on the South China Sea and its regional responses, examining what the conflicts mean for each country involved, and what risks and factors are at play for all.
In this Contingency Planning Memorandum, Bonnie S. Glaser says the priority on all sides should be to avoid military conflict, even as China spars with its Southeast Asian neighbors.
Foreign Affairs Plus: China’s Perspective
This Plus collection includes:
- A chapter from Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell’s latest book, China’s Search for Security
- Reprints of “How China Sees America” by Nathan and Scobell (September/October 2012) and “The Tiananmen Papers” introduced by Andrew Nathan (January/February 2001)
- A video interview with Andrew Nathan on U.S.-China policy.
Excerpted from China’s Search for Security by Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell. Copyright © 2012 Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell. Used by arrangement with Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
Download “How China Sees America,” by Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell
The United States worries about China’s rise, but Washington rarely considers how the world looks through Beijing’s eyes. Even when U.S. officials speak sweetly and softly, their Chinese counterparts hear sugarcoated threats and focus on the big stick in the background. America should not shrink from setting out its expectations of Asia’s rising superpower — but it should do so calmly, coolly, and professionally.
Download “The Tiananmen Papers,” introduced by Andrew Nathan
The Tiananmen papers paint a vivid picture of the battles between hard-liners and reformers on how to handle the student protests that swept China in the spring of 1989. The protests were ultimately ended by force, including the bloody clearing of Beijing streets by troops using live ammunition. The tragic event was one of the most important in the history of communist China, and its consequences are still being felt.
Foreign Affairs Focus: U.S. China Policy With Andrew J. Nathan
Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, interviews Andrew J. Nathan, a professor at Columbia University, about current U.S. China policy, how transitions in Chinese leadership will affect Beijing’s assertiveness, and the future of U.S.-Chinese interdependency. Nathan is co-author, with RAND’s Andrew Scobell, of “How China Sees
America,” an article in the forthcoming September/October issue of the
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a consensus seeker, and each has faced a progressively more complex
foreign policy agenda. The other parts of China’s foreign policymaking
system have grown larger, more bureaucratic, more institutionalized, and
more professional. Today the policy center still consists of a small, authoritarian,
party–state–army elite that has the advantages of compactness and
insulation from other government institutions, media, and civil society. Yet
compared to the past, the makers of foreign policy confront more complex
and vocal social constituencies that have more to lose or gain from foreign
policy decisions than previously because of the impact of globalization on
their daily lives and that know more about foreign policy than in the past
because of the liberalization of the official media. The policy elites today
sometimes find themselves hedged in by public attitudes they have helped
to create, which set limits not so much on the substance of decisions as on
how they must be presented.
The top foreign policy decision makers are well-vetted and longexperienced
cadres of the Communist system. They have been promoted
through career tracks that have socialized them well to the rules of the
system, so much so that they sometimes have trouble striking out in new
policy directions. They work within decision-making procedures—both
formal channels and informal consultations—that are clearer and more
stable than they were in the past, but that are often cumbersome and stovepiped,
with a weak capability for crisis response. The leaders are served by
a well-resourced intelligence apparatus, but they suffer from information
overload and selective analysis. China has the policy advantages and disadvantages
of an authoritarian state. It can sustain strategic policies in a
disciplined way over long periods of time, but it suffers the risk that leaders
unchecked by independent institutions will make large mistakes and have
difficulty correcting them.
Forma l a nd Informa l
Structur es of Power
China’s formal government structure does not provide for the post
of supreme leader.1 The Chinese Constitution, modeled on the 1936
Soviet Constitution created by Stalin, says that “all power in the People’s
Republic of China belongs to the people.” Theoretical state sovereignty
Who Runs Chinese Foreign Policy? | 39
is accordingly concentrated in the institution that notionally represents
the people, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which is made up of
around three thousand delegates, who meet for a couple of weeks once a
year and whose powers are exercised between meetings by the Standing
Committee. The state structure is unitary: the Constitution provides for
neither separation of powers nor federalism. Instead, the NPC appoints the
premier, who heads the State Council (i.e., the cabinet), whose job is supposed
to be to execute policy set down by the ruling party, the CCP, and by
the NPC. The NPC also appoints the officials of the judicial branch and
holds the power to interpret and supervise implementation of the Constitution,
to amend it, or even to replace it. A great deal of territorial power
has been delegated from the central government down to the provinces,
municipalities, counties, and townships, but the center never gives it away
permanently. Local budgets are controlled from the top either by financial
allocations or by delegated taxing powers.
Also recognized in the formal structure is the leadership of the state
apparatus by the CCP, an elite party whose membership in 2011 was about
80 million, around 6 percent of the nation’s population. The party, according
to Marxist theory originally the political vanguard of the working class,
now has members in all walks of society and is the dominant channel to
political power. It appoints personnel throughout the government, army,
economy, and cultural and educational establishments. It decides on major
policies and transmits these policies for implementation to the state
apparatus (i.e., government agencies). Its own constitution makes its highest
organ the Central Committee, a body with a membership that varies
in the range of two hundred to four hundred. But the Central Committee
meets only once or twice a year, mainly to hear reports. Its powers are actually
exercised by the Political Bureau (Politburo), consisting of twenty-odd
top leaders who meet about once a month, and by an even more select
body called the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), which consists
of the five to eleven most powerful leaders (always an odd number), who
meet once a week and pass on all the important decisions in both domestic
and foreign policy. The party’s top official is the general secretary.
In keeping with the idea—rooted in both Chinese and Marxist traditions—
that the citizens have no real conflicts of interest among themselves,
2 the formal structure is designed to avoid any kind of pluralism.
CCP ideologists state that the people’s historic decision to vest power in
the ruling party, effected by the CCP’s victory in the revolutionary war of
40 | Interest and Identity in Chinese Foreign Policy
1946–1949, is irreversible, so there is no need for multiparty competition for
power. (Eight small “democratic parties” exist but do not compete.) When
elections are held, except in scattered cases at the village level, they do not
foster competition but allow the masses to chose leaders approved by the
party, albeit sometimes from among multiple candidates.
Because China is such a huge country, power does not work in practice
quite the way it works on paper. Four of China’s thirty-three province-level
units have populations larger than the largest European nation, Germany;
216 of China’s 2,861 counties have populations larger than seven American
states; and China has twenty cities of more than 5 million in population
compared to one in the U.S. (New York). As a result, the system assigns
great responsibilities and correspondingly great powers to the party chiefs
at each level of government, who are told to make everything work as best
they can in whatever way they think best.
At any level of government, the local party secretary directly or indirectly
runs everything—the police, the courts, the local-level people’s
congresses, the population-planning bureaucracy, the Propaganda Department
and local media, the agricultural bureau, industry, commerce, and
the rest. The center’s ultimate control is enforced by awarding promotion
to those officials who meet its priorities, of which the most important in
recent years have been to grow the economy, to keep the increase of population
within planning targets, and to prevent the outbreak of social protest.
This model of concentrated local control, which some scholars call
“de facto federalism,” means that power is both decentralized and centralized:
it is decentralized to local leaders who exercise authority within their
jurisdictions, but it is centralized because these local officials’ careers are
controlled by the ruling party’s personnel system, which rewards officials
whose performance meets the center’s demands.
This system of concentrated local power responsive to central priorities
largely determines how Chinese officials deal with security problems in the
First Ring, including demonstrators and dissidents throughout the country,
dissatisfied ethnic minority populations in places such as Tibet and Xinjiang,
as well as foreign foundations, NGOs, journalists, and travelers gathering
information and promoting change. Outside analysts sometimes see
local diversity in human rights and environmental practices or in openness
to foreign business as a sign of policy disagreements within the regime, but
it is closer to the truth to say that all local party secretaries share the same
Who Runs Chinese Foreign Policy? | 41
priorities—development and social order—and simply pursue them in different
ways depending on local conditions and their own skills.
Policymaking for the Second, Third, and Fourth rings beyond China’s
borders is reserved to the central authorities—and with respect to important
decisions to a small circle among them. Just as a village party chief
takes ultimate responsibility for all problems in the village, so for global
issues the three large foreign policy bureaucracies—the CCP, the state,
and the military—bring their biggest problems to Zhongnanhai, the complex
of offices in the heart of the old imperial palace complex in Beijing
where the Politburo and its Standing Committee meet.
The Le ader’ s Changing Role
If in America all politics is local because issues find their ultimate resolution
with the voters, so in China all important politics is ultimately court
politics because the difficult issues find their way up the system to the top.
But the character of court politics has changed over time.
In the person of Mao Zedong, the system produced a dictator who often
ignored the Central Committee and Politburo and made decisions unilaterally,
frequently in the dark of night, half-asleep, based on quirky sources
of information and shifting, delphic rationales.3 The other leaders were
often puzzled about Mao’s goals, but he enforced his decisions with a mix
of power resources. Official position was one such resource. Mao was head
of state, a mainly ceremonial post he relinquished in 1959 to the secondranking
leader, Liu Shaoqi. He was also CCP chairman, a position he
retained until his death that allowed him to control personnel appointments
not only in the party itself, but throughout society and the economy.
The chairmanship also gave him control of the mass media, education,
arts, culture, and ideology through the party Propaganda Department. To
honor Mao, the post of chairman was abolished after his death, and subsequent
party heads were given the title general secretary.
Mao’s most important formal source of power, however, was the chairmanship
of the Central Military Commission (CMC), a job he gripped
tightly throughout the power struggles of the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution
of the 1960s and 1970s. In the capital, he controlled the physical
42 | Interest and Identity in Chinese Foreign Policy
security of his rivals in the central leadership by controlling the central
guard corps and the Beijing garrison. In the provinces, his command of
the military enabled him to dictate the course of the Cultural Revolution.
With the trump card of physical force, Mao stood down the opposition of
his top military officers to the Cultural Revolution in 1967 and prevented
his comrade-in-arms Lin Biao from conducting a coup against him in 1971.
Equally important were Mao’s informal sources of power. His authority
reflected not only his long history in the party—he was present at
its creation in 1921, and in 1934–1935 he led the Long March—but also
his reputation as the leader of the revolution, founder of the army, and
creator of China’s form of Marxism–Leninism. During the great famine
of 1959–1961, when China sustained an estimated 45 million deaths
chiefly because of Mao’s misguided economic policies, the CCP managed
to hold onto power in part because of Mao’s status as a demigod.
Even as the peasants died from hunger, they believed that Mao could do
no wrong and that he would rescue them. It was therefore just when he
caused the regime’s greatest crisis that his colleagues could least afford
to purge him.4 Similarly, when Mao’s intraparty victims came back to
power after his death to consolidate their power as his heirs, they felt it
necessary to say that Mao’s “contributions to the Chinese revolution far
outweigh[ed] his mistakes.”5 By reaffirming in words many of the practices
they abandoned, they preserved their claim to Mao’s hand-me-down
charisma. The endless game of maintaining supremacy also depended on
attributes of character. Mao’s deviousness, will power, and ruthlessness
seemed to cow even the former bandits and warriors who made up his
circle of followers and rivals.6
When Mao died in 1976, his successor, Hua Guofeng, and allies in the
military and the Beijing guard corps arrested Mao’s more radical followers
(the so-called Gang of Four, who included Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing) and,
after an interlude, passed power to Deng Xiaoping in late 1978. In formal
terms, Deng’s highest civilian post after his return to power was vice premier,
and after 1989 his only formal position was honorary chairman of
the Chinese Bridge Playing Association. His authority came first from his
prestige and personal connections throughout the party, army, and bureaucracy
dating back to the CCP’s earliest years. Second, Deng’s power, like
Mao’s, was based on his control of the military. From 1981 to 1989, he
held the post of CMC chairman. This source of power became decisive in
Who Runs Chinese Foreign Policy? | 43
1989 when Deng overruled other leaders and mobilized military units to
suppress democracy demonstrators in Beijing. Third and most important,
other senior leaders who were Deng’s potential rivals vested authority in
him because they believed that China needed to adopt the kinds of pragmatic
policies he had been associated with—and punished for—during
the Mao period. Although there were debates throughout the Deng period
over the pace of reform, he sustained the consensus by policy zigzags and
by initiating occasional purges of his own lieutenants (such as Hu Yaobang
and Zhao Ziyang) when they went too far.7
Unlike Mao, Deng ruled with considerable consultation in the narrow
circle of top power holders. Balancing the more conservative views
of senior contemporaries such as Chen Yun and the more reformist views
of some of his own followers, such as Zhao Ziyang, Deng remained the
indispensable man, the ultimate arbiter for decisions in both domestic and
foreign policy—policy areas that became increasingly interlinked by virtue
of his decision to take the Chinese economy global (see chapter 10). To
deal with the growing complexity of the issues involved in going global,
Deng restored and built up the foreign policy apparatus—the professional
diplomatic service, academic institutes, and bodies of experts in trade disputes,
foreign exchange, intellectual property rights, arms control, human
rights, and similar areas.
Deng endured some foreign policy failures (such as the inability to rein
in Vietnamese challenges to Chinese interests in the late 1970s; see chapter
6) and suffered some setbacks (such as the Tiananmen crisis and the
failure to be admitted to the WTO on his watch; see chapters 12 and 10,
respectively). However, by and large his colleagues considered his policies
successful as long as China’s economy and global influence grew. Deng
guided China’s 1979 normalization of relations with the U.S. and the 1989
normalization of relations with the Soviet Union (see chapter 3). Above
all, he led the process of China’s immersion in globalization through a
series of decisions first to open Special Economic Zones, then to open the
entire coastal area to foreign investment and trade, and finally, in 1992, to
place the policy of opening to the outside world beyond political debate
with a series of forceful statements made during his so-called Southern
Tour. With this last act, Deng set in concrete China’s commitment to globalization
as a way to build national power. His role then faded as illness
encroached, and he passed away in 1997 at the age of ninety-two.
44 | Interest and Identity in Chinese Foreign Policy
As Deng’s influence waned, that of Jiang Zemin grew.8 Elevated by
Deng to the position of CCP general secretary during the crisis of 1989,
Jiang spent a significant part of his thirteen years in office consolidating
power. With the deaths of most of the senior leaders of Deng’s generation
and the retirements of Jiang’s own main cogenerational rivals by 1997,
Jiang was able to exercise unchallenged authority for the remaining years
of his term as general secretary until 2002. It was Jiang, for example, who
made the ultimate decisions on China’s negotiating stance on WTO membership9
and who articulated the strategy of maintaining smooth relations
with the U.S. under the slogan “Enhance trust, reduce friction, develop
cooperation, and avoid confrontation.”
The personal nature of power under Mao and Deng generated activity by
faction leaders below the top leader who wished to influence policy.10 As
with the man at the top of the system, so too the power resources of the faction
leaders at levels below him included institutional position, personal
connections, attractive or fearsome attributes of character, and the rhetorical
ability to define ideological orthodoxy. Some factions dwelt in the leader’s
court and drew power from access to him; others centered in the military,
the bureaucracy, or regional governments and rooted their influence
in the corresponding bureaucratic resources. Factions took shape through
networks of people who had personal connections (guanxi) based on long
associations and personal trust. Senior leaders contended for power by
adopting ideological and policy positions that served the needs of their
power bases. Some stressed ideological purity, others the practical needs of
their institutions. When the supreme leader was vigorous, the factions
fought for his ear. When he was weak or chose not to intervene, other senior
leaders tried to take control over policy.
Foreign policy was not usually the central issue in factional conflicts. It
was a realm unfamiliar to most of the Communist leaders and, especially
under Mao, one that usually affected their power interests less than domestic
issues. Despite factionalism, the supreme leader had his way on most
foreign policy issues, imposing a consistent style and strategy across a range
of decisions.11 Many of Mao’s senior colleagues at first opposed intervening
in the Korean War, but they united quickly behind him once he decided
to do so. Mao’s choice to break with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s
faced hardly any dissent at top levels of the leadership. The chairman was
personally responsible for launching the two 1950s Taiwan Strait crises that
Who Runs Chinese Foreign Policy? | 45
risked war with the U.S. and for initiating the policy of rapprochement
with the U.S. in 1971–1972.
In a similar way, it was Deng Xiaoping who decided on China’s opendoor
policy in the late 1970s, normalization of relations with the U.S. in
1979, the 1979 incursion into Vietnam, rapprochement with the Soviet
Union in the 1980s, the “one-country two-systems” policy for reunification
of Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the agreement with Great Britain on the
return of Hong Kong to China. PRC foreign policies may not always have
been correct, but under Mao and Deng they were usually the product of a
coherent vision and were carried out with discipline.
However, every major factional struggle drew foreign policy issues to
some extent into its vortex. All of Mao’s early conflicts with party rivals
over revolutionary strategy involved the question of how closely to follow
orders from the Soviet-controlled Communist International (Comintern).
The first major power struggle after 1949 led to the purge and death in
1954 of a top leader, Gao Gang, who had tried to cultivate close relations
with Stalin independently of Mao. Mao’s purge of Peng Dehuai in 1959
was also based in part on the charge that Peng wanted closer relations with
Moscow. As a count against Peng, this charge may have been unjustified,
but it sent a message to other colleagues who were thinking of questioning
the wisdom of splitting from the Soviet Union. When Mao purged Liu
Shaoqi and other orthodox party leaders in the Cultural Revolution, he
accused them not only of domestic deviations, but of conciliatory leanings
toward the West. The power struggle between Mao and Lin Biao in
1970–1971 embroiled Lin in resistance to Mao’s opening to the U.S., and
after Lin’s death he was charged, justly or not, with favoring capitulation
to the Soviet Union.
When the leader was weak, factional struggles might not only refer to
foreign policies but affect them as well. When Mao was incapacitated late
in his life, the faction led by his wife attacked its rivals for their association
with U.S.–China rapprochement and a conciliatory Taiwan policy, thus
forcing the government to adopt a temporary hard line toward the U.S.
Even after the radicals were defeated, the power struggle between Deng
Xiaoping and Mao’s designated successor, Hua Guofeng, froze policy
toward the U.S. for a time until Deng gained power. Not until 1978 did
Deng establish the authority needed to make compromises over Taiwan
and thus normalize relations with the U.S. Setbacks to Deng’s power after
46 | Interest and Identity in Chinese Foreign Policy
the 1989 Tiananmen incident were associated with a temporary hardening
of policies on trade with the U.S., arms transfers, human rights, and Hong
Kong, among other areas. Deng’s illness in 1995–1997 contributed to the
hardening of PRC policies toward Taiwan, human rights, and trade.
For foreigners, negotiating with Beijing under Mao and Deng had
advantages and disadvantages. The considerations that shaped policy were
either hidden in plain sight in the leader’s speeches and the official newspaper
or were so private that even intelligence agencies could not discover
them. From demonstrators in the streets to diplomats in conference rooms,
the nation maintained unanimity behind a seemingly rigid ideology. But
a Malraux, a Kissinger, or an Edgar Snow might be ushered into Mao’s
or Deng’s presence to hear disquisitions marked by candor and flexibility.
An enemy such as Nixon might be received as a friend, or a friend such as
Khrushchev might be received as an enemy. China’s diplomats presented
poker faces of discipline and secrecy during negotiations. But in the presence
of the great leader or his authorized representative—under Mao, this
representative was normally Premier Zhou Enlai—everything might be
negotiable. Even so, any policy changes would be cloaked in public claims
of doctrinal consistency. Once reached, an agreement could be relied on.12
Growing Inst i tut iona l i z at ion
Mao’s foreign policy apparatus was rudimentary. His decisions were implemented
by a small staff under Zhou Enlai, the premier and sometime foreign
minister. After receiving a phone call or written instruction from Mao,
Zhou frequently handled even small details of policy personally. There is
no record that Zhou had independent foreign policy views, but his urbane
style often led foreign negotiators to view him as a voice of moderation. He
negotiated all the arrangements for the 1971 visit to China of an American
ping-pong team, which opened the way for Henry Kissinger and later Richard
Nixon. Even on his deathbed, Zhou continued his diplomatic work,
receiving a Romanian delegation and holding discussions on policy toward
Taiwan.13 Zhou sometimes had to work with a severely diminished staff.
During the Cultural Revolution, Mao disbanded the few foreign policy
institutes China had, called home all but one of its ambassadors, and sent
Who Runs Chinese Foreign Policy? | 47
most of the foreign policy establishment to the countryside to be reeducated
by the peasants.
One of Deng Xiaoping’s goals starting in the early 1980s was to create
greater institutionalization in party and government processes so that the
political chaos of the Mao years would not recur. Under Deng’s guidance,
limits on the length of political leaders’ terms of office began to be observed;
leaders retired from office before they died and did not interfere in politics
after retirement; the NPC and the CCP’s Central Committee met on
schedule every year; new leaders were chosen by consultation among the
outgoing leaders; the military ceased to exercise a voice in the succession
to civilian posts; decision making in various spheres was supported by the
work of staff in specialist agencies; a division of labor developed within the
leadership over who had the right to propose decisions in which policy
areas; and the PBSC chaired by the general secretary collectively cleared
Jiang Zemin both benefited from and paid a price for the institutionalization
begun by Deng. He benefited because he could draw real power
from his formal positions as general secretary, head of state, and chair of
the CMC. Even though he had no prior credibility as an ideologist, economic
decision maker, or military strategist, his official posts gave him the
right to speak in each of these areas. He had to fight less than Mao or Deng
to defend his power in the factional arena because by this time lines of
authority were better defined and terms of office more reliable. In other
ways, Jiang was hampered by institutionalization: he could exercise final
say only after consulting with other leaders in their areas of responsibility,
and he had to step down from office when his term was over—which
he did with apparent reluctance in a three-step process lasting from 2002
to 2004—and accept a successor, Hu Jintao, whom he had not chosen
himself, but whom Deng had put in place as heir apparent early in Jiang’s
More than any of his predecessors, Hu Jintao worked within an apparatus
that routinely required a great deal of coordination with other powerful,
trusted, and expert actors. He could not decide issues arbitrarily or purge
other leaders, the way Mao did, or intervene unpredictably in the policymaking
domains assigned to others. as Deng did. But because he held
the same triad of positions as Jiang Zemin—party general secretary, head
of state, and chair of the CMC—he exercised the crucial prerogatives of
48 | Interest and Identity in Chinese Foreign Policy
setting agendas, leading discussions, and summarizing the results of meetings,
which gave him the dominant influence over the course of foreign
The Politburo and the PBSC are the levels at which major foreign policy
decisions are most likely to be integrated with one another and with
domestic policy decisions. It was at this level that policymakers dealt with
such issues as the negative impact of the Great Leap Forward on relations
with the Soviet Union (chapter 3) and the need to relax domestic ideology
in order to implement Deng Xiaoping’s open-door economic policy (chapter
10). When the U.S. and China were negotiating the agenda for Richard
Nixon’s pathbreaking visit to China in 1972, the Politburo issued the
negotiating instructions for Chinese diplomats. In 1995, when the Clinton
administration, in the face of China’s warnings to the contrary, allowed
Taiwan’s leader Lee Teng-hui15 to visit the U.S., a meeting of the Politburo
decided on China’s response, which included missile exercises in the East
China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, the withdrawal of the Chinese ambassador
to the U.S., and the suspension of high-level U.S.–China diplomatic
and military contacts.
Below the Politburo and the PBSC are the central party Secretariat and
the General Office. There are also four departments that help the leaders
set policy for specific aspects of foreign and domestic affairs. The Propaganda
Department (in 1998 officially renamed in English the Publicity
Department) governs the domestic and foreign work of the propaganda
apparatus, which includes the media, the educational sector, and the cultural
establishment. The United Front Work Department oversees policy
related to nongovernmental persons and groups in Taiwan, Hong Kong,
and Overseas Chinese circles as well as relations with people at home and
abroad classified as intellectuals, members of national minorities, and representatives
of religious communities. The International Department (formerly
International Liaison Department) manages party-to-party relations
with political parties abroad, which was a central element of Chinese foreign
policy during the years of high Maoism, but a less central element
today. There is also the Organization Department, which is in charge of
The major mechanism for debating, coordinating, and recommending
policies in specific issue areas is a type of ad hoc body called a “central leading
small group” (CLSG, zhongyang lingdao xiaozu). Such groups existed
Who Runs Chinese Foreign Policy? | 49
in the past to implement orders from the top rather to than make decisions.
Today they are venues for the top leaders to consult, reach consensus, and
recommend policies to the Politburo for final approval. Like the Principals
Committee or the Deputies Committee of the U.S. National Security
Council, CLSGs are committees of ranking decision makers created to
coordinate policy among bureaucracies. They operate on assignment from
the Politburo and are reshuffled as the Politburo deems necessary. A highly
ranked person—the general secretary himself or another member of the
PBSC—chairs each group; a person of ministerial rank administers the
group’s work; and the heads of relevant cabinet-level offices are normally
members of each CLSG.
Several CLSGs are known currently to operate within the domain of
The Foreign Affairs CLSG (Zhongyang waishi gongzuo lingdao xiaozu)
is normally chaired by either the general secretary or the premier. The
senior staff person for the committee is normally the vice premier or state
councillor in charge of foreign affairs (vice premier and state councillor
are cabinet ranks above the rank of minister). The working group includes
a high-level military representative. As the coordinating institution (or
“mouth”) for the whole foreign affairs bureaucratic system, this group coordinates
the foreign affairs–related work of a mix of party and state agencies:
the International Liaison Department; the Ministries of Defense, Foreign
Affairs, Commerce, and Culture; the party central’s Foreign Affairs Office,
the party central’s news office, and the General Staff Department of the
People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The State Security CLSG (Zhongyang guojia anquan lingdao xiaozu)
is normally chaired by the general secretary and includes among its members
the PBSC member in charge of state security and public-security
affairs, the senior military intelligence officer, and representatives from
the State Council offices on Taiwan affairs and Hong Kong and Macao
affairs. This CLSG coordinates work across the fields of security, foreign
affairs, and defense.
The Overseas Propaganda CLSG (Zhongyang duiwai xuanquan lingdao
xiaozu) is normally chaired by the PBSC member in charge of propaganda
work and includes the heads of the party’s Propaganda and United
Front Work departments and the leaders of the party central’s news office,
the party’s Xinhua News Agency, the official party newspaper (People’s
50 | Interest and Identity in Chinese Foreign Policy
Daily), and the Ministry of Culture. The same group meets under another
label as the CLSG in charge of domestic propaganda.
The Taiwan Work CLSG (Zhongyang dui Tai gongzuo lingdao xiaozu)
is normally chaired by the general secretary and includes the PBSC member
who supervises agencies working on the Taiwan issue. It includes a
high-ranking military representative. This small group coordinates the
Taiwan-related work of the Ministry of State Security, the State Council
Taiwan Affairs Office, the PLA General Staff’s intelligence department,
and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait.
The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs CLSG is run by a PBSC member
and includes relevant United Front Work Department, State Council, and
The Finance and Economics CLSG is chaired by either the general
secretary or the premier and includes top party and cabinet officials supervising
domestic and international economic affairs.
The Energy CLSG was established in 2006 to coordinate management
of domestic and foreign energy strategy. It is chaired by the premier
and includes a range of senior officials whose agencies are involved in or
affected by energy security.
The Foreign Affairs CLSG superficially resembles the U.S. National
Security Council (NSC), but there are important contrasts. The Foreign
Affairs CLSG’s scope of work is defined more narrowly than the scope of
issues that the NSC coordinates, with a range of related issues delegated
instead to the other CLSGs that have responsibilities related to foreign
affairs. Unlike the NSC, the Foreign Affairs CLSG makes decisions rather
than just pooling advice from other agencies. But where the NSC has fulltime
staff to help it enforce decisions down the bureaucracy, the CLSG
does not. After it makes decisions, state agencies under the State Council
are supposed to implement them.
Within the State Council, a Foreign Affairs Office under the premier
coordinates the work of the various state agencies involved in foreign affairs,
including four ministries. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs manages diplomacy
and staffs embassies and consulates. The Ministry of Commerce
concentrates on trade issues, such as conflicts regarding protection of intellectual
property rights, accusations of Chinese protectionism, and policy
toward multilateral economic institutions, including the Asia–Pacific Economic
Cooperation (APEC) forum and the WTO. The Ministry of State
Who Runs Chinese Foreign Policy? | 51
Security handles espionage and counterespionage, diplomatic security,
and border control, combining many of the functions of America’s Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The
Ministry of National Defense is a front for the CMC, lacking the staff and
functions of a full ministry. Its job is to represent the military in the cabinet
(State Council) and in dealings with foreigners.
Other cabinet-level ministries and commissions conduct negotiations
on specific foreign policy issues, as is the case in the U.S. and other governments.
The Ministry of Finance, for example, has been China’s primary
representative to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Ministry of
Education administers the policy of sending students abroad and receiving
foreign students in China. The Ministry of Public Security handles police
functions relating to foreigners, from crime solving to fire safety and traffic
control. The Ministry of Culture has a Department of Cultural Relations
with Foreign Countries. The State Commission on Science and Technology
controls allocation of foreign currency among civilian and military
industries for importing advanced technology. Below the cabinet, other
government agencies that have foreign policy roles include the People’s
Bank of China, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, the State
Statistical Bureau (which has the right to approve surveys conducted by
foreigners in China), and the bureaus that administer policies regarding
customs, travel and tourism, aviation, foreign experts employed by Chinese
agencies, and so on.
This system often achieves enviable consistency in the articulation and
application of policy across different policy bureaucracies. On important
matters on which the center has spoken, Chinese officials and policy intellectuals
are briefed and disciplined. People at all levels know what the policy
is and are motivated to comply with it whether they agree or disagree
with it because the political system does not reward disobedience or dissent.
This compliance allows China to pursue a more strategic foreign policy
than most other countries across the broad span of issue areas and policy
actors as well as over time. But the high centralization of power also creates
some span-of-control problems. Although officials up and down the line are
well informed on what the policy is, there are not enough hours in the day
for the people who have real power to make sure that all the bureaucracies
below them implement policy in the way they intend. Classic examples of
this problem have included the failure of military-run enterprises to comply
52 | Interest and Identity in Chinese Foreign Policy
with nonproliferation commitments made by central officials,17 local officials’
toleration of intellectual property rights violations,18 and human rights
violations carried out by security authorities that embarrassed the foreign
ministry and the justice ministry.19
Lamarckian evolution, long discredited in biology, functions with
important effect in the world of policy. A change in behavior (such as
deciding to join the WTO) induces a change in physiology (staffing up
the bureaucracy with experts on WTO rules and procedures), which induces
a change in DNA (those experts become a constituency with distinctive
beliefs and values, who push a set of policies within the system).20
Although the initial impulse to get involved in such an issue area may
be only instrumental, some degree of socialization to international norms
occurs through the creation of an expert staff in the bureaucracy, which in
turn affects not only the technical bureaus themselves, but to some extent,
through them, the decision makers at the top.21 In this way, the process that
international relations theorists refer to as “social learning” among states
takes place as governments gain both the capability and the propensity to
negotiate over and selectively comply with new international regimes.22
Other policy areas in which this phenomenon occurred in the Chinese
system in the post-Mao period included nonproliferation and arms control,
human rights, intellectual property rights, international commercial
dispute resolution, international environmental regulation, international
public health, UN affairs, and product safety regulation. In all these areas,
Deng Xiaoping’s shift to a policy of global engagement required China
to participate in the relevant international regime; participation in such
a technical field required expertise; experts were trained and brought into
the government; and once in the government, the experts gained some
degree of influence because only they knew how to work the particular
international system in which they were experts. Seldom, if ever, however,
has the siren song of emerging international norms trumped national
interest in the final calculations made by the decision makers at the top.
Int el l igence
The outer ring of the Chinese foreign policy establishment consists of
research institutes, think tanks, and intelligence agencies that provide the
Who Runs Chinese Foreign Policy? | 53
leaders with information and ideas.23 The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
has numerous area studies institutes studying all parts of the world
from the angles of politics, economics, history, religion, and culture. In
addition, at least twenty-five think tanks in Beijing are devoted to analyzing
international affairs. Specialized research institutes serve the Foreign
Ministry, the State Council, the CCP’s CMC, the Ministry of National
Defense, and the PLA’s General Staff. Some institutes, such the China
Institute for Contemporary International Relations, seem to serve more
than one master. Although formally under the auspices of the Central
Committee’s Foreign Affairs Office, this institute, which is one of the largest
and oldest foreign policy think tanks, also maintains close ties to the
Ministry of State Security. Each provincial government runs a social sciences
academy that includes international relations in its field of studies.
The governments of Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen, Harbin, and other
major cities have also established foreign policy institutes. Think tank staff
are often sent to Chinese embassies abroad. They visit foreign universities
and research centers to give lectures and conduct interviews, spend
time as visiting scholars overseas, attend foreign academic conferences,
and participate with experts from other countries in “Track II” dialogues
(policy-related dialogues among persons with government connections
but without current governmental responsibilities). These analysts prepare
reports for government agencies, informing the Chinese leadership
of the latest thinking overseas on issues affecting Chinese security. Many
research organizations provide periodic reports to the Politburo.
The Chinese government also posts around the world a large staff of
journalists, who prepare reports on the same subjects covered by embassy
personnel and think tanks. Most Chinese journalists work for the official
Xinhua News Agency, the China News Service, or a government or party
newspaper such as the People’s Daily. Most of them are party members.
Abroad as at home, reporters write not only for publication, but also for
classified, “internal” news bulletins that circulate among ranking party
and government officials. In most foreign countries, Chinese reporters
are allowed to base themselves more widely and travel more freely than
Like all major powers, China has a sophisticated overseas covert intelligence
system. Because it is secret, our knowledge of it is limited. Most of
the few cases in which the U.S., Japan, and other countries have apprehended
Chinese spies have involved efforts to transfer sensitive information
54 | Interest and Identity in Chinese Foreign Policy
on advanced technologies with potential military use. Such cases suggest
that the Chinese security agencies focus in part on technological information.
They develop relationships with some Chinese going abroad for longterm
visits or permanent residence, expecting that a portion of them
will develop careers in fields dealing with national security or sensitive technology
and will one day provide classified information to the Chinese
The U.S. congressional Cox Commission in 1999 issued a report alleging
extensive and effective espionage operations by China in the U.S.
Some commentators charged that the commission’s claims were unsubstantiated,
and botched prosecutions by U.S. law enforcement agencies,
as in the 1999 case against Taiwan-born scientist Wen Ho Lee, gave the
impression that the threat of Chinese espionage might be overhyped. But
it is likely that Beijing is indeed engaged, as the U.S. intelligence community
believes, in widespread and aggressive espionage operations in the
U.S. to acquire military and dual-use technology.24 In the 2000s, there were
increasingly frequent reports of extensive Chinese hacking into Western
government, company, and NGO computer networks. It was hard to prove
where the hacks came from, but many must have represented attempts to
obtain information or discover weak spots that could be attacked in case of
cyber war. The hacking went both ways: Beijing authorities claimed that
their computers were also frequently attacked by outsiders.
China’s experts on U.S. affairs seem to have achieved a good understanding
of the American political system after about twenty years’ effort.
American goals and methods in international affairs used to puzzle Chinese
analysts because the country’s pluralist system works so differently
from China’s. Here is a system in which the chief executive is selected
not by a deliberate promotion process within the ruling elite, but by an
unpredictable, uncontrollable public process that often brings inexperienced
people to power; a system in which political parties with significantly
different international strategies alternate in power or sometimes
divide power during the time in office of a given administration, leading
to puzzling inconsistencies and changes of direction in national strategy;
a system in which no single center seems to be in charge of matters of
high importance to national security because the Congress or the courts—
sometimes individual congressional representatives or judges—have the
power to intervene in matters of consequence; a system in which ideolWho
Runs Chinese Foreign Policy? | 55
ogy often seems to hold sway over pragmatic national interest as policymakers
labor to sell their policies to a skeptical public. The key to good
intelligence in deciphering these puzzles has not been the discovery of
secrets, but an understanding of the complex signals emitted by a pluralistic
political system. By training an impressive cadre of U.S. experts—many
in American graduate schools—and through a long process of interaction
with Washington policymakers, the Chinese leaders have developed the
necessary body of advisers to give them a reasonable understanding of U.S.
policy and its drivers. Their views of American goals and methods are discussed
further in chapter 4.
As in most countries, intelligence agencies also focus on identifying
and assessing threats to the state. China’s intelligence system seems adept
at information gathering but less skillful at interpretation and analysis.
From The Tiananmen Papers, a body of secret documents related to the
1989 Tiananmen incident, we get the impression that a great deal of raw
intelligence goes to the top, more than the senior leaders can conceivably
read, although they may sample it on important topics.25 At the time of
any international crisis or shift in U.S. China policy, squads of information
collectors from Chinese media, think tanks, and government agencies fan
out internationally to collect a vast quantity of evidence, most of which
must be redundant. People working on Chinese human rights issues have
become used to pervasive Chinese surveillance and harassment of their
Internet traffic and phone calls not only within China, but outside it.
Assessments, however, may sometimes succumb to information pathologies,
which appear to work differently depending on whether the threat is
domestic or foreign. When monitoring and assessing domestic threats,
intelligence organs may be pressured to downplay the full extent of a problem,
a pressure that may paradoxically be greater the more the agency realizes
the seriousness of the stakes. For example, intelligence agencies appear
to have been caught off guard by the scope of the unrest in Tibetan areas in
March 2008 and the intensity of outrage among Uyghurs in Xinjiang in July
2009. The reason for the lapse may lie in the agencies’ unwillingness to
deliver assessments that embarrass local authorities or contradict current
thinking among the leaders. Disaffected Tibetans and Uyghurs are always
officially depicted as constituting “a small handful” of troublemakers who
have foreign links and do not enjoy broad support in their communities.
This view may also be reflected in internal reporting. To suggest that
56 | Interest and Identity in Chinese Foreign Policy
disaffection is deeply rooted and widespread would challenge the official
belief that economic development in areas populated by ethnic minorities
is the answer to the problem. Moreover, it is easier to blame foreign instigators
for the unexpected scope and intensity of domestic dissent than to say
that government policies have failed.
The reverse may be true in the case of foreign threats, where the intelligence
community has reasons to play up challenges. For example, articulating
the means and mechanisms by which the U.S. may appear to threaten
China requires little encouragement. For Chinese intelligence professionals,
the assumption of a U.S. threat to the PRC is not only politically astute,
but also representative of actual beliefs. It is easy to interpret the uncoordinated
words and actions of diverse actors in the complex U.S. political scene
as elements of a coordinated scheme to weaken China. For example, proclamations
about human rights and democracy are not interpreted as expressions
of American idealism, but as methods for meddling in China’s internal
affairs and undermining CCP rule.
Outside the circle of expert advisers and policy professionals, the regime
has little interest in or access to critical or original views. The only public
dissent the government tolerates is the occasional expression of strong
nationalism, the loudness of which the government seems to be able to
modulate depending on whether it needs more or less background noise
of that type for its diplomacy. The lack of independent opinion arguably
does no harm as long as the government’s policy is working. But when the
policy is unwise, the echo-chamber effect robs the country of a chance to
The Rol e of the Mil i ta ry
The PLA—the collective name given to China’s army, navy, air force,
and missile forces—is the third pillar of the regime’s authority along with
the CCP and the state. It not only protects the country against external
enemies but helps defend the regime against internal threats (chapter 11).
The CCP came to power as an armed rather than a civilian force by winning
a civil war rather than an election. Its claim to legitimacy is rooted
in that victory. Mao’s regime after 1949 continued to rely on the army, first
to establish and then to maintain control. When the Cultural Revolution
Who Runs Chinese Foreign Policy? | 57
brought the country near chaos, Mao called out the military in 1967. The
PLA not only restored order but also took over the administration of every
major institution and every level of government from the county level up
to the provincial level through so-called revolutionary committees. After
Mao’s death, military leaders supervised the arrest of his radical heirs,
backed Hua Guofeng as Mao’s immediate successor, and then a couple
of years later supported the rise of Deng to power. Deng used the PLA to
save the regime during the Tiananmen crisis of 1989.26 Domestic security
remains a key mission of the Chinese military. In all these ways, the PLA
is truly a “party army,” not neutral among political contenders, but loyal to
a specific ruling group. The Chinese system is best characterized not as a
“party–state,” as it is often called, but as a “party–army–state” in which the
military is an integral part of the regime.
The military’s relations with the civilian authorities strike a balance seldom
seen elsewhere. A bedrock principle of CCP ideology is that “the
party controls the gun.” Military officers sit as symbolic but not powerful
presences in the party Central Committee and the NPC. The army
holds two seats in the Politburo, enough to exchange information but not
to influence outcomes. Since the Deng period, no military officers have
been appointed to the most powerful decision-making body, the PBSC.
Senior officers serve in the relevant CLSGs, where they provide information
and coordinate actions, but so far as we know, they do not tend to use
these positions to lobby for a distinct institutional point of view. Except
when summoned, the PLA intervenes little in civilian affairs. Unlike some
armies, the PLA does not promote an ideology of its own such as corporatism
or military nationalism. It has remained loyal to the civilian regime’s
conception of socialism as this conception has evolved under successive
leaders. It promulgates the party’s ideology in its ranks through a hierarchy
of political commissars. The PLA used to raise much of is own budget from
farms and enterprises. In 1998, Jiang Zemin decided to divest the PLA of
these independent sources of income, a decision apparently taken with
the military leadership’s concurrence.27 Since then, military expenditures
have been allocated by the state, including some significant allocations
outside the official defense budget. In all these ways, the Chinese political
system is characterized by civilian control.
Yet in its own area of responsibility, the PLA operates with a high degree
of autonomy. Once overall defense expenditures have been set by the state,
military officials decide how to spend the money among competing needs.
58 | Interest and Identity in Chinese Foreign Policy
Civilian leaders lay down a vision of likely enemies and probable foci of
future world tension, but the military decides how to equip and train itself
for future contingencies, handles military tensions with other countries,
and conducts military diplomacy. The civilian leaders decide when to go
to war, but the military manages the war. Such a division of labor stands
in sharp contrast to the way the U.S. system works, in which civilians in
White House, the Pentagon, the intelligence community, and the Congress
play key roles in deciding how war will be prepared for and how it is
The crucial channel for high-level civilian control over the military
is a narrow one: the chairmanship of the CMC. There are formally two
such commissions, one within the party apparatus and, since 1982, another
one within the state. In reality, they are the same body. The commission’s
chairmanship has been occupied successively by Mao, Hua Guofeng,
Deng, Jiang, and Hu. The CMC’s civilian leader appears to have few civilian
staff to advise him on his work in the commission (except that Hua,
Jiang, Hu, and Xi Jinping served as CMC vice chairs in their capacities as
heirs apparent); rather, he is assisted by a staff in uniform, beginning with
the generals who serve as CMC vice chairs and moving down the ranks
Under Mao and Deng, the civilian–military imbalance may have been
less important because both of them had served in the military, understood
the military technology of their day, and commanded deep personal loyalty
among the officers. Later CMC chairs, however, have had no military background,
and at the same time China’s strategic problems and military technology
have become more complex. The later chairmen have therefore
been increasingly captive to the PLA for expertise in military matters. The
civilian chair’s chief tool of influence has been his jealously guarded control
of senior promotions. Mao frequently purged and replaced top military
officers. Deng, Jiang, and Hu consolidated power by rotating their own
appointees into positions as commanders of the central staff departments,
service arms, military regions, and the central guards bureau that handles
security for the top leaders. This process generated some degree of personal
loyalty to them in the most senior ranks. The incoming party leader, Xi Jinping,
is the son of a one-time Communist guerilla leader and served as secretary
for a senior military official in his twenties, giving him slightly deeper
roots in the military than Jiang Zemin or Hu Jintao.
Who Runs Chinese Foreign Policy? | 59
Despite the thinness of civilian control over military matters, party leaders
have been able to make the major decisions of war and peace. It was
Mao who decided to intervene in Korea in 1950, to develop nuclear weapons
in 1955, to launch a war with India in 1962, and to ambush Soviet
troops in early 1969. Deng Xiaoping decided on the Chinese invasion
of Vietnam in 1979 and on the naval clash with Vietnam in the Spratly
Islands in 1988.28 Jiang Zemin gave the green light for Chinese missile tests
and military exercises in the Taiwan Strait in 1995–1996.
Civilian control seemed to fray only during the Cultural Revolution,
after Mao had placed the army in administrative control of the whole country
and labeled the army’s chief, Lin Biao, as his “designated successor.”
In October 1969, Lin issued the so-called No. 1 Order, which put the PLA
on heightened alert against possible imminent attack by the Soviet Union.
He reportedly issued this directive without Mao’s knowledge, which contributed
to Lin’s estrangement from the chairman. Lin Biao may have contemplated
a military coup in 1971—or at least Mao believed a Lin family
coup was in the works—but it never materialized. The October 1976 arrest
of the Gang of Four was carried out by a group of military and civilian officials
who did not seize power themselves but pledged their loyalty to Mao’s
successor at the time, Hua Guofeng.29
It is less clear who made decisions for military force in a long list of lesser
incidents, including naval clashes with Vietnam in the South China Sea in
1974, 1992, and 1994 and with the Philippines in 1995, 1996, and 1997; the
collision between a Chinese fighter plane and an American EP-3 surveillance
aircraft in 2001 in the vicinity of Hainan Island; an unannounced antisatellite
test in January 2007; Chinese harassment of the USNS Impeccable
in 2009; and a variety of clashes and near clashes with Japanese and American
ships at various times in the East China Sea, around the Diaoyutai
(Senkaku) Islands, and elsewhere. These decisions were quite possibly
made within the military chain of command without input from civilian
decision makers. Moreover, China’s behavior during some of these incidents
showed that civilian authorities had difficulty getting control of crises
once they were in the hands of the military. In 2001, for example, a stovepiped
command-and-control structure apparently made it difficult for the
top leaders to get information and make decisions on a timely basis about
the collision between the Chinese fighter and the American surveillance
aircraft and the latter’s subsequent emergency landing on Hainan Island.
60 | Interest and Identity in Chinese Foreign Policy
The delay caused the crisis with the U.S. to drag on for weeks. Chinese officers
have created diplomatic kerfluffles on some occasions when they used
threatening language that was out of tune with the civilian leadership’s
emphasis on “peaceful development” and “the new security concept.”30
PLA officers are not unlike military officers elsewhere in being nationalistic,
suspicious of adversaries, hawkish, and politically conservative, but
they operate on a longer leash than soldiers in many other countries. The
old structures of civilian control may no longer be robust enough to coordinate
China’s military actions with its diplomatic strategy at a time when
the army’s capabilities are expanding and its regional role is growing. In
the trend of institutionalization in the making of foreign policy in general,
civilian control of the military lags behind.31
The Rol e of Per sona l i t y
The less institutionalized the policymaking process, the more difference
is made by the leader’s beliefs and style. Mao Zedong’s quirks and convictions
had a decisive impact on Chinese foreign policy in the first two and
a half decades of the regime, as explored further in chapter 3. How Deng
Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin shaped policy toward the U.S., globalization,
and other issues is discussed throughout the book.
Hu Jintao was sixty years old when he acceded to the leadership in
2002.32 Born in Shanghai, he was trained as a hydropower engineer in China’s
elite technical university, Tsinghua. He served in a series of technical
and provincial posts and in the politically influential Communist Youth
League in Beijing. In December 1988, he was assigned to serve as party
secretary in Tibet. Unfortunately for him, Lhasa convulsed in riots a few
months later, and Hu had to order his subordinate, the local government
chairman, to declare martial law. Deng Xiaoping in 1992 selected him
ahead of all the competing cadres of his generation to serve in the PBSC,
apparently as a reward for his loyalty to the organization. Affable and cautious,
Hu held onto his slippery perch as heir apparent for ten years and
duly succeeded Jiang Zemin in 2002.
Hu was viewed by his colleagues in the top leadership as a good listener
and a consensus builder. His “work style” was considered “demoWho
Runs Chinese Foreign Policy? | 61
cratic” in Chinese Communist terms: he was businesslike, thoughtful, and
uninterested in empty show—all in contrast to the way Jiang Zemin was
perceived. Although different from Jiang in style, Hu did not depart from
Jiang’s foreign policy line in substance. He set out to sustain the previous
leader’s achievements—stable relations with the U.S. and successful
navigation of the white-water pace of globalization. As China’s challenges
evolved during his time as leader, Hu led the country to a more extended
and assertive international presence, not only in Asia but in Africa, South
America, and the Middle East. Although his strategy at times posed difficult
choices—among them how to frame policies toward Taiwan, Japan,
the U.S., human rights, and the global trade and financial systems—
analysts discerned no indications of serious dissent in Beijing’s policy circles.
Hu apparently guided the collective leadership to consensus around
decisions that bore his personal stamp.
The elite’s consensus choice of Xi Jinping to succeed Hu in 2012 signaled
the intention to give China a more assertive international voice. Xi is a large
man with the build of a football player, and he is married to a popular folk
singer who worked in a PLA entertainment troupe. His father was an early
guerilla fighter in the Communist Revolution and a senior party leader of
Mao’s generation. When the father lost his post in Mao’s purges, Xi was sent
to the countryside to “learn from the peasants” in a poverty-stricken agricultural
commune. His size and strength helped him to survive the grueling
life of agricultural labor. He was the champion of wrestling matches with
the farmers and was renowned for his ability to carry a shoulder pole of twin
110-pound buckets of wheat for several miles across mountain paths. On
his local government’s recommendation, Xi got into Tsinghua University as
a “peasant–worker–soldier student.” As noted earlier, he briefly served a
senior military leader who had once been a subordinate of his father’s.
Unlike Hu Jintao, Xi served for much of his career in one province,
Fujian, where he rose from deputy mayor of a city in 1985 to provincial
governor in 2000. There he gained a reputation as populist, pushy, and
results oriented. His superiors evaluated him as “modest, full of ideas,
hard-working, unpretentious; insists on eating meals in the city government
cafeteria, washes his own clothes, refuses excessive banqueting, has
warm relations with Party committee and city government staff.” During
his governorship, he tried to make the province attractive for investors from
Taiwan, which is directly across the Taiwan Strait, and many of whose
62 | Interest and Identity in Chinese Foreign Policy
people speak one of the Fujian dialects. He urged his subordinates to practice
“limited government” and to take an attitude of “public service.” He
hectored provincial cadres for laziness, careerism, and caution in a manner
said to be similar to that of former premier Zhu Rongji, who was known for
being confrontational with his subordinates and producing results. “Many
of our civil servants still think they are running a planned economy,” Xi
said at one meeting. “Whenever there’s a problem they seek to add more
staff and introduce more government structures.” On another occasion, he
accused provincial officials of spending all their time chasing promotions
and engaging in alliance building: “These guys may manage to fall into a
few better jobs. But as our efforts [to improve government efficiency] build
steam, they will fall by the wayside.”33
In the 2000s, Xi moved from Fujian to the top party posts in Zhejiang
and then Shanghai. His appointments as a member of the PBSC in 2007,
PRC vice president in 2008, and CMC vice chair in 2010 signaled that he
had been chosen as heir apparent to Hu Jintao, to take office as general
secretary in fall 2012 and as head of state in spring 2013. In keeping with the
ground rules of the CCP personnel system, Xi is a decade younger than
Hu, so he is scheduled to succeed to the general secretary post at the age
During his anticipated two five-year terms in office, Xi will try to guide
China to the rank of second or even first economy in the world; to the status
of a middle-level economy on a per capita basis; to an approximate diplomatic
parity with the U.S. as a major power in a multipolar world; and to
a military position where China can deter or defeat intervention in any of
the territories that China claims, including Taiwan, and play a role in protecting
its economic interests overseas. Just as Hu Jintao had the right kind
of personality to represent China in the 2000s during its low-keyed period
of “peaceful rise,” so Xi Jinping has been chosen to speak for a China that
is expected to be increasingly powerful and assertive in the second decade
of the twenty-first century.Download “How China Sees America,” by Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell
September/October 2012The United States worries about China’s rise, but Washington rarely considers how the world looks through Beijing’s eyes. Even when U.S. officials speak sweetly and softly, their Chinese counterparts hear sugarcoated threats and focus on the big stick in the background. America should not shrink from setting out its expectations of Asia’s rising superpower — but it should do so calmly, coolly, and professionally.Download “The Tiananmen Papers,” introduced by Andrew Nathan
The Tiananmen papers paint a vivid picture of the battles between hard-liners and reformers on how to handle the student protests that swept China in the spring of 1989. The protests were ultimately ended by force, including the bloody clearing of Beijing streets by troops using live ammunition. The tragic event was one of the most important in the history of communist China, and its consequences are still being felt.