National Security, Military, & Foreign Policy

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China’s Strategic Straddle: Analyzing Beijing’s Diplomatic Response to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Evan S. Medeiros
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

This article examines China’s diplomatic responses to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It argues that the war created an immediate diplomatic “trilemma” for China as it sought to balance three competing interests: alignment with Russia, adherence to core principles of Chinese foreign policy and need for stability with the United States and Europe.  To manage this trilemma, China adopted a policy that I term a “strategic straddle” in which China tries to balance these competing interests at the same time. In practice, this straddle has manifested in strong rhetorical, informational and diplomatic support for Russia while, at the same time, Beijing has been very careful, to date, to avoid providing substantial material support to Russia. Maintaining this balancing act will be difficult as Russian needs grow. In relations with the United States and Europe, China has sought to put a floor under worsening relations but has had limited success doing so. The one area where China has sought strategic advantage is in its ties with the Global South, which is suffering from economic dislocations associated with the war. China has sought to use these deprivations to generate greater solidarity in resisting U.S.-led rules, norms and institutions. China’s ability to maintain this straddle will be challenged the complexities of managing competing ties with these different countries, regions and institutions.

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Strategic Partner or Strategic Player? Russian Asia Experts Assess China’s Ukraine Policy

Elizabeth Wishnick
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

In the U.S. and Europe, China is seen as Russia’s tacit supporter, but what do Russian experts think? This article examines recent writings and interviews with leading Russian China-watchers. My research finds that they see Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as setting limits to Sino-Russian relations, despite recent declarations by Beijing and Moscow stating otherwise. They conclude that China is likely to prioritize its own interests rather than to support Russia overtly. While some Russian observers emphasize the economic and political difficulties China faces, others point to its potential economic gains. Some Russian Asia experts remain confident that Russia will succeed in avoiding over-dependence on Chinese investment, whereas others see China being in a better position to obtain long-sought economic opportunities in Russia.

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The Ukrainian Challenge to China’s Leadership Politics: An Emerging Divergence in Foreign Policy and Its Impact on the 20th Party Congress

Guoguang Wu
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Despite China’s pro-Russia stance with respect to the invasion of Ukraine, divergent perspectives exist among Chinese policy elites toward the Ukraine war and China’s relations with Putin’s Russia. Such policy divergences have occurred mainly between China strongman Xi Jinping and some foreign-policy ruling elites who are politically connected with the top leaders who ruled China prior to Xi’s rise. As Xi steadily supports Putin with a strong commitment to the informal alliance between China and Russia, the dissenting voices among the policy elites have advocated distancing China from Russia’s military venture in Ukraine. Meanwhile, criticisms of Xi’s stance on the Ukraine war have also appeared in social media. Such criticisms highlight China’s national interest, which is inherently more skeptical of Russia, rather than endorse a close partnership. This essay analyzes Xi’s personal and political interests in maintaining a pro-Putin policy, the potential connection between  the observed policy divergences and the elite power struggle ahead of China’s 20th Party Congress, and Xi’s attempts to turn his policy liability into an asset and thus gain leverage in the forthcoming CCP leadership reorganization.

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China’s Propaganda on the War in Ukraine

Maria Repnikova
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Although China’s official position on the war has been that of neutrality—not aligning with the West against Russia and not directly supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine—its communications about the war, in particular its propaganda via state media and Foreign Ministry spokespeople have carried a more pro-Russia stance. During the past two months of the Russia-Ukraine war, Chinese official messaging has echoed and reinforced Russia’s position: 1.) by promoting shared narratives about the origins and culprits of the war, namely blaming NATO and the United States; 2.) by drawing disproportionally on Russian sources and footage of the war; and 3.) by under-reporting on Ukraine’s perspectives. This pro-Russia leaning during the Ukraine crisis can be understood as part of a larger propaganda trajectory vis-à-vis Russia and the United States. Domestically, China’s propaganda messaging in large part appears to resonate with public opinion. Internationally, however, Chinese propaganda about the war, especially communications by Foreign Ministry spokespeople, delude China’s neutrality position and antagonize the West, while more integrating China into the Global South.

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CLM Insights Interview with Kenneth W. Allen and Cristina L. Garafola on their recent book:

70 Years of the PLA Air Force

(The China Aerospace Studies Institute, 2021)

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Beijing’s Response to the Biden Administration’s China Policy

Ryan Hass 
Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Developments in the U.S.-China relationship over the past year suggest that both sides acknowledge there are not any simple fixes for neutralizing the other as its most formidable rival and competitor. Instead, both countries appear to be settling in for long-term competition. Going forward, Beijing likely will play to its strengths as it seeks to gain an edge over Washington and others. Beijing identifies its advantages as its growing economic gravity, its strengthening relationship with Russia, its expanding influence in much of the developing world, and its ability to offer solutions to other leaders who feel threatened by social instability. With the National Party Congress looming in Fall 2022, Beijing likely will focus in the coming year on addressing compounding challenges at home and geopolitical headwinds abroad. Recognizing the threats that Washington and other developed countries remain capable of posing to China’s continued rise, Beijing also will look for ways to minimize any damage in its relations as it works to maximize gains in overall influence in the rest of the world. How well China does in navigating this thicket of challenges will inform its ability to achieve its ambitions.   

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CLM Insights Interview with Peter Martin on his recent book:

China’s Civilian Army: The Making of Wolf Warrior Diplomacy

(Oxford University Press, 2021)

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Recent Chinese Views on the Taiwan Issue

Michael D. Swaine
Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Public Chinese sources affirm that the foundational elements of China’s Taiwan policy have not changed fundamentally under Xi Jinping.  However, many Chinese officials and elites regard the current situation as increasingly dangerous and precarious, requiring ever more energetic Chinese deterrence actions against both Taipei and Washington.  And an increasing number of non-authoritative Chinese sources believe that eventual peaceful unification will most likely only occur under some form of non-violent PRC coercion of Taiwan, along with the acquisition of unassailable military deterrence capabilities directed at the United States.  At the same time, public sources do not confirm the notion that Beijing is preparing to attack Taiwan by any specific date, and some Chinese sources continue to insist that time remains on China’s side, given Beijing’s growing power and influence.  Nonetheless, since Washington seems to hold a similar deterrence-centered viewpoint toward the Taiwan issue, it is fair to say that the ingredients of a Sino-U.S. confrontation over Taiwan are in place, unless the two nations can agree upon verifiable quid pro quos designed to build trust and reduce open-ended military signaling. 

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Chinese Views of U.S. Decline

Michael D. Swaine 
Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The idea of an America in decline has become a major subject of

discussion among many PRC observers.  A seeming preponderance

of Chinese authoritative, semi-authoritative, and non-authoritative

Chinese elites believe that the distribution of global power is shifting

in a direction that favors China over the West/the United States. However, what is less clear is how those many Chinese who see the U.S. as being in decline view the specific origins, nature, and extent of that decline and its implications for China. Chinese public statements on the decline offer no conclusive evidence supporting the claim that Beijing is basing its policies on the sure conviction that the U.S. is in an irreversible, structural decline benefiting China and that Beijing is therefore committed to a policy of taking advantage of this decline. A more nuanced understanding of Chinese discourse on U.S. decline and its implications for the United States is in order.  

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The Emergence of the Central Office of Foreign Affairs: From Leadership Politics to “Greater Diplomacy”

Guoguang Wu 
Wednesday, September 1, 2021

This essay examines how the Central Office of Foreign Affairs (COFA) has risen within the Chinese party-state system to become an institutional lynchpin overseeing all Chinese foreign conduct, and it takes this institution as a window to peer into Chinese leadership politics involving the party chief’s control of foreign affairs and the recent proposed program of “greater diplomacy.” It argues that both leadership politics and the program of “greater diplomacy” have driven the concentration of foreign-affairs power from the PRC state system to the Communist Party (i.e., the party chief) and, accordingly, to the COFA on behalf of the CCP to coordinate a transfinite diplomatic strategy that goes beyond Western-centric international norms to manage foreign relations.

 Featured Book Excerpt: Rush Doshi's 

The Long Game: China's Grand Strategy to Displace American Order

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It’s Not Just China: Population, Power Generation, Political Polarization, and Parochialism Are Also Long-term Threats to Taiwan’s Success and Survival

Syaru Shirley Lin

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Although it is under constant threat from Beijing, Taiwan has four major structural issues that urgently require solutions, including population decline, power generation, political polarization, and parochialism. If they are not successfully addressed, a marginalized and divided Taiwan may find itself falling deeper into China’s orbit. While remaining within America’s one-China policy, the U.S. can help by increasing exchanges of students, faculty, and professionals, reaching a bilateral trade agreement, and assisting Taiwan to restructure its current manufacturing economy by creating new greener industries and higher value-added services. It can also facilitate Taiwan’s efforts to work with like-minded partners on the global stage. More immediately, Taiwan’s early successes and more recent challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic highlight how isolated it is even when Taiwan and the world need each other. Here the U.S. can help Taiwan acquire more vaccines and then share its experiences with the rest of the world.

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CLM Insights Interview with Jonathan E. Hillman on his recent book:

The Emperor’s New Road: China and the Project of the Century

(Yale University Press, 2020)

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How China is Responding to Escalating Strategic Competition with the U.S.

Ryan Hass

Monday, March 1, 2021

There seems to be a growing consensus in Beijing that U.S.-China relations will remain rocky for the foreseeable future. Even so, President Xi Jinping and others have been touting that time and momentum are on China’s side in its quest to move closer to the center of the world stage. Chinese officials recognize that they will need to overcome obstacles in their country’s pursuit of its national goals. To do so, China appears to be pursuing a three-pronged medium-term strategy: maintaining a non-hostile external environment in order to focus on domestic priorities; reducing dependence on America while increasing the rest of the world’s dependence on China; and expanding the reach of Chinese influence overseas. At the same time, China’s actions are generating significant reactions, both at home and abroad. Whether China can learn from this feedback loop to address its own vulnerabilities remains an open question, one that only China will be capable of answering.

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CLM Insights Interview with Robert Sutter on his recent book:

Chinese Foreign Relations: Power and Policy of an Emerging Global Force

 

(Fifth Edition; Rowman and Littlefield, 2020)

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The PLA's Evolving Role in China's South China Sea Strategy

Oriana Skylar Mastro

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

During the past eight months of the global COVID pandemic, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been active in promoting China’s claims in the South China Sea.  This essay evaluates PLA statements, military exercises and operations, and deployment of relevant platforms and weapons in the South China Sea during this period. I leverage Chinese-language sources in addition to my own operational knowledge from over a decade of military experience to provide greater context for these activities. I argue that the greatest change in the PLA’s role in the South China Sea has not been operational. Instead, the most interesting development has been the fact that the PLA has taken on a more significant signaling role. Specifically, the Chinese military seems to be purposefully using, and perhaps even exaggerating, its capabilities and activities to enhance deterrence against the United States. This may be seen as necessary as the US increases its own efforts to push back on China’s militarization of the South China Sea. In other words, the PLA has taken a more active role in China’s South China Sea strategy, but not necessarily a more aggressive one.

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CLM Insights Interview with David Shambaugh on his recent book:

Where Great Powers Meet: America and China in Southeast Asia

(Oxford University Press, 2021)

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Chinese Crisis Decision Making: Managing the COVID-19 Pandemic

Part Two: The International Dimension

Michael D. Swaine

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The international aspects of the Chinese leadership’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic cover a broad spectrum of activities, both positive and negative.  On the positive side, Beijing has provided valuable assistance to nations and international organizations struggling with the virus and engaged in an intensive diplomatic effort to present itself as a strong supporter of the global response.  On the negative side, the Chinese leadership has resorted to ham-handed efforts to compel other countries to praise China’s role and at times acted irresponsibly in responding to foreign criticism of its own behavior.  In the process, it has argued that its system of rule is extremely adept at handling major crises and by implication superior to the American system.  The Chinese leadership has also engaged with Washington in a petty “blame game” over the pandemic that has damaged the reputation of both nations.  Beijing’s mixed record suggests that it must do more to show that it is genuinely committed to overcoming the pandemic through greater transparency, cooperation, and consultation.

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The Chinese National Security State Emerges from the Shadows to Center Stage

Tai Ming Cheung

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Xi Jinping has been unremitting in his efforts to turn China into a national security state. New institutional, doctrinal, and regulatory mechanisms have been established along with a substantial beefing up of internal and external coercive capabilities. No single seminal shock triggered this security turn, but Xi regarded externally focused realpolitik perspectives, upon which the country’s national security posture have traditionally been, based as partial and too rosy. His top security concerns revolved around domestic stability and Party resilience. To build a national security state under his direct control, Xi pursued an indirect approach employing unconventional methods, such as a no-holds-barred discipline-enforcement campaign, consisting of a sweeping anti-corruption crackdown and a political discipline crusade. Running parallel was a far-reaching reform of the civilian national security and military apparatuses. Chinese authorities argue that this building of a national security fortress is prescient in the face of the acute challenges presented by COVID-19, unrest in Hong Kong, and deteriorating U.S.-China relations.

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The Chinese Reassessment of Interdependence

Julian Gewirtz

Monday, June 1, 2020

This essay analyzes trends in Chinese views of U.S.-China interdependence from Xi Jinping’s rise to the COVID-19 pandemic. It shows how Xi Jinping put forward an expansive vision of national security that highlights the risks of interdependence, while also expanding China’s use of its leverage in interdependent relationships to coerce others. These efforts have intensified significantly due to the Trump administration’s coercive actions on trade and technology. Xi’s and Trump’s shifts also accelerated a reassessment of the risks and benefits of interdependence among a broader set of Chinese elites. Most significantly, many former officials and prominent thinkers appear to be newly convinced that longstanding forms of interdependence with the United States pose intolerable risks to China. This essay concludes by assessing the evolution of elite Chinese views of U.S.-China interdependence in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which many see as a potential opportunity for China to reset its interdependence with other countries on more favorable terms for China.

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Sino-Russian Consolidation at a Time of Geopolitical Rivalry

Elizabeth Wishnick

Sunday, March 1, 2020

There has a been a notable consolidation of the Sino-Russian partnership during the past two years.  Although this has coincided with the U.S.-China trade war and a period of increased tensions between the United States and Russia, the Sino-Russian partnership began deepening well before the changes in U.S. policy toward each country, as a discussion of Sino-Russian cooperation in agriculture, technology, military affairs, and the Arctic attests.  Nonetheless, there are limits to cooperation in all of these areas and Chinese analysts are now debating the desirability and feasibility of such a partnership.  Strong personal ties between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin enable them to steward the relationship, which is further strengthened by their parallel approaches to authoritarian governance.  However, potential shifts in U.S. policy and especially developments in Central Asia and the Arctic may challenge the Sino-Russian partnership in the future.

Taiwan’s 2020 Election Analysis

Shelley Rigger

Sunday, March 1, 2020

On January 11, 2020 Taiwan’s voters went to the polls for presidential and legislative elections. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) retained both the presidency and a legislative majority of 61 out  of 113 seats. The magnitude of the DPP’s victory was surprising; barely a year earlier it was drubbed in local elections. Between November 2018 and January 2020, domestic and external factors became far more favorable to the DPP and the incumbent president, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). Tsai and her party changed policy and personnel, whereas the KMT standard-bearer, Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), failed to live up to expectations. Tsai’s robust defense against PRC pressure was an important factor, as it came at a time when Taiwanese voters’ perceptions of the PRC were being shaped by the upheaval in Hong Kong.

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How China’s Defense Establishment Views China’s Security Environment:
A Comparison between the 2019 PRC Defense White Paper and Earlier Defense White Papers

Michael Swaine

Sunday, December 1, 2019

While reaffirming China’s longstanding “peace and development” line and offering a more positive take on many developments in Asia, the 2019 Defense White Paper highlights many negative features of the global security environment. This suggests an unresolved internal contradiction in China’s security views and policies. Such an apparent contradiction is perhaps resolved by the Defense White Paper’s description of strategic competition as driven largely by the U.S., not by China, and out of step with deeper global trends. Indeed, the PLA under Xi Jinping is depicted as working with other countries to realize Xi’s “shared community for mankind” as it strengthens its deterrence capabilities. Yet this propaganda-laden take reinforces the suspicions of many regarding China’s “real” goals. Beijing must inject a much more pragmatic, hard-power perspective into its public security stance and engage Washington on that basis in order to realize a meaningful level of stability based on mutual accommodation.

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Recalibration and Adaptation: China’s Relations with her Key Neighbors during the Trump Era

Yun Sun

Sunday, September 1, 2019

After becoming the leader of China in late 2012 Xi Jinping rapidly launched his signature foreign-policy campaign—the Belt and Road Initiative—to project China’s economic and geopolitical influence. Whether the BRI has improved China’s external environment, especially in its immediate periphery, will be subject to debate for years to come. However, the U.S. threat perception of China as a result of the BRI has unequivocally heightened, leading to the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy since 2017. In an era defined by U.S.-China great power strategic competition, a central theme of Xi’s foreign policy has been a recalibration and realignment of relations with Asian countries in order to effectively counter the U.S. role in Asia. As a result, China has adapted its policy to pursue a closer alignment with a like-minded Russia, to improve relations with India to prevent a potential U.S.-India alliance in Asia, to steer the souring relations with Japan toward cooperation, and to consolidate Southeast Asia as part of China’s sphere of influence.  

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Twists in the Belt and Road

Ryan Manuel

Sunday, September 1,  2019

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) remains a topic of great interest. But there is little knowledge about China’s internal voices. Dissent remains rare, yet there has been considerable pushback on BRI policy and decision making. This is because there is an array of structural problems with the BRI’s design. BRI is entirely an economic program, run by various parts of the economic bureaucracy. But it does not give bureaucrats sufficient mandate to pursue their interests within China’s internal politics. So the BRI is attractive for central SOEs and dealmakers but unattractive to local leaders who are held accountable for whatever goes wrong in their respective areas. Although overt criticism is rare, failure to carry out orders is common. China’s leaders have responded to critiques of the BRI, radically changing its official focus and policy. It has moved from a geoeconomic export policy to part of China’s toolkit in the current US trade war. But there is no indication that the structural problems will be addressed, thus limiting the BRI’s ability to achieve its goals, and as such, pushback will continue.

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CLM Insights Interview with M. Taylor Fravel on his latest book:

 

Active Defense: China's Military Strategy since 1949

(Princeton University Press, 2019)

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Xi Jinping’s Taiwan Policy and Its Impact on Cross-Strait Relations

Syaru Shirley Lin

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Since 2012, Xi Jinping has crafted a Taiwan policy that features two somewhat contradictory elements. On the one hand, it contains stronger measures aimed at deterring any steps toward independence, including a reduction of Taiwan’s international space, a continued military build-up, and frequent demonstrations of military force and economic coercion.  On the other hand, Xi has also employed positive economic incentives, aimed largely at young people and the working class in Taiwan, to secure their support for eventual political unification with China. After the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) returned to power in 2016, Beijing doubled down on this policy that proponents believe has been validated by the results of the 2018 mid-term mayoral elections.

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China Down Under: Beijng’s Gains and Setback in Australia and New Zealand

Richard McGregor

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Australia and New Zealand have emerged in recent years as frontlines in clashes between the West and China. In some respects, the two countries make for unlikely combatants. Both economies are heavily trade-dependent, have long looked to Asia to do business, and have enjoyed a boom in commercial ties with China over the past two decades. But both countries, to differing degrees, along with other robust democratic cultures willing to criticize undemocratic practices, have a deep ambivalence about Beijing’s growing political and security role in the region. The true test of their resolve will come when there will be a substantial economic price for challenging China. For Beijing, the two countries are valuable economic partners but, particularly in the case of Australia, troublesome politically.

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China Reacts: Assessing Beijing's Response to Trump's New China Strategy

Evan S. Medeiros

Friday, March 1, 2019

Beginning in late 2017, Xi Jinping found himself facing a new and daunting foreign policy challenge: The Trump Administration had adopted an openly confrontational policy towards China. This unfolded with a barrage of U.S. actions, such as naming China “a strategic competitor” and adopting successive rounds of tariffs, among other actions. This article analyzes China’s diplomatic response to the shift in U.S. policy, as reflected in China’s approach to the United States as well as to other countries. It argues that China did not adopt a confrontational strategy of its own. Rather, Beijing’s response focused on avoiding confrontation and preventing escalation with the United States, including by deferring major internal debates about the need for a new diplomatic strategy. Towards the rest of the world, Beijing took steps to stabilize its immediate Asian periphery and ties with Europe to limit its exposure to confrontation with Washington; it looked for opportunities to expand its presence and influence (especially in places where the United States had stepped back); and it invested further in ties with countries, notably Russia, that share China’s desire to constrain U.S. power.

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Chinese Views on the State of Sino-U.S. Relations in 2018

Michael D. Swaine

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Provocative actions on both sides led to heightened tensions and a deterioration in trust between China and the United States in 2018. Chinese authoritative and non-authoritative sources have been consistent in pushing back against what is correctly viewed as a fundamental U.S. shift toward greater hostility and suspicion, although non-authoritative sources use much harsher language. At the same time, both sources call for restraint, dialogue, and cooperation in handling U.S.-China relations, and point out the apparent misalignment of the anti-China attitudes of the Trump Administration compared to the U.S. public and the rest of the world. The likely presence of moderate Chinese views toward the worsening of Sino-U.S. relations suggests the need for the Trump Administration to replace its current confrontational approach to China with a more sophisticated, balanced approach that recognizes the need for continued cooperation with Beijing.