News / Asia

Researchers Try to Explain Chinese Foreign Policy Decision Making

Researchers Try to Explain Chinese Foreign Policy Decision Making
Researchers Try to Explain Chinese Foreign Policy Decision Making

A lack of transparency in China has long challenged analysts trying to understand the Chinese government's foreign policy decisions. A new report says Chinese leaders are increasingly influenced by a wide range of factors – from government agencies to research institutions and opinions voiced on the Internet.


As China's international influence grows, bolstered by its economic might, researchers at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, say a growing number of players – from high ranking government officials and military officers to intellectuals, researchers, businessman and the media – are increasingly competing to influence the decisions of the country's top leaders.


Linda Jakobson heads SIPRI's China department and is one of the authors of the report "New Foreign Policy Actors in China."

"It's no longer possible to think about China's decision makers as a unitary force on any given foreign policy issue," Jakobson said. "Those seeking China's cooperation need to evaluate a whole host of potential interests from various interest groups. It's also, I think, critical to take into consideration this nationalist undercurrent running throughout China and the possible constraining effect that this has on leaders and their room for maneuver, especially during a crisis. "


The report is based on 71 interviews, including 19 with officials of the Communist Party of China as well as interviews with officers from China's People's Liberation Army, or PLA, researchers, representatives of state-owned companies, journalists, bloggers and China analysts.

Speaking recently at a gathering in Washington D.C. to mark the release of the report, Jakobson said that many of those interviewed saw China's Foreign Ministry as a weak actor. She also noted the increasing influence of government agencies directly tied to the country's economy.

Jakobson said that as China's share of the global economy grows and domestic considerations increasingly have foreign policy ramifications, more government agencies and offices of the Communist Party will compete to influence decision making.

"This means that decisions, even by the lesser ministries, so to speak, will have an impact on country's both near and far," she said.

Internal and external infuence

Beyond the official Chinese establishment, Jakobson says local governments with international economic ties, researchers, media figures and people on the Internet also are actively trying to influence Beijing's foreign policy.

And there are those actors, such as large enterprises, Jakobson says, that do not necessarily seek to influence foreign policy, but ultimately do, often complicating Chinese diplomacy.

She says that in their pursuit of commerce these enterprises inadvertently entangle foreign policy officials in human rights, energy security and political issues.

"Ironically, of the various peripheral groups that the SIPRI report identifies, it's these enterprises that at times affect foreign policy the most as has been the case recently in Central Asia, Iran and Sudan," said Jakobson.

Role of China's People's Liberation Army

Jakobson notes that the influence of China's PLA and the Ministry of State Security is also growing.

"Several SIPRI interviewees said that the Beijing Olympics and then the riots last year in Xinjiang in the summer have led to more funds and prestige for the Ministry of State Security, thereby making it an increasingly powerful domestic actor whose sway spills over into the foreign policy realm," she said.

Jakobson says PLA officers increasingly are weighing in on public debates. She notes that PLA officers attend civilian workshops, invite Chinese and foreign civilian researchers to their own workshops and take part in televised debates about foreign policy.

"The PLA certainly no longer shies away from displaying its power as is evident from numerous incidents and also the 2007 anti-satellite test," Jakobson said. "And these were actions that the Chinese knew quite well would antagonize both the United States and its neighbors."


David Finkelstein, director of China Studies at the Center for Naval Analyses here in Washington says China's military is finding an expanded role in influencing foreign policy because the country's security needs are growing.

"The PLA is increasingly involved in activities that have foreign policy and security policy implications," Finkelstein said. "Activities that require coordination and consultation across the party state – more than at any time in its history – the PLA is going places and doing things."

Finkelstein notes that during the past decade, the PLA's activities beyond China's borders have seen enormous growth from U.N. peacekeeping operations to exercises with foreign militaries as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

You May Like

Obama: Action on Climate Change 'Economic, Security Imperative'

President spoke to reporters on sidelines of UN Climate Summit outside Paris, where leaders are working to agree on binding measures

IMF Bets on China’s Resolve to Reform

IMF announcement already raising questions about just how much Beijing is committed to such reforms

UNICEF: Hidden Epidemic of HIV Among Adolescents

Researchers warn that Asia Pacific nations facing sharp rise in incidence of HIV among adolescents

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs