Chinese IR scholars step into the limelight – The Diplomat
The Chinese foreign policy establishment is becoming increasingly assertive. As China rises to prominence in global governance, the mere fact of suggesting solutions in various international forums seems anachronistic – other countries now expect Beijing to show how it works too.
That said, a growing number of Chinese individuals and institutions have stepped up to try to explain how Beijing comes to its conclusions and how those decisions manifest themselves abroad. Writing within the parameters set by the Chinese state and often under its auspices, these voices seek to provide intellectual structure for the Chinese government’s foreign policy. It is unclear whether they are qualified to comment on state affairs, but they nonetheless usher in a new school of thought regarding China’s role in international affairs.
The Chinese diplomatic corps – the the biggest in the world – has a reputation for being opaque. Not only is it widely believed to operate under a strict disciplinary code, leaving little room for those based abroad to stray from Beijing lines hands down, but the Foreign Office has also appears to be a relatively weak government agency, squeezed from all sides and in constant competition with the Ministry of Commerce and state-owned enterprises. This makes it difficult to discern who makes the decisions, as it does to iron out the logic behind China’s overseas ambitions.
Enter the community of Chinese think tanks. As China continues to acquire positions of influence in international forums, it becomes increasingly important for Beijing to give the impression that it can lend a reasoned voice to broader geopolitical discussions that go beyond beyond its fundamental interests. As a result, many semi-official institutions have set to work defining the logic of their country’s new and increasingly assertive foreign policy. Often attached to the State Council or the United Front Work Department, the latter under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, these institutions have upped the ante in recent years, publishing volumes aimed at explaining the state’s intentions Chinese or wondering about the nature of Chinese power abroad.
And yet, it is not clear that these institutions are simply following the CCP’s instructions. While the party certainly sets the parameters within which Chinese scholars at think tanks such as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences or the Center for China and Globalization can operate, the idea that they write solely to support policy foreign government, abandoning objectivity in the process, is highly speculative and can do them a disservice. Indeed, given China’s record in global governance over the past decade, the idea that the Chinese think tank community sees their country as exhibiting model behaviors as a player in international affairs is eminently plausible.
Be that as it may, Chinese scholars are increasingly vocal about how China is perceived abroad. Chinese think tanks are now fueling a lively debate on topics such as what their country’s new globalism means for China and the rest of the world; if Beijing’s ability to to succeed where the Soviet Union failed warrants a re-examination of how scholars approach the study of modern history; and the possibility that China has a better grab of what it is to be democratic than the West. And they have good reason to take this approach – representatives from China continue to win elections for leadership positions in international institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the United Nations.
New conceptual frameworks abound. For some of these scholars, for example, China exhibitions “reforming leadership” and is a “facilitating power” that efforts pulling up other developing countries rather than maintaining a rigid hierarchy of nations with itself firmly fixed at the top. It is even possible to indicate examples of what has been called “international leadership with Chinese characteristics”.
Conceptualizing Chinese power seems resonate most with a new, younger generation of Chinese scholars, many of whom are junior research associates in think tanks and have produced doctorates. theses around this topic. Distinguishing this new wave of Chinese scholars is relatively simple – their writings are more confident, while the idea that China is exceptional in some way is a more regular feature. So does the complaint that Western studies of China’s behavior in international affairs pay insufficient attention to Chinese perspectives. Meanwhile, contradictions between what China says and how China acts on the world stage are often explained as the prerogative of being a great power, citing US actions as precedent. Finally, they are now more likely to have published in English in an attempt to reach an international audience.
And yet, the output of most Chinese think tanks rarely graces the pages of publications on the most impactful factors. In other words, their production is less concerned with fueling the Western debate on China’s role in the world and seeks instead to promote a particular and “correct” way of interpreting China’s actions abroad, in particular in southern countries. This could be because these authors aim to engage a distributed audience in the southern hemisphere who see China as their future and who might be more receptive to these scholars’ interpretations of Beijing’s actions abroad.
China’s rise has lit a fire in its foreign policy. As the country continues to assert itself in international forums and make its views on how the world should work more widely, its think-tank is stepping up its efforts to provide an intellectual framework for the government’s foreign policy. . To claim that these scholars, who have growing confidence in China’s capabilities overseas and believe in its beliefs, are merely repeating the CCP’s lines does them a disservice. On the contrary, it is in fact perfectly plausible that this new wave of Chinese scholars genuinely sees their country as capable of offering an alternative to the current US-led international order.
Moreover, they seem to have found their audience, namely equally disgruntled scholars in the Southern Hemisphere who share their dismay at the fact that the West retains such a grip on how states should behave. Out of sight, Chinese scholars are building a coherent Chinese worldview – Western scholars would do well to make sure they don’t lose their minds.