Power and Risk in Foreign Policy: Understanding China's Crisis Behavior
ALONG WITH CHINA'S RISE IN MILITARY and economic capabilities, foreign policy crises involving China seem more likely, as seen in the diplomatic standoffs in the South China Sea and over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. With the United States “rebalancing toward Asia,” diplomatic and military crises between China and its neighbors will inevitably involve U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific.1 Therefore, it is imperative for policymakers in the United States and other nations to understand China's dynamic behavior in foreign policy crises—that is, when China will take risks to escalate a crisis and when China will avoid risks to seek accommodation during a crisis. Borrowing insights from prospect theory—a Nobel Prize–winning behavioral psychology theory—I introduce a “political survival prospect” model to shed some light on China's dynamic behavior during crises. I suggest that Chinese foreign policy crisis behavior is shaped by Chinese decision makers' prospects regarding their political survival status: (1) when Chinese leaders are framed in a domain of losses or their political survival is at stake, then a risk-acceptant behavior in the form of coercive diplomacy is more likely to be adopted; (2) when Chinese leaders are framed in a domain of gains, then a risk-averse behavior in the form of an accommodative policy is more likely to be chosen. This article begins with a review of the “state of the art” in the study of China's crisis behavior and introduces the political survival prospect model as an alternative approach to understand the variations in China's crisis behavior. Then, two foreign policy crises that China experienced during Hu Jintao's leadership will be examined: the 2009 Impeccable incident between China and the United States and the 2010 “boat collision” crisis between China and Japan. In conclusion, I suggest that the Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping might be risk acceptant in future crises if Xi is cornered into a vulnerable situation. Therefore, the United States and other nations should be careful in how they are shaping the domains of action for Chinese leaders during crises.
Political Science Quarterly
© 2015 Academy of Political Science. This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Power and Risk in Foreign Policy: Understanding China's Crisis Behavior, Political Science Quarterly, Volume 130, Issue 4, Winter 2015, Pages 701–733, which has been published in final form at 10.1002/polq.12396. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving (http://olabout.wiley.com/WileyCDA/Section/id-828039.html)