Decoding China's Political Future and Foreign Policy: An Operational Code Analysis of Hu's and Wen's Belief Systems

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Feng, Huiyun
He, Kai
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Tzifakis N.

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Is China a status quo power? This is a highly debated question in international relations. Some suggest that China’s strategic culture dictates that China is a state oriented towards realpolitik, and that it will challenge the international order when its military capabilities become strong enough (e.g., Johnston, 1995). Others argue that Chinese leaders’ belief systems have evolved across generations and that the new generation of Chinese leadership holds defensive beliefs, which make China a status quo power by nature if the external environment is benign (e.g., Feng, 2007 and 2009). The debate over China’s future foreign policy orientation is a timely topic given China’s rapid ascent on the global stage. However, neither strategic culture nor leadership beliefs alone directly determines a country’s foreign policy. China’s domestic political system, whether democratic or authoritarian, plays at least as important a role in shaping China’s foreign policy behaviour. On the one hand, a democratic political system might modify China’s strategic culture, even if it is offensive in nature, through institutional constraints or public opinion mechanisms. On the other hand, an authoritarian political system may distort Chinese leaders’ belief systems, even if they are oriented towards maintaining the status quo, because of severe and brutal political struggles inside an authoritarian political environment. Although it may be going too far to argue with certainty that a democratic China would be more peaceful than an authoritarian one, a democratic political system could at least ensure greater credibility and accountability for China’s foreign policy behaviour towards the outside world.

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International Politics in Times of Change

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International relations

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