China Imagines Its World … and Its Future

Christopher A. Ford

in The Mind of Empire

Published by University Press of Kentucky

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780813192635
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813135519 | DOI:
China Imagines Its World … and Its Future

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The Chinese leadership found the Warring States period a useful model to help explain the basic pluralist nature of the modern international system and the alleged predatory onslaught of aspiring non-Chinese hegemons such as the former Soviet Union and the US. The explanatory and justificatory framework that pitted foreign hegemonism against Chinese antihegemonic virtue became a powerful undercurrent in Chinese policymaking. Traditional East Asian and specifically Confucian ideals grounding the legitimacy of political authority in moral virtue virtually require Beijing to distinguish itself from the “selfish” pursuit of power that characterizes other countries. In dealing with its more powerful neighbors, scholars say China chooses to adopt a “calculative” strategy learned from the Warring States period to keep a relatively low and nonprovocative profile as a means to buy time until it is strong enough and fully prepared to make its own move. Since the end of the Cold War, China has focused on maintaining its rapid export-driven economic growth as the key to the restoration of its status and significance in the world stage but, at the same time, convincing the rest of the world that there is nothing threatening in these developments. However, as its strength grows, China may become more assertive in insisting on the sort of Sinocentric system hierarchy that its history teaches it to expect and its traditional notions of power and legitimacy impel it to demand. For now, China seems to regard the Westphalian conception of world order as being useful enough to justify continued adherence. Yet traditional statecraft teaches the importance of strategic misdirection and the utility of “mixing truths and falsehood” in pursuit of state goals. Thus, it is very difficult to discern where China's heart truly lies today or to predict its future intentions.

Keywords: Chinese foreign policy; international relations; Westphalian state system; Sinocentric hierarchy; Warring States period; Confucianism; geopolitical strategy; sovereignty

Chapter.  13768 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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