6 Sept 2010: New actors shape China’s foreign policy, says SIPRI

(Stockholm) Actors outside the traditional power structure increasingly shape China’s foreign policy. Expanding pluralism within Chinese society and China’s growing interdependence with the international community have led to the emergence of new players who want to have an impact on foreign policy formulation in line with their own, sometimes narrowly defined, interests, according to a SIPRI report launched today in Helsinki.
Read the press release in Swedish here.

The report, entitled ‘New foreign policy actors in China’, is based on groundbreaking findings on the changing nature of Chinese foreign policy formulation. SIPRI’s Beijing-based researcher Linda Jakobson has had access to and the possibility to interview Chinese officials, businessmen, researchers and media representatives. Jakobson and co-author Dean Knox have drawn from the research interviews and other primary sources to map and identify actors shaping China’s foreign policy and the policies that they advocate.

Influential new actors on the margins include:

  • Chinese state-owned enterprises, especially energy companies, which, due to their widespread international outreach, affect China’s bilateral relationships and diplomacy at large
  • Local governments, especially in border and coastal provinces, which seek more lucrative trade and foreign investment opportunities
  • Researchers, who serve as advisors to officials
  • Media and netizens, who constitute a new pressure group that China’s leaders at times feel compelled to take into account, not least during international crisis


Fractured foreign policy and internationalization
The findings point to a fracturing of authority in foreign policy formulation. Diversification outside China’s official decision making apparatus—along with changes within it—means that foreigners can no longer expect to only deal with one government agency or Party organ but must take into account multiple actors that have both a stake and say in the decision-making processes.

The authors also observe that the emergence of new foreign policy actors has resulted in a multitude of approaches within China to the country’s internationalization. On the one hand, the Ministry of Commerce, local governments and large companies, for example, favour China becoming a more active international player. They advocate free trade agreements, regional development projects and greater investment opportunities.

On the other hand, actors such as the National Development and Reform Commission want China to avoid an over-reliance on world markets and view China’s foreign policy in terms of the benefits it brings for economic development. The Ministry of State Security, in turn, is concerned that an increasing prevalence of Western values will make it more difficult for the Communist Party to dominate public discourse on questions concerning human rights, transparency and accountability.

International engagement
Despite the proliferation of perspectives, Jakobson states ‘the view that China should more strongly defend its interests internationally is becoming prevalent especially among new foreign policy actors’. She asserts that it is ‘only by persistently and effectively engaging China internationally that Western countries can dispel Chinese suspicions that Westerners only seek to slow down China’s rise’.

For editors
Support by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defence helped make the research possible. Download the full report at www.sipri.org.

Linda Jakobson is Director of the China and Global Security Programme of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Dean Knox works as Research Assistant with the Programme. Jakobson has lived and worked in China for over 15 years and published six books on Chinese politics, foreign policy, and East Asian society.

For information and interview requests contact Stephanie Blenckner (blenckner@sipri.org, +46 8 655 97 47, mobile: +46 708 655 360).

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