Press Releases

China's foreign policy dilemma

5 February 2013

Foreign policy will not be a top priority of China's new leader Xi Jinping, predicts a new Lowy Institute Analysis, China's foreign policy dilemma by East Asia Program Director Linda Jakobson.

Jakobson argues that because China's new leaders will be preoccupied with pressing domestic problems, Chinese foreign policy will be reactive.

‘China’s international role is not the foremost concern of the country’s leadership’, said Jakobson. The Analysis highlights that only about one-tenth of the 18th Party Congress policy guidance report addresses external issues.

Domestic challenges, such as ensuring China’s continued economic rise, establishing the rule of law, and curtailing corruption will be the focus of Xi Jinping and the six other members of the Politburo Standing Committee – the ultimate decision-making body of the Communist Party.

This may have serious consequences because of the potentially explosive nature of two of China's most imminent foreign policy challenges: how to decrease tensions with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and with Southeast Asian states over territorial claims in the South China Sea.

'A lack of attention by China's senior leaders to these sovereignty disputes is a recipe for disaster', writes Jakobson, East Asia Program Director at the Lowy Institute for International Policy. ‘Once a maritime or aerial incident occurs, domestic pressure will further narrow the room for manoeuvre of leaders in China and in each of the countries involved’.

In China's foreign policy dilemma, Jakobson assesses China's four most imminent foreign policy challenges – maintaining constructive relations with the United States, decreasing tensions with Japan and tensions with Southeast Asian nations over various islands disputes, and managing relations with North Korea – against the background of a pressing domestic agenda.
 

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