The false promise of economic interdependence

Chinese foreign policy in North-East Asia

Authored by: Nicholas Khoo

East and South-East Asia

Print publication date:  March  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9781857436396
eBook ISBN: 9780203146026
Adobe ISBN:


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When Deng Xiaoping initiated the People’s Republic of China’s economic reforms in late 1978, few would have predicted the spectacular success that followed. China is now regularly referred to with terms such as ‘global trade power’ (Naughton 2007: 377) and concepts that rely heavily on economic indices, such as ‘soft power’ (Kurlantzick 2007). Indeed, recent research on international perceptions of China’s role in world politics has found that it is in the economic sphere where Chinese influence is perceived as being strongest (Holyk 2011: 223, 246). China’s seemingly inexorable economic rise is such that analysts now seriously debate whether the 21st century will see it overtaking the USA (Beckley 2011/12). Given the importance that economic factors play in China’s foreign relations, it is illuminating to review the empirical record against the expectations of a particular international relations (IR) theory that highlights the role of these factors in its analysis—namely, economic interdependence theory. In broad terms, the theory leads us to expect a causal relationship between increased economic interdependence and a reduction of conflict in bilateral relations. 1 How consistent are the expectations of economic interdependence theory with the reality of China’s relations with its North-East Asian neighbours? To state the conclusions of this study at the outset, this study finds that the role of economic factors in Chinese foreign policy is less influential in reducing conflict than posited by economic interdependence theorists. Ultimately, economic factors in China’s foreign policy are subordinate to wider political dynamics.

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