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Michael D. Swaine

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Foreign Policy

China’s Assertive Behavior—Part Four: The Role of the Military in Foreign Crises

by Michael D. Swainevia China Leadership Monitor
Monday, April 30, 2012

The previous essay in this series on China’s assertive behavior examined the general role of the Chinese military in the PRC foreign policy process, focusing on leadership and organizational issues. This essay builds directly on that essay by focusing in particular on the military’s role in leadership decision-making and lower-level implementation with regard to political-military crises with foreign powers.

Foreign Policy

China’s Assertive Behavior—Part Three: The Role of the Military in Foreign Policy

by Michael D. Swainevia China Leadership Monitor
Friday, January 6, 2012

In examining the origins, characteristics, and likely future course of a “more assertive” China, many analysts point to the supposedly growing role of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Beijing’s foreign policy process. For such observers, the PLA is a conservative, highly nationalistic, and increasingly capable and confident actor in the Chinese political system and is the main force behind a range of more assertive and confrontational actions undertaken by Beijing in recent years. This article assesses what is reliably known about the role of the PLA in China’s foreign policy processes. It reviews the changing relationship of the PLA to the overall PRC leadership system and political power structure in China and focuses on the organizational and procedural relationship of the PLA to the foreign policy process in particular.

Foreign Policy

China’s Assertive Behavior—Part Two: The Maritime Periphery

by Michael D. Swaine, M. Taylor Fravelvia China Leadership Monitor
Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The previous issue of the Monitor assessed whether, to what extent, and in what manner Beijing is becoming more assertive in promoting the concept of “core interests.” This essay complements that analysis by examining Chinese statements and actions with regard to China’s entire maritime periphery, from the Yellow Sea to the South China Sea, with regard to both disputed and undisputed maritime territories. It assesses whether, to what degree, and in what ways the PRC has become more assertive along its maritime periphery in recent years. It also assesses the external and domestic forces motivating Beijing to become more or less assertive over time and the prospects for Chinese assertiveness with regard to maritime sovereignty issues in the future.

Foreign Policy

China’s Assertive Behavior—Part One: On “Core Interests”

by Michael D. Swainevia China Leadership Monitor
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The single most dominant theme in Sino-U.S. relations of the past year or more has been the emergence of a more “assertive China.” This article assesses whether, to what extent, and in what manner Beijing is becoming more assertive in several major areas of relevance to the United States. These are: first, in defining and promoting the concept of “core interests”; second, with regard to U.S. political and military behavior along China’s maritime periphery; third, concerning a variety of economic, trade, and finance issues, from so-called indigenous innovation to global standards regarding reserve currencies; and fourth, with regard to several issues related to international security, from counter-proliferation to climate change.

Foreign Policy

Beijing’s Tightrope Walk on Iran

by Michael D. Swainevia China Leadership Monitor
Monday, June 28, 2010

In dealing with the Islamic Republic of Iran, as with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Beijing confronts yet another exquisite dilemma. As with North Korea, the Chinese leadership must walk a diplomatic and political tightrope in its policies toward Tehran, in this instance seeking to maintain increasingly lucrative economic and strategically useful political ties to a major power and friend in a critical region of the world. At the same time, it must support international efforts to sustain the global nonproliferation regime, prevent the further destabilization of a highly volatile and critical region, and avoid antagonizing Washington and other key powers. This essay first examines China’s interests and policies toward Iran, especially as they affect the United States. It then takes a close look at the lines of apparent debate within China on the Iran nuclear issue and Chinese policy.

Foreign Policy

Perceptions of an Assertive China

by Michael D. Swainevia China Leadership Monitor
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

During the past two years, and particularly since China’s quick and strong recovery from the global recession, the long-discussed topic of China’s rise has come to be dominated by a new theme among both Chinese and foreign observers: The image of the supposedly cautious, low-profile, responsibility-shirking, free-riding Beijing of the past giving way to one of a more confident, assertive (some say arrogant), anti–status quo power that is pushing back against the West, promoting its own alternative (i.e., restrictive or exclusionary) norms and policies in many areas, and generally seeking to test the leadership capacity of the United States. This essay examines the features of the discussion in the West, and among many Chinese, regarding the notion of a more assertive China. It attempts to answer several questions: How is assertiveness defined or understood among Western and Chinese observers? What are the main manifestations or expressions of Chinese assertiveness? What is driving such assertiveness, in the views of both Western and Chinese observers? What are the lines of debate over this issue in China and the West, if any? What are the perceived implications of Chinese assertiveness for the future of the international system and Sino-Western relations?

Foreign Policy

China and the “AfPak” Issue

by Michael D. Swainevia China Leadership Monitor
Monday, February 15, 2010

In gauging the prospects for U.S. strategy toward the AfPak issue, it is important to understand the interests and motives, specific policies (and how they interact with U.S. goals), actual and potential influence, and possible future orientation and behavior of the Chinese leadership with regard to each of the above areas, as well as possible lines of internal debate. This essay offers an analysis of these factors and concludes with some speculations on whether and how China’s stance toward the AfPak issue might be modified to lend greater support to the Obama strategy.

Foreign Policy

China’s North Korea Dilemma

by Michael D. Swainevia China Leadership Monitor
Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ever since North Korea began to acquire the elements of a nuclear weapons program in the late ’80s—but especially since Beijing became mediator of the ill-fated Six Party talks in 2003—China's leadership has been faced with an exquisite dilemma: how to encourage or prod its strong-willed, highly volatile Stalinist neighbor to give up the bomb and open up to politically threatening reforms while sustaining the cooperation and support of a seemingly impatient, often internally divided and potentially threatening United States.  Judging by public PRC statements and commentary, Beijing has grown increasingly frustrated over its inability to persuade, cajole, or pressure its erstwhile North Korean friend and ally.  As a result, China's leaders have become more supportive of tougher international actions toward Pyongyang and less willing to silently endure, downplay, or excuse the North's vitriol and provocative behavior.  They appear more tolerant of harsh domestic criticisms of North Korea (and even of elements of Beijing's own approach), far less inclined to present themselves as the North's ally, and more willing to coordinate their approach openly with Washington, Japan, and South Korea.  Nevertheless, Beijing's core strategic interests, beliefs, and objectives, along with its suspicions and uncertainties with regard to Washington, almost certainly remain largely unchanged, and hence its highly risk-averse approach to maintaining stability remains paramount.  This article identifies the most salient elements of change and continuity in China's approach to North Korea in order to gain a more precise understanding of the range of interests, assumptions, fears, and hopes that will most likely influence the PRC leadership's future behavior.

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