/ Published February 26, 2020
Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction by Marc Lanteigne. Routledge, 2020, 227 pp.
From farmers to technology executives, Americans are talking about China and wondering how this still developing and once isolated state has become one of the strongest competitors of the United States. In Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction, Marc Lanteigne provides a practical foundation for learning about key aspects of China’s international relations and influence as well as its modern history and status as a rising power.
In this revised and updated fourth edition, Lanteigne delivers a concise and authoritative textbook on Chinese foreign policy, explaining the processes, actors, and history that have influenced China’s international relations interests. He also gives a comprehensive depiction of China’s modern global relations and the accompanying challenges. Currently an associate professor of political science at the University of Tromsø, Norway, Lanteigne is also a specialist in Chinese and comparative Northeast Asian politics and foreign policy. He has written four books on China and many journal articles pertaining to Chinese and Asian international relations.
In his introduction, Lanteigne examines how foreign policy was reconstructed in parallel with China’s transition from an isolated state to a regional power, which significantly influenced international relations. Among the topics he outlines are China’s economic power, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), disputed areas in the China Seas, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and norms of President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy. This chapter serves as a solid overview of China and establishes a baseline for in-depth information in later chapters.
Lanteigne clearly demonstrates that despite the increasing number of other actors involved in making decisions about China’s foreign policy, the CCP still retains the most power. Xi Jinping, the premier, and other high-level officials lead the most powerful committees in Chinese government. Lanteigne’s presentation make it obvious that the strategic placement of key CCP members ensures the ideals and goals of the CCP are perpetuated through domestic and foreign policy.
Although not centrally a theoretic endeavor, Lanteigne’s treatise does analyze how several international relations arguments, such as neorealism and defensive realism, explain China’s current international behavior. Notably, he explains that according to international relations theory, a super or great power state must be able to project power throughout the world and exploit and devise international systems on a global scale. However, China has not demonstrated that it is eager to fill this role, nor does it currently have the capability to create new international rules and norms.
Additionally, Lanteigne briefly discusses China’s sensitivity to perceived slights, such as the retribution against Norway after the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Even though China’s employment of coercion and sharp power has increased, Lanteigne falls short in capturing the scale of China’s coercive behavior.
The author also assesses China’s complex impact on the global economy and delineates China’s economic transition from the isolationist strategies of the Mao era to today’s international involvement. He highlights the obstacles that China faces as it eases control over economic policies to allow competition in the international markets. In contrast, Lanteigne does not highlight that although China has reduced state-owned enterprises, it continues to implement government regulations that enable it to blur the lines between what is truly a commercial business versus a state-owned enterprise. Most recently, the Chinese multinational technology company Huawei has been at the forefront of this discussion in the media.
In concert with its rise in economic power, China has also changed how it approaches multilateralism and engages international institutions. Lanteigne notes that China has been particularly successful through its participation in and development of institutions such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and was able to secure multiple Western partners to launch the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), despite the fact that the United States opposed its establishment. China’s ability to foster these types of relationships with institutions and states strengthens China’s soft power and will undoubtedly facilitate its elevation as a rising power. Although Lanteigne doesn’t directly address the issue, China’s improved use of multilateral engagements—and its ability to use commercial diplomacy to influence trade and investment policies in other states—presents a concern for Western countries.
When Lanteigne discusses strategic thinking and the roles of the military, it is a succinct presentation of China’s modern security challenges, recent military investments, and maritime activity. Two of the most noteworthy military activities Lanteigne points to are China’s increased support to the United Nations for peacekeeping and the PLA Navy’s anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden. This support affords a practical avenue to increase China’s international standing and to advance the maritime and deployment training of its personnel.
Additionally, the author recaps the history of the state-to-state relationship between the United States and China. He also summarizes the primary justifications or arguments influencing the relationship from an American perspective, including “engagement and hedging,” the “China Threat” and a middle ground of thought between these two perspectives (128, 139). Lanteigne presents an unbiased perspective as to whether the United Sates should overtly balance Chinese power or choose a degree of engagement while preparing contingency plans in the event the Sino-American relationship degrades.
Furthermore, he discusses China’s limited success in its efforts with regional diplomacy. Although China is the primary source of economic support and trade for North Korea, this diplomatic leverage has not been strong enough to convince the Kim regime to disarm its nuclear weapons. While dealing with this unpredictable nuclear neighbor, China must simultaneously contend with its complicated relationships with Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, all deeply impacted by a mix of historical and territorial disputes.
Likewise, Lanteigne skillfully provides a straightforward summary of the complex foreign policy considerations that China is navigating. First and foremost, given the way China has woven itself into global economy and politics, it is proving to be an aggressive competitor for Western countries. However, he also points out that although China has experienced an exponential rise economically and diplomatically, it is still developing in many areas and must address domestic issues such as pollution, corruption, an aging population, and economic development in poor areas.
Overall, the book outlines how China has been fairly successful in cross-regional foreign policies. While it addresses multiple cross-regional foreign policies that China maintains, more in-depth information on some of China’s most important relationships and interests in these regions would have made the book stronger. For instance, the Sino-Russian relationship has historically been characterized by a mixture of conflict and cooperation. Based on their history, is there overt balancing from China or Russia to ensure neither regional power gains significant leverage over the other? Furthermore, China’s increased reliance on Russia for energy security, which provides some economic relief for Russia while under Western sanctions, is a complex, interesting area not thoroughly discussed.
The collective content of the book emphasizes that China has a challenging path ahead: along with addressing domestic issues, it must also execute new foreign policies, navigate diverse international relationships, and increasingly engage with complex global economic markets. Ultimately, Lanteigne’s book supports the perspective that at present China is more so a larger regional threat to Western influence in Asia than a global threat. In general, this book is an excellent foundation for personnel who need to understand Chinese foreign policy, China’s role in international security, and China’s economic impact on the global market.
Maj Temesha R. Christensen, USAF
Naval Postgraduate School
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."