Foreign Policy Making Under Xi Jinping: The Case of the South China Sea

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 4, No. 2, February 2016

By Kerry Brown, PhD, King’s College, London

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, poses with Chinese President Xi Jinping prior to their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. Kerry is in China on the final leg in his latest round-the-world diplomatic mission. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, poses with Chinese President Xi Jinping prior to their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. Kerry is in China on the final leg in his latest round-the-world diplomatic mission. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Abstract

This paper takes the example of the Chinese claims on the South China Sea, particularly since the appointment of Xi Jinping as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China in late 2012, and looks at the ways in which the Party and the government interact over foreign policy issues, along with how others contribute to this process. It shows that the Party leadership works through articulation of highly abstract macro policy goals, issuing high-level guidance for state, military, corporate and public entities without risking specific details. There is then some space for these “lower bodies” to negotiate and create their own standpoint. This does not mean that the process is solely top-down. What it does mean is that the Party under Xi has a dynamic process by which it allows voices within society to contribute to the formulation of policy in an iterative manner. It also shows how for the Xi leadership the South China Sea is part of a process to establish other forms of legitimacy beyond those simply described as economic. In this way, the Party is able to present itself as the restorer of national pride and rejuvenation and gain immense political capital from this. In this context, the South China Sea is as much a domestic issue as a foreign policy one, something that is often missed in external analysis of this issue.

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