How China sees the world

An emerging global power hashes out its foreign policy

(AFP/Getty Images)

By Thanassis Cambanis

The specter of a China with rising influence in the world has long provoked anxiety here in America. Like a speeding car that suddenly fills the rearview mirror, China has grown stronger and bolder and has done it quickly: Not only does it hold colossal amounts of American currency and boast a favorable trade deficit, it has increasingly been able to play the heavy with other nations. China is forging commercial relationships with African and Middle Eastern countries that can provide it natural resources, and has the clout to press its prerogatives in more local disputes with its Asian neighbors—including last week’s face-off with Vietnam in the South China Sea.

With China emerging more forcefully onto the world stage, understanding its foreign policy is becoming increasingly important. But what exactly is that policy, and how is it made?

As scholars look deeper into China’s approach to the world around it, what they are finding there is sometimes surprising. Rather than the veiled product of a centralized, disciplined Communist Party machine, Chinese policy is ever more complex and fluid—and shaped by a lively and very polarized internal debate with several competing power centers.

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