Topic: Defensive realism and constructing China’s foreign policy

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Defensive realism is an approach comprising of several theories and it believes in power as a
security. However, unlike offensive realism, defensive realism uses more diplomatic means to gain
power. One country that has somehow managed to successfully apply this approach is china. China is an
emerging power and is posing a threat to the USA over world dominance. This paper tries to discuss how
china has used this approach in constructing its foreign policy. It also further looks at the problems this
system poses and the reasons as to why.

Defensive realism and constructing China’s foreign policy

Debates over theories of international politics have dominated international relations
theory since the end of the cold war. However, in the recent past, there has been an upwelling of
interest in foreign policy theories. These do not seek to explain the design of consequences of
state interactions, but rather the conduct of individual states (Rose, 1998). This paper looks at
how china has applied one of these theories: defensive realism.
Defensive realism is a summation term for quite a lot of theories of foreign policy and
international politics. Defensive realism proposes that the international structure provides
incentives for growth and development only under some conditions (Rosecrance, 2006).
Anarchy, which is the lack of a worldwide government or global sovereign, creates circumstances
where by the implements that one government uses to advance its security lessens the security of
other states. This security predicament causes anxiety among governments about one another’s
future intents and relative power. Rosecrance (2006) further states that different governments
may pursue strategies purely for the purpose of seeking security, but may unintentionally
generate spirals of mutual conflict or hostility.
Governments often, though not always, seek colonizing policies because their heads
erroneously believe that antagonism is the only way through which they can secure security of
their governments. One country that has to some extent applied defensive realism approach is
China. There has been almost nonstop debate on the possibility of a serious enmity between the
China and United States for the past one and a half decades or so (Taliaferro, 2001). On one side
of the debate are realists who have faith that if China carries on to intensify its economic power,
then substantial security antagonism between the two governments is virtually unavoidable. On the other side of the debate are those theorists who have faith that the possibility for trouble will
be subdued by mutual economic dependence and the socializing consequences of China’s
growing contribution in several international institutions.
The defensive realism approach started with the reversal of the initiative-stifling strategies
of the Cultural Revolution. This was replaced by policies that targeted by increasing innovation
and efficiency in every aspect of the Chinese economy. The government supported coastal
regional development to become internationally competitive (Yang, 1990). Since the 1980s, the
chines has continued to grow between seven and nine percent annually (Chen & Mohamed,
2002). Defensive realism envisages great disparities in expansion that goes globally and proposes
that governments have to largely pursue modest strategies. This could be the best route to
security. Under most situations, the powerful states in the international system should pursue
diplomatic, military, and foreign trade and industry policies that portray restraint.
A study carried out by Wang (2004) on adherence to international legislations and norm
found out that China has held back from carrying out its veto power in the United Nation’s
Security Council in the last two decades. He also found out that china had ratified several major
human rights instruments. An extended research by Wang on the economy found out that the
percentage of the country’s military expenditure had declined by 0.9 percent as a percentage of
the gross national product between 1989 and 1999. China has amassed great economic strength in
the past decade. The World Bank states the GDP of China to be 5.9 trillion US dollars, while in
2002, it was 1.24 trillion.
China is basically carrying out an international image building as a foreign policy. This
does not only impact on the Chinese economy, but on their social, cultural and political wellbeing. Ziegler (2006) argues that this new approach is necessitated by China’s energy dependency. However, defensive realism, unlike offensive realism is difficult to predict and China’s main intentions cannot be calculated. This obviously does not rub off well with major powers like the United States who have embraced offensive realism to show their dominance. In its quest for oil in Africa and Asia, china uses other means to get entry. One of the best used exports by china in its neighbors in Asia and Africa is construction industry. Chinese construction companies operate in over one hundred and eighty countries and thirty four of them were listed in the 225 top international contractors in 2000 (Chen & Mohamed, 2002).
The recent quick development of China’s naval competences is a classic demonstration of
great power status (Blazevic, 2009). This is combined with the more aspiring new strategy that
this rising capacity is intended to serve. China’s economic power and reliance on overseas raw
materials such as oil has grown, and it is pursuing to acquire the capacity to protect access to it.
Blazevic (2009) suggests that in practice, this new approach of “far sea defense” by Chinese
government means acquiring the capacity to venture naval power into strategic ocean zones such
as the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. This means denying other marine powers the capacity to
function with impunity in locations close to China.
Defensive realism predict that China is seeking to expand its economy, then enlarge its
military ability, realize a locus of regional supremacy, and then eliminate other major influences
from its close neighborhood. This causes serious strategic misinterpretations between the US and
China. This strategic mistrust between the two ranges from the Taiwan issue to the North Korean
nuclear issue (Wang, 2004). China is no doubt now emerging as a world power and is
challenging the US. However, it wants to portray itself as a responsible, upstanding nation. A
good example of this is China’s unwavering public relations campaign accentuating its efforts on food safety and environmental issues. Shulong (2005) argues that this is intended to portray how
China is carrying out its responsibility as a major power.
In constructing china’s foreign policy, the main subject that should be given attention is a
possible war with the United States (Mearsheimer, 2002). This is in consideration that the two
states apply totally different approaches to international relations, with the US looking at China
as the long term strategic adversary. Considering that the US and China are both nuclear powers
and bearing in mind their basic difference of opinion over the Taiwan matter, the world has
begun to worry about the likelihood of nuclear clash between the two great powers. Mutual
assured destruction has become a topic of discussion once again. The recent military movements
of America, mainland China and Taiwan both strengthen and confirm such suspicions (Wang,
2004). None the less, China has greatly evolved from a relatively offensive realist state to a more
defensive realist state. If China were to take a gradual changeover to democracy, then democratic
peace theory will take over and there should be nothing to be anxious about.

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