China's Confident Nationalism

Courtesy Reuters

Chinese foreign policy of the mid-1980s stems from four interrelated calculations. First, China’s reform-minded leaders, whom I call confident nationalists, believe that through increased involvement in world affairs China can attain wealth and power while preserving its national essence. Second, they claim that the international setting permits a concentration upon domestic development; particularly because the Soviet Union is preoccupied with other pressing concerns, China can enjoy a stable environment in East Asia for the foreseeable future. Third, they claim that China can benefit from effective participation in the international economic system and can attract foreign involvement in its economic development. And fourth, they believe that China can pursue steady, independent, pragmatic and purposeful policies not only toward the three major powers of concern to them (the Soviet Union, the United States and Japan) but also toward three areas of crucial importance (Korea, Indochina and Taiwan).

The foreign policy of the reformers that emerges from these considerations is complex and subtle. Its overriding purpose is to forge a tranquil security environment in support of ambitious domestic economic development. The reformers want to lay the foundation for the eventual attainment of modern military force and international greatness. They combine a search for military security with a desire to expand economic ties with all potential trading partners. They seek to preserve Chinese sovereignty and autonomy while accepting the constraints of increased commercial and security links with the outside world.

The key question about this foreign policy is its durability: Is it the unique product of Deng Xiaoping? How deeply wedded is Deng himself to these views? Can the reformers sustain this policy in the face of internal opposition? The launching in late 1986 of a campaign against "bourgeois liberalism" and "complete Westernization" and the sudden dismissal of General Secretary Hu Yaobang, a principal proponent of political reform, raised new questions about the stability of Chinese foreign policy.

In some respects Chinese foreign policy increasingly resembles the foreign policies of other great powers. While

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