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How Does China Plan to Limit & Outmaneuver U.S. Hegemonic Power?

Updated on December 30, 2014

Overview of China's Soft Balancing Approach

The economic policies that were introduced in 1978 by Deng Xiaoping stimulated China’s rapid economic growth throughout the global marketplace and made China a major player in foreign affairs.[1] China transformed into a booming, globalized society and is now one of the largest conduits for foreign investments as China’s economic growth continues to double.[2] As the global community witnesses China’s transformation, there is significant concern that China’s increasing relevance and influence on world affairs, will lead to China’s rise as a contender for U.S. hegemony. Beijing is aware of such concerns regarding its rise and has adopted a strategy of “peaceful development” as a means to quell global apprehension.[3] China’s transformation, peaceful ascension, and economic appeal help augment China’s expanding soft power approach in foreign affairs.

China refuses to directly confront the United States in order to avoid damage to China’s economic and political development as well as its reputation as a peaceful, responsible nation.[4] The Chinese government plans to use soft balancing against the United States, while using the peaceful development approach to solidify mutual cooperation, attain demand for resources and build robust partnerships using multilateralism throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.[5] U.S. primacy infringes on China’s national security interests, therefore, Beijing plans to build formidable relationships with other nations in an effort to reduce “Washington’s ability to contain or constrain China in the region.”[6] This strategy will give China strong placement in the international community to propel Chinese ascension, achieve regional dominance and advance its national security interests and grand strategy, while simultaneously limiting and outmaneuvering U.S. hegemonic power. Beijing’s use of multilateral mechanisms is primarily driven to fuel China’s regionalism and alter the world order into a more favorable multipolar environment that serves China’s ascension.[7]

China's President: Xi Jinping


China's Policies, 1978-Today

Prior to 1978, China embraced a more passive approach in international affairs by limiting Chinese involvement and diplomatic relations in the multilateral system.[1] From 1950-1970, China was denied access to the “United Nations, World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organisation, International Labour Office, IMF, and World Bank.”[2] Once Deng Xiaoping became China’s new leader, China progressively became more involved in world affairs and began to integrate itself into the multilateral system. Under Deng’s leadership, China gained access to the United Nations as well as many other multilateral institutions and specialized organizations.[3] From 1978, China embraced a more proactive approach in foreign affairs as China’s economic policies thrived in “Foreign Direct Investment and international trade.”[4] China’s growing exposure to global, multinational corporations and economic institutions as well as other local agencies perpetuated its willingness to take on global responsibilities with the purpose of enhancing its image as a maturing power.[5] Chinese diplomacy evolved from self-interested and conservative to a more proactive, open, and engaged manner. The evolution of Chinese policy has continuously reinforced the strategy of enhancing its economy while pursuing a strong global image so the world will see China as a responsible power in world affairs.[6]

Currently, China is significantly more involved in multilateral organizations across the globe such as the “Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, ASEAN Regional Forum, the Forum for East Asia and Latin America Cooperation, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Organization of American States.”[7] In addition, China created numerous multilateral bodies that bolster Chinese culture and interests as well as magnify its global influence such as the East Asia Summit, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.[8] Multilateralism continues to fuel China’s low-profile ascension and development, while validating China-centered interests and policies and bolstering its image to quietly limit and out maneuver U.S. hegemonic power and involvement.

China’s economic wealth flourished and transformed into the world’s second major economy and will likely continue to grow and even double in the next ten years.[9] China’s transformation into a sustaining, resilient and booming economy stimulated China’s newfound confidence and economic appeal, relying on the maturing soft power approach. According to Zheng (2009), China’s flourishing economic power will entice other nations as well as developing nations to implement similar economic reforms, which will facilitate China’s economic influence and enhance China’s ability to share its culture and societal norms across the globe.[10] Conscious of its economic success and strategic multilateralism, the Chinese government is forging beneficial relationships throughout Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. [11] China builds relationships with developing nations and offers condition-less foreign aide and a noninterference policy that is commonly viewed as more favorable than the U.S. “strings-attached approach.”[12] China’s peaceful development strategy coupled with its economic appeal, relationship building and proactive multilateral approach is designed to propel a regional order that will serve China’s security interests and overall strategy for multipolarity as well as limit and outmaneuver U.S. hegemonic power.

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Geography of China

UA-58067881-1 | Source

How will China Ascend?

  • Implementing a Soft balancing approach
  • Employing multilateralism
  • Building global partnerships
  • Gaining economic prowess
  • Acting as a major player in foreign affairs

Analysis of China's Ascension

The rise of China as a responsible and confident power further propelled Chinese involvement in multilateral mechanisms as well as its desire to form a China-led regional order and suppress US influence within Asia and other developing nations. China plans to use soft balancing as a strategy to avoid direct confrontation with the United States while creating “a web of relationships” throughout the globe that provides China not only growth and stability, but leverage to out maneuver U.S. primacy. China’s soft balancing approach is designed to engage multilateral mechanisms that exclude U.S. participation, undermine U.S. policy, and establish strong relationships with other nations that have weak ties to the U.S. or nations that would be willing to detach themselves from U.S. power.[1]

China took an active approach toward regionalism and multilateralism to secure its peaceful development, enhance its access to resources, and to establish as many allies as possible to promote its “soft” ascension.[2] Thus, China joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in an effort to build partnerships around mutual cooperation, security and economic interdependence as well as a strong emphasis on “Asian values.”[3] The onset of the Asian Financial Crisis stimulated China’s immediate commitment to assisting the Southeast Asian nations, since the U.S. and Japan refused to financially support them.[4] Consequently, China provided financial assistance to the Southeast Asian nations and became viewed as a trustworthy and responsible nation due to the unavailability of the U.S. The financial crisis spurred China’s regional ascension and bolstered the Chinese image as well as integrated Southeast Asia to support China’s economic and security interests. China and the ASEAN organization have made significant headway for achieving peace and stability, which paved the way for the passage of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA). China continued to engage the Asian community by establishing a “new Asian only” economic organization known as the ASEAN Plus Three (APT), attracting South Korea and Japan to join.[5] While China and Southeast Asia continue to advance regional cooperation, prosperity and lessen the potential for conflicts, China and ASEAN relations continue to accelerate China’s status as a great power, while simultaneously weakening U.S. influence throughout Asia.[6]

To propel Beijing’s regional ascension and expand its influence, China created the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and this organization played an integral role in supporting China’s regionalism and national security interests. The SCO started as the Shanghai Five including Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, formed to achieve enhanced security and non-traditional security within those regions.[7] The organization passed the Agreement on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions with the purpose of defeating “international terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious extremism.”[8] More recently, the SCO expanded its concentration not only on security, but economic and cultural concerns as well, while excluding the U.S. from joining the organization. China created the SCO with hopes of accelerating its power in world affairs and to curb NATO and US influence in Central Asia, highlighting China’s pursuit for regional dominance and a multi-polar world.[9] For example, in 2005, the SCO demanded that U.S. troops withdraw its forces from Uzbekistan.[10] The SCO supported Uzbekistan to rid Central Asia of U.S. influence and intervention because of its ongoing opposition for a “long-term U.S. presence.”[11] In addition, strong relationships with Central Asian SCO members provide China secure access to waterways for direct transportation of China’s key resources. The creation of this multilateral institution gives China strong placement in Central Asia and the clout to achieve a successful regional security mechanism, which has the ability to build partnerships, meet its resource needs, and dilute U.S. influence in the region.[12]

Similar to Southeast and Central Asia, China is forging robust relationships with Middle Eastern countries and is providing the latter with a “non-US source of revenue.”[13] Conscious of anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East, China continues to build stronger relations with the Middle East in an effort to weaken ties and cooperation with the U.S.[14] Due to China’s success in international trade, China and Iran developed formidable relations because of China’s substantial investments in Iran, causing trade to reach 10 billion dollars in 2007.[15] China’s investments with Iran undermine U.S. efforts to isolate Iran from the global community and ultimately reduce U.S. legitimacy as a hegemonic power. China continues to diversify its ties throughout the Middle East to expand Chinese growing influence in foreign affairs. China and Saudi Arabia continue to build relations in exchange for Saudi Arabia’s substantial supply of oil and China’s ability to meet Saudi’s energy needs.[16] Since November 2010, China surpassed Washington as the primary consumer of Saudi oil and in return Saudi Arabia is “investing in refinery and petrochemicals projects in China.”[17] China and Saudi Arabia’s growing relationship is designed to enhance Chinese markets and expand Chinese influence abroad, advertently diminishing Saudi Arabia’s reliance on the U.S. market.

In regards to Africa, China and Africa agreed to establish a Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) to solidify mutual cooperation among African states and China. Aware of the United States’ lack of interest in Africa, China silently exploited this opportunity by building relationships with Africa’s political and business officials in more than forty African states.[18] China continued to enhance its relationship with Africa over the past decade and invested in oil throughout Nigeria, Angola and Sudan.[19] This Forum challenges US interests throughout Africa. For example, Angola and the IMF were close to signing a robust loan agreement that would have enforced certain conditions for Angola to follow. However, China stepped in and offered an unconditional loan to Angola.[20] In regards to Sudan, China refused to support U.S. sanctions against Sudan. As China continues to undermine U.S. influence in Africa, the African states are increasing their support and affiliation to China. Beijing’s significant integration into the African community through foreign aide, development programs and investment relationships has emboldened African officials to side with China against U.S. interference and dominance.[21] China relies on Africa to grow its energy and raw material industries and to advance its interests in order to restrain the United States.[22] China is advocating soft balancing and multilateralism to gain support from developing nations throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Africa in order to restrain U.S. influence in each region, ultimately to secure China’s rise. China’s grand strategy to undermine U.S. influence and achieve a multipolar environment serves China’s security interests, economic and regional ascension, and expands its global influence abroad, increasing its great power status.

China's Components of Soft Balancing

Multilateral Organizations
Global Parternerships
Economic Development
2nd Major Economy
Embraces Globalization
Middle East
Conduit for FDI


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    • AdoptionNetwork profile imageAUTHOR

      Your Adoption Gateway 

      4 years ago

      Love the analogy!

    • CHRIS57 profile image


      4 years ago from Northern Germany

      Great analysis - couldn´t agree more.

      We shall see which approach is more promising:

      The axe of the US hegemony which requires the wood block to be of certain size.

      The jellyfish of China´s soft balancing which requires smaller chunks to dissolve and absorb better.


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