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Along with China’s rapid economic growth, increasing military power, and expanding influence, Chinese foreign policy is becoming a more salient concern for the United States, its allies and partners, and other countries in Asia and around the world. As China’s interests become increasingly global, China is transitioning from a foreign policy that was once concerned principally with dealing with the superpowers, protecting China’s regional interests, and positioning China  as a champion of developing countries, to one with a more varied and global agenda. Chinese scholars and practitioners alike recognize that Chinese diplomacy must become more nuanced and sophisticated to keep pace with the new challenges that have accompanied China’s rise and to manage tensions between China’s traditional foreign policy principles and the need to protect Chinese interests not only close to home, but increasingly more globally. A the same time, China’s more active diplomacy under Xi Jinping, particularly its assertive handling of maritime territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and with Vietnam, the Philippines and other rival claimants in the South China Sea, is reshaping how policymakers in Washington, Tokyo, Canberra and other capitals think about responding to the challenge of China’s rising power.

This syllabus is organized to build understanding of Chinese foreign policy in a step-by-step fashion based on one hour of reading five nights a week for four weeks. In total, the key readings add up to roughly 800 pages, rarely more than 40–50 pages for a night. We assume no prior knowledge of Chinese foreign policy, only an interest in developing a clearer sense of how China is using diplomacy to address the challenges associated with its rise. The objective is to help you read beyond the headlines. Our goal is to provide you with the needed tools and knowledge to assist others in researching Chinese foreign policy and begin developing your own thoughts.

Chinese foreign policy has become more varied, sophisticated, and global over the past few decades. Indeed, Chinese diplomacy has undergone a remarkable transformation along with China’s economic growth and the expansion of its regional and global interests. Not long ago, it would have been hard to imagine developments such as the scale and scope of China’s current involvement in Africa, China’s first overseas military facility in Djibouti, or Beijing’s establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). One of the challenges that this has created for observers of China’s foreign policy is that so much is going on every day it is no longer possible to find one book on Chinese foreign policy that will provide a clear-eyed assessment of everything that a China analyst should know.

To understand China’s diplomatic history after 1949, the best single volume to use as a guide to Chinese foreign policy is John Garver, China’s Quest: The History of the Foreign Relations of the People’s Republic of China (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).


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