chapter  1
18 Pages


While US dominance and the American vision of world order as portrayed in the immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War is waning, and its inability to secure leadership in the United Nations (UN) Security Council is known, as in the ill-judged US-led venture in Iraq since 2003, amongst other ventures, the world increasingly casts a curious eye in the direction of a rising China. As China re-emerges as a major power, with global economic reach and significance, with increasing interest in and influence over global issues, its attempts to take the role of a mover and shaker in conflict settings multiply. This book explains China’s behaviour – in its change and continuity – as an

increasingly significant member of the UN Security Council (UNSC). The subject of China’s behaviour and role in the UNSC is under-studied and under-theorized. Despite the proliferation of studies on the UN, influential works on the UNSC still do not provide descriptions, explanations or interpretations of China’s role or behaviour in the Security Council.1 The gap in literature on China-UNSC interaction remains to be filled, and contributing to fill in this gap is a main task of this book. The scarcity of secondary sources for this research is, however, partially

mitigated by the literature available on the subject of China’s international organizational behaviour in general. Studies of China’s international organizational behaviour, having remained a terra incognita for scholarly treatment until the late 1970s, suffered, as Samuel Kim notes, from a tendency to form argument on hypothetical conjectures even though empirical data about the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) behaviour in the UN was available (Kim 1979: 1). China’s adoption of the open door policy since 1978 has provided outsiders with more chances to observe. In the case of China’s UN behaviour, data are available and observable via voting records, position in negotiation, access to non-Chinese senior officials and diplomats. This has facilitated the proliferation of the literature since the late 1980s, in which some notable objective analyses and observations have been produced (Johnston 1996; Johnston and Ross 1999; Kent 1999; Foot 2000; Johnston 2003, 2008; Chan 2006). However, there are significant limits in this body of literature. With a few exceptions such as works in the arms control field and the field of human

rights, observations tend to be weakened by the lack of material on Chinese decision-making processes, characterized by a consequent lack of convincing assessments on the quality of Chinese cooperation. Other commentators fail to see China’s practical reasoning calculus, owing to the difficulties in distinguishing between rhetoric and reality. I suggest that this weakness is all too frequently compounded by significant lapses in theoretical soundness, which I hope this book in its theoretical framework can go some way to correcting. My particular research into China’s behaviour in the UN Security Council

draws in part upon the extant literature in the English language, generated over the last few decades, on China’s wider international organizational behaviour. In seeking to gain and to present an insider’s view of Chinese strategic preferences in this book, however, I most significantly draw upon interviews I personally conducted with senior diplomats in London, New York and Beijing, as well as more than 200 formal and informal meetings I had with members of China’s elite foreign policy and national security community between 2001 and 2007. My research findings challenge the assumptions of conventional accounts of China’s international organizational behaviour, exemplified by Samuel Kim’s account that the Chinese government conducts its multilateral diplomacy by following ‘a maxi/mini principle… – maximizing China’s rights and interests and minimising China’s responsibility and normative costs’ (Kim 1990: 25-27; Yahuda 1997a: 15). Elsewhere in the literature on China’s international organizational behaviour this is characterized as the Machiavellian approach to international relations, which aims at maximizing benefits and minimizing losses in the short term (see, for example, Economy and Oksenberg 1999). I argue that the ‘Machiavellian theory’ of China’s state conduct is an overly simplistic and static view which substantively fails to capture the complexity of China’s thinking, the sense of vulnerability underlying China’s policy behaviour, and the increasing willingness to position itself as a responsible world power inclined towards a more positive role in Security Council decision-making. I argue that conventional accounts, derived largely from rational deduction and a lack of deep understanding of the Chinese mindset and strategic culture, display a lack of accuracy and depth of analysis. As will become clear once I have developed my argument, I have not been

convinced by the explanatory power of existing International Relations (IR) theories on China state conduct. This book argues that it is more convincing to theorize the ideas-policy link by drawing upon findings in the nascent literature on ideas in IR, realist approaches to foreign policy analysis, and the analytical theory of action. I start by examining the general assumption of rational action in foreign policy analysis that posits that states behave in a rational, self-interested manner to maximize gain and minimize loss. I further explore the understanding arrived at by Realist IR theorists that interests and structure limit policy options. The view advanced in this book is that states can, and do, take alternative courses of action even within constraints. Thus

ideas are central in helping states to weigh options and to decide between alternative courses of action. This book is as much about ideas as action: why and in what ways ideas

matter in foreign policy analysis. To explain China’s role in UN Security Council decision-making in an accurate and convincing manner, this book develops a new theoretical framework employing the concept of strategic preferences (SP). By strategic preferences I refer to a set of ranked preferences for the courses of action that are informed by the elite’s political beliefs about national purposes and core objectives.2 The strategic preferences framework is thus developed to allow for the inclusion of the more specific assumption and evidence about a national government’s objectives, its conceptualization of the international and domestic situations and its assessments of benefits and costs. To theorize ideas-policy causation, I have developed in this book a strategic

preferences framework (SPF) in three stages. First, I examine the philosophical writings on reason and action, and propose that foreign policy is an actionoriented concept separating ideas from action, and that the independent variable is action. Ideas can be operationalized as SP, the reason for action in foreign policy analysis. Second, by examining evidence of China’s practice and participation in its earlier, formative era in the UN, I inductively flesh out an archetype of SP in China’s UNSC policy behaviour, drawing upon primary and secondary sources. Third, the SPF is tested against a critical case study of China’s foreign policy actions in the UNSC over the period of the two Gulf crises (1990-2002). These actions include China’s behaviour during consultations and voting over Security Council resolutions concerning four types of action under UN auspices, namely, economic sanctions, use of force, humanitarian intervention, and weapons inspections.3 In so doing, the book also sheds light on China’s role in Security Council decision-making. The central argument is that strategic preferences – a set of ranked pre-

ferences for the courses of action that are informed by China’s national purposes – as compared with structure, material gains and power, are central to explaining China’s satisficing strategy in the UN Security Council aimed at balancing a number of long-term and short-term concerns in realizing its objectives. The SPF helps to demonstrate that China’s views on the most recent contentious issues in the UN about preventive and pre-emptive use of force in cases of collective security, humanitarian disaster, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are complex. They reflect the extent (and limit) to which China has kept balance between its defence of the norm of sovereignty and the imperative of further integration into international society. China’s UN participation has reinforced its rigid reading of the Westphalian norm of sovereignty, especially territorial sovereignty. However, the international influence on China deriving from its participation and interaction in the consultation and voting processes in the Security Council has brought about new ideas that have led to the result of previous revolutionary rhetoric and behaviour in the 1970s giving way to increasingly more active participation in

the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. It has also prompted a learning process in which China has become more able to cope with collective decision-making in the Council. Learning has taken effect in altering China’s definition of national interests, and in China’s respecting the different perspectives and interests of other member states. However, intellectual dissonance and conceptual conflict, a product of the UN’s own workings, involving the development of new norms, have tended to pose a significant challenge to China’s attempts to be more constructive, yet hold fast to traditional interpretations of the sovereignty norm. The choice to examine the ideational roots of China’s UNSC behaviour,

nevertheless, does not necessarily constitute any methodological or conceptual subversion of the dominant realist understanding of China’s foreign policy. Rather, it complements the realist interpretation by testing whether strategic preferences, as a set of ideational inputs into behaviour, are a more useful and adequate analytical tool with which to address both continuity and change in China’s foreign policy. In the book I also show that focusing on change and continuity in SP allows us to see how ideas function in maintaining international order, shaping organizational decision-making, and changing foreign policy practices.