chapter  5
24 Pages

The transformation of Chinese foreign policy

ByLowell Dittmer

These oscillating patterns of economic boom and bust, investment binge-led inflation followed by tight money policy, intellectual fang and shou, and the spasmodic introduction of price reform and industrial reorganization, all culminated in the April-May 1989 protests at Tiananmen mushrooming out to other cities, precipitating the regime’s savage crackdown on 4 June. The international reaction to this well-publicized bloodbath was the invocation of sanctions and diplomatic ostracism, which, in combination with the collapse of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe and ultimately the Soviet Union, deeply concerned the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership. The consequent emphasis on “peaceful evolution” bespoke a basic reevaluation of the opening policy, leading to the formulation of “identity realism”: economic opening was profitable and would continue, but the Chinese people must be inoculated against such spiritual pollution with greater emphasis on patriotic education, including reincorporation of pre-Revolutionary Chinese history in a version that shifted the focus from the glorious communist revolution to the foregoing national humiliation [guochi].1 Yet the impact on foreign policy was neither immediate nor obvious, as Deng led China gradually back into international society-and toward Asia in particularvia a revival of economic reform and high growth rates in the context of a relatively low-profile national identity referred to domestically as tao guang yang hui [hide brightness and nourish obscurity] and bu chu tou [keep your head down]. That is, neither China’s national feelings nor its ideological goals as the last credible representative of the Communist bloc were widely advertised at this point. The foreign policy making process became more institutionalized, there was a resurgence of rapid economic growth (and high inflation rates) amid continuing economic reform, and China shifted from great power politics to the cultivation of its near abroad [zhoubian waijiao], i.e., the Asian regional community, and the Third World.