Journal of Chinese Political Science

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 585–602 | Cite as

An Operational Code Analysis of China’s National Defense White Papers: 1998-2015

  • Yi Edward YangEmail author
  • Jonathan W. Keller
  • Joseph Molnar


Scholarly efforts to predict the future character of the U.S.-China relationship abound. Few however looks to leaders’ beliefs as valid explanatory variables. In this paper, we argue that state leaders’ belief systems are key to understanding both the states’ intentions and policy choices. We analyze China’s national defense white papers (1998–2015) published to date as the source material to gauge the core collective beliefs of three generations of Chinese leadership. The operational code framework is employed to conceptualize and measure these beliefs. Our results identified important crossgenerational changes in a few belief indicators. In the Xi Jinping era, for instance, the political world is seen as less friendly and cooperative strategies are viewed less favorably. In terms of tactics, the policy tools “threaten” and “promise” are viewed as significantly more useful by the current leadership than by past Chinese leaders.


Chinese foreign policy Operational code National Defense White Paper Leader’s beliefs 



The authors would like to thank Dr. Stephen Walker for his valuable advice and comments on various theoretical and technical issues examined in this paper.


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Copyright information

© Journal of Chinese Political Science/Association of Chinese Political Studies 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yi Edward Yang
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jonathan W. Keller
    • 1
  • Joseph Molnar
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceJames Madison UniversityHarrisonburgUSA
  2. 2.HerndonUSA

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