Skip to main content

The New Silk Roads: Defining China’s Grand Strategy

Abstract

The chapter analyses China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as Beijing’s grand strategy to assert and legitimate its foreign policy objective of becoming world leader by 2049. Despite Chinese rhetoric about BRI being a project that will benefit the international community and which is in line with the current international order, realpolitik factors inform and drive the project, as China reinforces its exports, increases its sphere of influence, and increasingly sets tomorrow’s norms. In doing so, China projects an image of a country with the objective and power resources of a great power that is ready and willing to take the lead in international affairs. The chapter argues that China mobilizes and operationalizes all the dimensions of power to implement its grand strategy and achieve its aim. Thus, coercion, threats, predatory economics, soft power projection, norms contestation and rules- and institution-building are concealed by social and discursive power of cooperation and connectedness.

Keywords

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution.

Buying options

Chapter
USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD   139.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD   179.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD   179.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Learn about institutional subscriptions

Notes

  1. 1.

    It is arguable that some countries have very limited foreign policy objectives vis-à-vis the global international system, other than ensuring that the order guarantees their survival—one of the few objectives that is common to all countries.

  2. 2.

    As a normative power, the United States has endorsed the role of norm-setter; yet, they have not automatically followed and abided by these norms. This behaviour is a source of tension with their followers and contenders, as they are accused of double standard or hypocrisy in their foreign policy.

  3. 3.

    While Western culture favours games such as chess, which postulates a direct confrontation aimed at the defeat of the opponent, the Asian culture, particularly Chinese, favours a more indirect approach. In the game of Go, the actions appear at first sight unrelated, while the logic of the action is revealed later, through the junctions of the actions. Success is not achieved in one fell swoop or through one movement; it is the result of a multitude of actions with varied objectives, but in the service of a grand strategy. Moreover, victory does not result in uncontested domination but rather in an advantageous sharing of the territory (acquisition of areas of influence). The emphasis is on relational strategies rather than confrontational strategies (Struye de Swielande 2011). The game of chess attempts to reduce uncertainty, while the game of Go “recognizes and accepts it”. The Go player will consider the Shi—the momentum, knowing that he cannot control everything and that uncertainty must be accepted and therefore taken into consideration in adjusting one’s strategy (Chen 2015, p. 80).

  4. 4.

    China currently aims to reinforce its partnership with Russia through supporting several international questions, and, among other things, by sealing contracts on gas (see the two deals signed in 2014 for about 800 billion dollars).

Bibliography

  • Allison, Graham. 2017. Destined for war: Can America and China escape Thucydides’s trap? Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bachrach, Peter, and Morton Baratz. 1962. Two faces of power. The American Political Science Review 56 (4): 947–952.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baldwin, David. 1979. Power analysis and world politics: New trends versus old tendencies. World Politics 31 (2): 161–194.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baldwin, David. 2001. Power and international relations. In Handbook of international relations. Eds. Walter Carlsnaes and Thomas Riss et al., pp. 177–191. Wiltshire: The Cromwell Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blackwill, Robert, and Jennifer Harris. 2016. War by other means: Geoeconomics and statecraft. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1991. Language and symbolic power (Edited and Introduced by John B. Thompson). Oxford: Polity Press & Basic Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Branche, Philippe. 2018. Route de la Soie et soft power chinois. Forbes, October 22.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brauer, Markus, and Richard Bourhis. 2006. Social power. European Journal of Social Psychology 36 (4): 601–616.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chen, Yugang. 2015. China’s roles in the transformation of the international system. In China’s international roles. Eds. Sebastian Harnisch, Sebastian Bersick, and Jarn Carsten Gottwald, pp. 110–126. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dahl, Robert. 1957. The concept of power. Behavioral Science 2 (3): 201–215.

    Google Scholar 

  • Digeser, Peter. 1992. The fourth face of power. The Journal of Politics 54 (4): 977–1007.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eder, Thomas. 2018. China’s new foreign policy setup: How has Xi Jinping remade China’s foreign policy apparatus? The Diplomat, August 1.

    Google Scholar 

  • Feng, Huiyun, and Kai He. 2018. China’s institutional balancing strategies for “multilateral leadership in the Asia Pacific”. In Regional powers and contested leadership. Eds. Hannes Ebert and Daniel Flemes, pp. 165–188. Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gat, Azar. 2007. The return of authoritarian great powers. Foreign Affairs 86 (4): 59–69.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gaventa, John. 1980. Power and powerlessness: Quiescence and rebellion in an appalachian valley. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Grace, Abigail. 2018. China doesn’t want to play by the world’s rules. Beijing’s plans are much bigger than the trade war. The Diplomat, August 8.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haugaard, Mark. 2003. Reflections on seven ways of creating power. European Journal of Social Theory 6 (1): 87–103.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haugaard, Mark. 2012. Rethinking the four dimensions of power: Domination and empowerment. Journal of Political Power 5 (1): 33–54.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haycock Ken, Anne Cheadle, and Karla Spence Bluestone. 2012. Strategic thinking: Lessons for leadership from the literature. Library Leadership & Management 26 (3/4): 1–23.

    Google Scholar 

  • Holmes, James. 2014. Why Russia yearns for empire. The Diplomat, March 28.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ikenberry, John, and Charles Kupchan. 1990. Socialization and hegemonic power. International Organization 44 (3): 283–315.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jullien, François. 2015. De l’Être au Vivre. Paris: Editions Gallimard (iBooks).

    Google Scholar 

  • Kerry, Cameron. 2018. Can China have difficult conversations about the internet?, Brookings Institution, Washington, December 6.

    Google Scholar 

  • Krotz, Ulrich. 2002. National role conceptions and foreign policies: France and Germany compared. Program for the Study of Germany and Europe, Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies: Harvard University. Working Paper 02.1.

    Google Scholar 

  • Layne, Christopher. 2006. From preponderance to offshore balancing: America’s future grand strategy. In China’s grand strategy and US primacy: Is China balancing American power? Ed. Yuan-Kan Wang. Washington: The Brooking Institution, Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies.

    Google Scholar 

  • Legarda, Helena. 2018. In Xi’s China, the center takes control of foreign affairs. The Diplomat, August 1.

    Google Scholar 

  • Liedtka, Jeanne. 1998. Strategic thinking: Can it be taught? Long Range Planning 31 (1): 120–129.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mann, Michael. 1986. The sources of social power: A history of power from the beginning to A.D.1760 (Vol. 1). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Marè, Mauro. 1988. Public goods, free riding and NATO defence burden sharing. The International Spectator: Italian Journal of International Affairs XXIII (1): 7–15.

    Google Scholar 

  • Martel, William. 2015. Grand strategy in theory and practice: The need for an effective American foreign policy. Tufts University, The Fletcher School, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mearsheimer, John 1994. The tragedy of great power politics. New York: W. W. Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mokry, Sabine. 2018. Chinese experts challenge Western generalists in diplomacy. The Diplomat, August 15.

    Google Scholar 

  • Morgenthau, Hans. 1948. Politics among nations: The struggle for power and peace. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nye, Joseph. 2004. Soft power: The means to success in world politics. New York: Public Affairs.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nye, Joseph. 2011. Power and foreign policy. Journal of Political Power 4 (1): 9–24.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pan, Zhongqi. 2016. Guanxi, Weiqi and Chinese strategic thinking. Chinese Political Science Review 1: 303–321.

    Google Scholar 

  • Piccone, Ted. 2018. China’s long game on human rights at the United Nations. Washington: Brookings Institution.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reed, Isaac Ariail. 2013. Power: Relational, discursive, and performative dimensions. Sociological Theory 31 (3): 193–218.

    Google Scholar 

  • Roland, N. 2017. The Belt and Road Initiative: China’s Grand Strategy? (The European Council on Foreign Relations), China Analysis.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rumelt, Richard. 2011. Good strategy, bad strategy. New York: Random House (ibooks).

    Google Scholar 

  • Shahbaz, Adrian. 2018. The rise of digital authoritarianism. Freedom House, October 1.

    Google Scholar 

  • Simon, Bernd, and Penelope Oakes. 2006. Beyond dependence: An identity approach to social power and domination. Human Relations 59 (1): 105–139.

    Google Scholar 

  • Spykman, Nicholas. 1944. The geography of the peace. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co.

    Google Scholar 

  • Struye de Swielande, Tanguy. 2011. China and the ‘Go’ strategy. Défense Nationale.

    Google Scholar 

  • Struye de Swielande, Tanguy. 2013. Qui contrôlera le Rimland?. Commentary Paper, n°9.

    Google Scholar 

  • Struye de Swielande, Tanguy. 2016. La Chine et ses objectifs géopolitiques à l’aube de 2049. Regards Géopolitiques 2 (1): 24–28.

    Google Scholar 

  • Struye de Swielande, Tanguy, and Dorothée Vandamme. 2015. Le concept de puissance. In Duel entre l’aigle et le dragon pour le leadership mondial. Ed. Tanguy Struye de Swielande, pp. 43–119. Bruxelles: Peter Lang.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tellis, Ashley, Janice Bially, Christopher Layne, and Melissa McPherson. 2000. Measuring national power in the postindustial age. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

    Google Scholar 

  • The Economist. 2018. China talks of building a “digital silk road”, May 31.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vandamme, Dorothée, and Tanguy Struye de Swielande. 2015. Global swing states: Which leadership will they follow? In Power in the 21st century: Determinants and contours. Eds. Tanguy Struye de Swielande and Dorothée Vandamme, pp. 33–42. Louvain-la-Neuve: Presses universitaires de Louvain.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wheelen, Thomas L., and David Hunger. 2004. Cases in strategic management and business policy, 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wigell, Mikael. 2016. Conceptualizing regional powers’ geoeconomic strategies: Neo-imperialism, neo-mercantilism, hegemony, and liberal institutionalism. Asia European Journal 14 (14): 135–151.

    Google Scholar 

  • Worrall, Less. 1998. Strategic analysis: A scientific art. Management Research Centre. Wolverhampton Business School, University of Wolverhampton, UK. Occasional paper series, May 27.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tanguy Struye de Swielande .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2020 The Author(s)

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

de Swielande, T.S., Vandamme, D. (2020). The New Silk Roads: Defining China’s Grand Strategy. In: Leandro, F., Duarte, P. (eds) The Belt and Road Initiative. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-2564-3_1

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics