This dissertation first argues that in terms of China’s general attitude toward the international society, China’s relations with the major powers in the international system, as well as China’s concrete connections with the outside world, China has experienced three fundamental shifts in its foreign policy since the founding of the PRC in 1949: from a policy of building an alliance with the Soviet Union to a radical revolution-oriented anti-two adversaries’ foreign policy; from a policy of radical revolution-oriented state to the Sino-U.S. reconciliation; and finally from a policy of being a semi-ally of the United States to Deng Xiaoping’s active participation into the world system.
Regarding Chinese foreign policy, most previous studies relied either on material factors or ideational ones for explanations. Based on the conversational results between material realism and ideational constructivism as demonstrated in the two-step model, this dissertation tries to develop a beyond two-step model that is capable of explaining major foreign policy reorientations endogenously. This model essentially includes four “twos”: two successive and distinctive development stages (one phase of ideational change and one phase of the newly established ideational structure impacting the foreign policy approaches); two groups involved in ideational disputes; two elements (material power and ideas); and two types of logic (logic of consequence and logic of appropriateness).
This dissertation then employs this model to examine the later two Chinese foreign policy reorientations. The results show that in comparison with other approaches the model sheds more light to these two cases. The study reveals that in both cases it was the grave material consequences that prompted Chinese key decision-makers to rethink China’s foreign policy orientations and generate innovative understandings—in the first case it was reflected in Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou’s reconceptualization of war and peace as well as the United States while in the second case it was indicated in the replacement of Hua Guofeng’s “two whatevers” with Deng Xiaoping’s pragmatic “seeking truth from reality” thought line, despite the fact that the sources of material consequences in those two cases were different. In the first case, the consequences manifested mainly in China’s international isolation, China’s shrinking economy, and China’s jeopardized national security, while in the second case the consequences were mainly from Chinese domestic dissatisfaction with the radical leftist ideological line. Regarding the internal disputes, case two was more apparent than case one. In case two, one group led by Chairman Mao’s heir Hua Guofeng and another group led by the pragmatist Deng Xiaoping were actively engaged in an intensive debate on the future course of China, with the former intending to continue Mao’s leftist line while the latter wanting to reorient China to a new direction. As for case one, some plausible evidence shows that Lin Biao’s military group opposed Mao’s policy of reaching reconcilation with the United States. Despite that, in accordance with the appropriate logic, these ideational changes in both cases constituted the foundation for China’s fundamental foreign policy reorientations. We showed how the newly established ideational lines led to the Sino-U.S. reconciliation and Deng Xiaoping’s active participation into the world system.
Finally I suggest that when applying the beyond two-step model in the examination of foreign policy shifts, we need to focus on the turning points of ideational shifts while taking into account the role of intellectuals and mass. In terms of policy implication of this study to the rise of China, it suggests that given the fact that materially China is still a developing country and present China’s interactions with the world are on the track of positive feedback and path dependent, China will immerse into the world more deeply in the future, and it is not in China’s interest to challenge the current world system, therefore China will rise peacefully. On the ideational front, the proposition and discussion of “Beijing Consensus,” “Harmonious Diplomacy” and “Tianxia System” by both international and Chinese intellectuals seem to indicate that the future interaction relationship between China and the world will be more likely in a two-way manner rather than one-way. Possibly, China will share some of its unique historical and recent development experience with the outside world in the future.