What country doe not have a "me first" foreign policy?
China's me-first foreign policy
The nation's behavior as a modern superpower is reminiscent of its imperial past.
By Odd Arne Westad
January 20, 2013
China's more assertive foreign policy over the last two years has played a key role in getting two arch-conservatives —Japan's Shinzo Abe and South Korea's Park Geun-hye — elected to lead their respective countries. Some Chinese observers believe that Abe and Park will be forced by China's inexorable rise to come to terms with their giant neighbor. Don't count on it. To much of its region, China's behavior as it is coming of age as a modern superpower is eerily reminiscent of its past policy as a regional hegemon.
For a very long time, imperial China dominated its wider region. The Chinese imperial court considered itself the indispensable center of a regional order in which China had the right and the duty to set international norms and standards, and to intervene if these were broken. It was an ideological system in which Chinese principles had to be the starting point for all things.
Although the Chinese elites' thinking was driven by ideas and cultural norms, their position came down to size, power and military strategy. And from the 16th to the mid-18th centuries, it worked. But from the 1780s on, China's regional role was in decline, it lost wars and unnecessary military engagements followed.
China's current leadership transition is taking place at a point when the country again has to reevaluate its regional and world engagements. The last couple of years have been disastrous in China's foreign policy. Its regional engagements have backfired, one after the other. Some of this comes from what historian Paul Kennedy calls imperial overstretch: to move faster and further than what material resources and political prowess allows for. It is quite possible to believe both that China is a rising power and that it has overstepped the mark on what it's able to achieve through pressure within its own region.
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