Understanding China's regional rise: interpretations, identities and implications



    1. Professor of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick.
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      This article was first presented at a workshop partly funded by the Political Studies Association Pacific Asia Specialist Group and the University of Warwick Research Development Fund. Thanks to David Goodman, Peter Burnell, Kerry Brown, Greg Felker, Martin Gainsborough and Ian Taylor for comments on earlier versions, and to the anonymous reviewer for a number of very helpful comments.


The literature on China's regional rise reveals divergent understandings of why China changed its regional strategy and when such a transformation occurred. There are also different understandings of the extent of China's power in the region—or more often, the extent to which US power in East Asia is already challenged by China's regional rise. Nevertheless, there is a consensus of sorts over how Chinese policy has changed with an emphasis on a combination of proactive diplomatic initiatives and ever increasing economic interactions. After providing a brief overview of the existing literature, the main part of this article considers the role of China's ‘soft power’ in reconfiguring power relationships in East Asia. It suggests that while the US might have lost some of its ideational appeal, it is through working within existing frameworks and ‘norms’ (rather than establishing new revisionist alternatives) that China has had most success in assuaging fears of the consequences of its rise. However, the way in which others conceive of China's rise and Chinese power (and subsequently act) does provide a form of ‘non-hard’ power that might help China's leaders attain their regional objectives particularly in light of the continuing global economic crisis.