Revisiting China's Use of Force in Asia: Dynamic, Level and Beyond


  • This research is supported by Tsinghua University Initiative Scientific Research Program (No. 20121088003).


In the context of China's rapid rise, scholars still debate heatedly and always make contrasted predictions on China's use of force. This article seeks to identify the determining factors of a rising China's use of force and its varying levels. Since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, China's use of force has been shaped by its high external vulnerabilities. They consist of two major security concerns: the homeland encirclement by superpowers and the increasing support from the outside to domestic splitting factions. Consistency in China's use of force can be explained by the legitimacy of the party involved and the regional power position in East Asia. The level of the use of force has been determined by China's relative capability to its adversaries. Specifically, China will use high levels of force, such as wars or lengthy conflicts, if it enjoys the favorable relative capability. On the contrary, China will use low levels of force, such as blockade, artillery attacks and very short combats, if the opposite is true. Based on these findings and current regional trends in East Asia, the authors are optimistic about China's non-use of force in Taiwan and territorial or maritime disputes in East Asia over the next decade.