Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5bf98f6d76-xlldj Total loading time: 4.328 Render date: 2021-04-21T21:27:50.741Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": false, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true }

More than Peripheral: How Provinces Influence China's Foreign Policy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 September 2018

Audrye Wong
Princeton University. Email:
E-mail address:


Most analyses of China's foreign and security policies treat China as a unitary actor, assuming a cohesive grand strategy articulated by Beijing. I challenge this conventional wisdom, showing how Chinese provinces can affect the formulation and implementation of foreign policy. This contributes to existing research on the role of subnational actors in China, which has focused on how they shape domestic and economic policies. Using Hainan and Yunnan as case studies, I identify three mechanisms of provincial influence – trailblazing, carpetbagging, and resisting – and illustrate them with examples of key provincial policies. This analysis provides a more nuanced argument than is commonly found in international relations for the motivations behind evolving and increasingly activist Chinese foreign policy. It also has important policy implications for understanding and responding to Chinese behaviour, in the South China Sea and beyond.


大多数关于中国外交和安全政策的分析把中国当成统一的行为者, 假设大战略是由中央政府勾出的。以改变这些传统的观点,本文考察了地方政府如何影响中国的外交决策与执行过程。 这也对关于中国地方行为者的研究做出了贡献,因为它们通常只关注国内和经济政策。以海南省和云南省为案例,本文指出了地方影响的三个机制——开拓,投机,和抵抗——并调查了各种地方政策举例说明。比起国际关系中试图解释日益演变,日益积极的中国外交政策的动机的普遍说法,本文提供了更加精细的论据。这种分析对理解和应对中国的外交行为,包括南海问题等其他方面, 也具有重要的政策意义。

Research Article
Copyright © SOAS University of London 2018 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.


Alkon, Meir, and Wong, Audrye. 2018. “Authoritarian environmental federalism.” Working paper, Scholar
Brødsgaard, Kjeld Erik. 2009. Hainan: State, Society and Business in a Chinese Province. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Bush, Richard. 2010. The Perils of Proximity. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
Cai, Hongbin, and Treisman, Daniel. 2006. “Did government decentralization cause China's economic miracle?World Politics 58(4), 505535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Che, Zhimin. 2001. “Ba Yunnan jiancheng lianjie dongnanya, nanya de guoji datongdao” (Building Yunnan into an international transit route linking to South-East Asia and South Asia). Chuangzao, 2001(1), 59.Google Scholar
Che, Zhimin, and Zhou, Naiguo (eds.). 1992. Yunnan duiwai tongdao ji kou'an (Yunnan's External Infrastructure Routes and Ports). Kunming: Yunnan People's Press.Google Scholar
Chen, Shuixiong, Sun, Chunyan and Fan, Wubo. 2014. “Xisha lüyou anquan tezheng jiqi fangfan tanxi” (Exploratory analysis of Paracels tourism: safety characteristics and precautions). Shengtai jingji 30(1), 137140.Google Scholar
Chen, Zhimin. 2005. “Coastal provinces and China's foreign policy making.” In Hao, Yufan and Su, Lin (eds.), China's Foreign Policy Making: Societal Force and Chinese American Policy. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 187208.Google Scholar
Cheung, Peter T.Y., Chung, Jae Ho and Lin, Zhimin (eds.). 1998. Provincial Strategies of Economic Reform in Post-Mao China: Leadership, Politics and Implementation. Armonk, NY: Sharpe.Google Scholar
Cheung, Peter T.Y., and Tang, James. 2001. “The external relations of China's provinces.” In Lampton, David M. (ed.), The Making of Chinese Foreign and Security Policy in the Era of Reform, 1978–2000. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 91120.Google Scholar
Christensen, Thomas J. 2012. “More actors, less coordination? New challenges for the leaders of a rising China.” In Rozman, Gilbert (ed.), China's Foreign Policy: Who Makes It, and How Is It Made? Seoul: Asan Institute for Policy Studies, 1935.Google Scholar
Chung, Jae Ho. 2000. Central Control and Local Discretion in China: Leadership and Implementation during Post-Mao Decollectivization. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Deng, Guosheng, and Kennedy, Scott. 2010. “Big business and industry association lobbying in China: the paradox of contrasting styles.The China Journal 63, 101125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Donaldson, John. 2010. “Provinces: paradoxical politics, problematic partners.” In Chung, Jae Ho and Lam, Tao-Chiu (eds.), China's Local Administration: Traditions and Changes in the Sub-national Hierarchy. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Downs, Erica S. 2004. “The Chinese energy security debate.” The China Quarterly 177, 2141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Erickson, Andrew. 2009. “Pipe dream: China seeks land and sea energy security.Jane's Intelligence Review 21(8), 5455.Google Scholar
Erickson, Andrew, and Kennedy, Conor. 2015. “Tanmen militia: China's ‘maritime rights protection’ vanguard,” Diplomat, 6 May.Google Scholar
Fitzgerald, John (ed.). 2002. Rethinking China's Provinces. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Fravel, M. Taylor. 2012. “Hainan's new maritime regulations: a preliminary analysis,” Diplomat, 1 December.Google Scholar
Fravel, M. Taylor. 2013. “Hainan's new maritime regulations: an update,” Diplomat, 3 January.Google Scholar
Fravel, M. Taylor. 2014. “Hainan's new fishing rules: a preliminary analysis,” Diplomat, 10 January.Google Scholar
Friedman, Eli, and Kuruvilla, Sarosh. 2015. “Experimentation and decentralization in China's labor relations.” Human Relations 68(2), 181195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fu, Lanqing, and Jiang, Xiannu. 2015. “Lun Hainan sheng Sansha shi jianshe beijing xia Xisha qundao de lüyou ziyuan kaifa yu kechixu fazhan de baohu duice” (Discussing tourism development and sustainable development in the Paracels against the backdrop of building Sansha City in Hainan province). Lüyou zonglan March, 120–22.Google Scholar
Gerring, John. 2007. “Is there a (viable) crucial-case method?Comparative Political Studies 40(3), 231253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goodman, David S.G. 1986. Centre and Province in the People's Republic of China: Sichuan and Guizhou, 1955–1965. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Heilmann, Sebastian. 2008. “Policy experimentation in China's economic rise.” Studies in Comparative International Development 43, 126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Holbig, Heike. 2004. “The emergence of the campaign to open up the west: ideological formation, central decision-making and the role of the provinces.” The China Quarterly 178, 335357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jakobson, Linda. 2014. “China's unpredictable maritime security actors.” Lowy Institute for International Policy, Scholar
Jakobson, Linda, and Knox, Dean. 2010. “New foreign policy actors in China.” SIPRI Policy Paper No. 26.Google Scholar
Kennedy, Conor, and Erickson, Andrew S.. 2017a. “Hainan's maritime militia: development challenges and opportunities Pt.2,” CIMSEC, 10 April, Scholar
Kennedy, Conor, and Erickson, Andrew S.. 2017b. “Hainan's maritime militia: China builds a standing vanguard,” CIMSEC, 25 March, Scholar
Kong, Bo. 2010. “The geopolitics of the Myanmar–China oil and gas pipelines.” In Chow, Edward C. et al. , Pipeline Politics in Asia. National Bureau of Asian Research Special Report No. 23, 5566.Google Scholar
Lampton, David M. 1992. “A plum for a peach: bargaining, interest, and bureaucratic politics in China.” In Lieberthal, Kenneth G. and Lampton, David M. (eds.), Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision Making in Post-Mao China. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 3358.Google Scholar
Lampton, David M. 2001. “China's foreign and national security policy-making process: is it changing and does it matter?” In Lampton, David M. (ed.), The Making of Chinese Foreign and Security Policy in the Era of Reform, 1978–2000. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 136.Google Scholar
Lanteigne, Marc. 2008. “China's maritime security and the ‘Malacca Dilemma’.” Asian Security 4(2), 143161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Levy, Jack S. 2008. “Case studies: types, designs, and logics of inference.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 25, 118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Li, Linda Chelan. 1997. “Provincial discretion and national power: investment policy in Guangdong and Shanghai, 1978–93.” The China Quarterly 152, 778804.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Li, Mingjiang. 2014. “Local liberalism: China's provincial approaches to relations with Southeast Asia.” Journal of Contemporary China 23(86), 275293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lieberthal, Kenneth G., and Lampton, David M. (eds.). 1992. Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision Making in Post-Mao China. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Lieberthal, Kenneth G., and Oksenberg, Michel. 1988. Policy Making in China: Leaders, Strutures, and Processes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Mertha, Andrew. 2009. “‘Fragmented authoritarianism 2.0’: political pluralization in the Chinese policy process.” The China Quarterly 200, 9951012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Moore, Scott. 2014. “Hydropolitics and inter-jurisdictional relationships in China: the pursuit of localized preferences in a centralized system.The China Quarterly 219, 760780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Page, Jeremy. 2012. “China sheds light on new sea rules,” Wall Street Journal, 5 December 2012.Google Scholar
Peng, Yuanjun. 2002. “Lüyou ziyuan fengfu de Xisha qundao” (Paracels Islands: rich in tourism resources). Haiyang shijie March, 42–43.Google Scholar
Pu, Zhao. 2006. “Zhong-Mian shiyou guandao: shi zhishang tanbing haishi xianshi xuanze?” (Sino-Myanmar oil pipeline: is it pure talk or a practical choice?), Xinhua, 21 July.Google Scholar
Putnam, Robert. 1988. “Diplomacy and domestic politics.” International Organization 42(3), 427461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shi, Shih-Jiunn. 2012. “Social policy learning and diffusion in China: the rise of welfare regions?Policy and Politics 40(3), 367385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Siu, Helen, 1989. Agents and Victims in South China: Accomplices in Rural Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Song, Guoyou. 2014. “Zhongguo zhoubian jingji waijiao: jizhi xietiao yu celüe xuanze” (China's periphery economic diplomacy: coordinating mechanisms and choosing strategies). Guoji wenti yanjiu 2, 4152.Google Scholar
Statistical Bureau of Hainan Province. 2012–2015. Hainan tongji nianjian (Hainan Statistical Yearbook). Beijing: China Statistics Press.Google Scholar
Steinberg, David I., and Fan, Hongwei. 2012. Modern China–Myanmar Relations; Dilemmas of Mutual Dependence. Copenhagen: NIAS.Google Scholar
Storey, Ian. 2006. “China's Malacca Dilemma.China Brief 6(8), Scholar
Summers, Tim. 2013. Yunnan – A Chinese Bridgehead to Asia: A Case Study of China's Political and Economic Relations with its Neighbours. Whitney: Chandos Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sun, Yun. 2013. “Chinese national security decision-making: processes and challenges.” Brookings Institution Working Paper, Scholar
Tanner, Murray Scot. 1998. The Politics of Lawmaking in Post-Mao China: Institutions, Processes, and Democratic Prospects. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Teng, Wenqing, and Sun, Bingbing. 2010. “Guanyu jiakuai Xisha lüyou kaifa de sikao” (Accelerating the development and construction of Paracel Island tourism). Jiazhi gongcheng 2010(7), 239240.Google Scholar
Tsin, Loreen. 2014. “China and Myanmar: Beijing's conflicting role in the Kachin peace process.MERICS China Monitor 9, 6 June, Scholar
Wang, Shaoguang. 2005. “China's expenditure for the People's Armed Police and militia,” working paper.Google Scholar
Wang, Yanchun. 2012. “Dui yize jiaxinwen de fansi: yi Xisha qundao lüyou jiang kaifang weili” (Reflections on a false piece of news: the case of opening up Paracel Island tourism). News World 6, 251–52.Google Scholar
White, Lynn T. III. 1998. Unstately Power. Vol. 1, The Local Causes of China's Economic Reforms, and Vol. 2, Local Causes of China's Intellectual, Legal, and Governmental Reforms. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.Google Scholar
Xu, Chenggang. 2011. “The fundamental institutions of China's reforms and development.” Journal of Economic Literature 49(4), 10761151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Xu, Ying. 2004. “Zhongguo yu zai Miandian xiujian shiyou tongtao pojie Maliujia nengyuan kunju” (China wants to build oil pipeline in Myanmar to break the Malacca Dilemma), Liaowang dongfang zhoukan, 13 July.Google Scholar
You, Ji. 2002. “The supreme leader and the military.” In Unger, Jonathan (ed.), The Nature of Chinese Politics: From Mao to Jiang. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 274296.Google Scholar
You, Ji. 2007. “Dealing with the Malacca Dilemma: China's effort to protect its energy supply.” Strategic Analysis 31(3), 467489.Google Scholar
You, Ji. 2014. “The roadmap of upward advancement for PLA leaders.” In Kou, Chien-wen and Zan, Xiaowei (eds.), Choosing China's Leaders. Abingdon: Routledge, 4264.Google Scholar
Zha, Daojiong. 2001. “Localizing the South China Sea problem: the case of China's Hainan.” Pacific Review 14(4), 575598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zhang, Hongzhou. 2016a. “Chinese fishermen in disputed waters: not quite a ‘people's war’.” Marine Policy 68, 6573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zhang, Hongzhou. 2016b. “Chinese fishermen at frontline of maritime disputes: an alternative explanation.” RSIS Commentary No. 151, 21 June.Google Scholar
Zhang, Zhihong, and Li, Ruizheng. 2010. “Haidao xing lüyou feiyouqu de kaifa yanjiu yi xisha qundao weili” (Study on island tourism development in non-optimal areas: the case of the Paracels). Haiyang kaifa yu guanli 27(3), 1217.Google Scholar
Zhao, Xi. 2013. “Zhongguo shifou neng raoguo Maliujia kunju” (Can China circumvent the Malacca Dilemma?), China News – Yunnan Channel, 31 July 2013.Google Scholar
Zheng, Yongnian. 1994. “Perforated sovereignty: provincial dynamism and China's foreign trade.” Pacific Review 7(3), 309321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zheng, Yongnian. 2007. De Facto Federalism in China: Reforms and Dynamics of Central–Local Relations. Singapore: World Scientific and Imperial College Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.

Total number of HTML views: 253
Total number of PDF views: 1160 *
View data table for this chart

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 13th September 2018 - 21st April 2021. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

More than Peripheral: How Provinces Influence China's Foreign Policy
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

More than Peripheral: How Provinces Influence China's Foreign Policy
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

More than Peripheral: How Provinces Influence China's Foreign Policy
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *