Skip to main content Accessibility help

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

  • Audrye Wong (a1)

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。

Hide All
Alkon, Meir, and Wong, Audrye. 2018. “Authoritarian environmental federalism.” Working paper,
Brødsgaard, Kjeld Erik. 2009. Hainan: State, Society and Business in a Chinese Province. London: Routledge.
Bush, Richard. 2010. The Perils of Proximity. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Cai, Hongbin, and Treisman, Daniel. 2006. “Did government decentralization cause China's economic miracle?World Politics 58(4), 505535.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chung, Jae Ho. 2000. Central Control and Local Discretion in China: Leadership and Implementation during Post-Mao Decollectivization. New York: Oxford University Press.
Deng, Guosheng, and Kennedy, Scott. 2010. “Big business and industry association lobbying in China: the paradox of contrasting styles.The China Journal 63, 101125.
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.
Downs, Erica S. 2004. “The Chinese energy security debate.” The China Quarterly 177, 2141.
Erickson, Andrew. 2009. “Pipe dream: China seeks land and sea energy security.Jane's Intelligence Review 21(8), 5455.
Erickson, Andrew, and Kennedy, Conor. 2015. “Tanmen militia: China's ‘maritime rights protection’ vanguard,” Diplomat, 6 May.
Fitzgerald, John (ed.). 2002. Rethinking China's Provinces. London: Routledge.
Fravel, M. Taylor. 2012. “Hainan's new maritime regulations: a preliminary analysis,” Diplomat, 1 December.
Fravel, M. Taylor. 2013. “Hainan's new maritime regulations: an update,” Diplomat, 3 January.
Fravel, M. Taylor. 2014. “Hainan's new fishing rules: a preliminary analysis,” Diplomat, 10 January.
Friedman, Eli, and Kuruvilla, Sarosh. 2015. “Experimentation and decentralization in China's labor relations.” Human Relations 68(2), 181195.
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.
Gerring, John. 2007. “Is there a (viable) crucial-case method?Comparative Political Studies 40(3), 231253.
Goodman, David S.G. 1986. Centre and Province in the People's Republic of China: Sichuan and Guizhou, 1955–1965. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Heilmann, Sebastian. 2008. “Policy experimentation in China's economic rise.” Studies in Comparative International Development 43, 126.
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.
Jakobson, Linda. 2014. “China's unpredictable maritime security actors.” Lowy Institute for International Policy,
Jakobson, Linda, and Knox, Dean. 2010. “New foreign policy actors in China.” SIPRI Policy Paper No. 26.
Kennedy, Conor, and Erickson, Andrew S.. 2017a. “Hainan's maritime militia: development challenges and opportunities Pt.2,” CIMSEC, 10 April,
Kennedy, Conor, and Erickson, Andrew S.. 2017b. “Hainan's maritime militia: China builds a standing vanguard,” CIMSEC, 25 March,
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.
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.
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.
Lanteigne, Marc. 2008. “China's maritime security and the ‘Malacca Dilemma’.” Asian Security 4(2), 143161.
Levy, Jack S. 2008. “Case studies: types, designs, and logics of inference.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 25, 118.
Li, Linda Chelan. 1997. “Provincial discretion and national power: investment policy in Guangdong and Shanghai, 1978–93.” The China Quarterly 152, 778804.
Li, Mingjiang. 2014. “Local liberalism: China's provincial approaches to relations with Southeast Asia.” Journal of Contemporary China 23(86), 275293.
Lieberthal, Kenneth G., and Lampton, David M. (eds.). 1992. Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision Making in Post-Mao China. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Lieberthal, Kenneth G., and Oksenberg, Michel. 1988. Policy Making in China: Leaders, Strutures, and Processes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Mertha, Andrew. 2009. “‘Fragmented authoritarianism 2.0’: political pluralization in the Chinese policy process.” The China Quarterly 200, 9951012.
Moore, Scott. 2014. “Hydropolitics and inter-jurisdictional relationships in China: the pursuit of localized preferences in a centralized system.The China Quarterly 219, 760780.
Page, Jeremy. 2012. “China sheds light on new sea rules,” Wall Street Journal, 5 December 2012.
Peng, Yuanjun. 2002. “Lüyou ziyuan fengfu de Xisha qundao” (Paracels Islands: rich in tourism resources). Haiyang shijie March, 42–43.
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.
Putnam, Robert. 1988. “Diplomacy and domestic politics.” International Organization 42(3), 427461.
Shi, Shih-Jiunn. 2012. “Social policy learning and diffusion in China: the rise of welfare regions?Policy and Politics 40(3), 367385.
Siu, Helen, 1989. Agents and Victims in South China: Accomplices in Rural Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
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.
Statistical Bureau of Hainan Province. 2012–2015. Hainan tongji nianjian (Hainan Statistical Yearbook). Beijing: China Statistics Press.
Steinberg, David I., and Fan, Hongwei. 2012. Modern China–Myanmar Relations; Dilemmas of Mutual Dependence. Copenhagen: NIAS.
Storey, Ian. 2006. “China's Malacca Dilemma.China Brief 6(8),
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.
Sun, Yun. 2013. “Chinese national security decision-making: processes and challenges.” Brookings Institution Working Paper,
Tanner, Murray Scot. 1998. The Politics of Lawmaking in Post-Mao China: Institutions, Processes, and Democratic Prospects. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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.
Tsin, Loreen. 2014. “China and Myanmar: Beijing's conflicting role in the Kachin peace process.MERICS China Monitor 9, 6 June,
Wang, Shaoguang. 2005. “China's expenditure for the People's Armed Police and militia,” working paper.
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.
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.
Xu, Chenggang. 2011. “The fundamental institutions of China's reforms and development.” Journal of Economic Literature 49(4), 10761151.
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.
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.
You, Ji. 2007. “Dealing with the Malacca Dilemma: China's effort to protect its energy supply.” Strategic Analysis 31(3), 467489.
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.
Zha, Daojiong. 2001. “Localizing the South China Sea problem: the case of China's Hainan.” Pacific Review 14(4), 575598.
Zhang, Hongzhou. 2016a. “Chinese fishermen in disputed waters: not quite a ‘people's war’.” Marine Policy 68, 6573.
Zhang, Hongzhou. 2016b. “Chinese fishermen at frontline of maritime disputes: an alternative explanation.” RSIS Commentary No. 151, 21 June.
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.
Zhao, Xi. 2013. “Zhongguo shifou neng raoguo Maliujia kunju” (Can China circumvent the Malacca Dilemma?), China News – Yunnan Channel, 31 July 2013.
Zheng, Yongnian. 1994. “Perforated sovereignty: provincial dynamism and China's foreign trade.” Pacific Review 7(3), 309321.
Zheng, Yongnian. 2007. De Facto Federalism in China: Reforms and Dynamics of Central–Local Relations. Singapore: World Scientific and Imperial College Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
  • URL: /core/journals/china-quarterly
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed