International Politics

, Volume 49, Issue 3, pp 318–345 | Cite as

Rethinking China’s grand strategy: Beijing’s evolving national interests and strategic ideas in the reform era

  • Feng Zhang
Original Article


The question of China’s grand strategy is of great importance for understanding the international impact of China’s rise. Both Western and Chinese scholars dispute whether China has developed a coherent grand strategy in the reform era. The main reason for the controversy seems to lie as much in theoretical and methodological assumptions about defining and analyzing grand strategy as in empirical validity. This article contributes to the debate by adopting a novel theoretical approach to analyzing grand strategy by seeing it as the conjunction of national interests and strategic ideas. It examines China’s evolving national interests and strategic ideas in the reform period in order to clarify the exploratory, evolutionary and adaptive nature of policy change. China cannot be said to have developed a premeditated grand strategy during this period. Even though one may still be able to rationalize elements of China’s foreign policies into a grand strategy, it comes at the cost of missing their changing nature.


grand strategy national interest strategic idea China’s foreign policy 



I would like to thank the following scholars for their valuable inputs into the article: Barry Buzan, Michael Cox, Rosemary Foot, Chris R. Hughes, Victoria Hui, Chung-in Moon, Ramon Pacheco-Pardo, Tang Shiping, Tsai Mon-Han, Wang Jisi, Wang Yizhou, Arne Westad and Yan Xuetong. The article was presented at the International Studies Association Asia-Pacific Regional Conference, the University of Queensland, in September 2011. An early version was presented at the 2009 annual conference of Millennium: Journal of International Studies, the London School of Economics.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Feng Zhang
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Murdoch UniversityWestern AustraliaAustralia

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