The dramatic and unforeseen developments in international relations since the middle of 1989 have led to profound changes in the distribution of power in the global system and in our thinking about what constitutes the basis of power in that system. Moreover, the nature of the emerging regional and global orders is difficult to discern, and determining foreign policy in the context of such fundamental change is problematic. For China such uncertainties have been compounded by their coincidence with domestic unrest that led in June 1989 to the killings and arrest of political protestors. Such a response damaged China’s relations with Western Europe and Japan and introduced serious points of friction with the USA, the country that China has perceived as central to the success of its modernisation efforts. The disintegration of the core of the socialist world begun with the Tiananmen crackdown raised questions about the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party, and generated fears among Chinese leaders about the long-term stability of the political order in the PRC. Beijing quickly had to determine its response to a set of events that demonstrated — initially at least — China’s international and domestic vulnerability. One author has used the apposite Chinese proverb ‘feeling the stones while crossing the river’ to describe China’s search for equilibrium in an uncertain era (Shambaugh 1992). A discussion of that search forms the focus of this chapter.
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