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Courtiers or consultants?

The construction of China’s national interest between top-down rule and societal debate

Research Puzzle

The return of strongmen politics exemplified by Xi Jinping in China and Vladimir Putin in Russia has called into question whether domestic factors matter at all for the foreign policy of authoritarian countries. Yet, societal actors continue to debate their country's national interest even under tightening authoritarian rule. Besides, in a complex and interdependent world, even strong leaders need advice on which problems to prioritize and how to address them.

Research gap and question

Image by Clay Banks

Scholars have identified societal actors capable of influencing China’s foreign policy. Some even identified channels through which they can influence it. However, despite excellent work on foreign policy making processes in China, we do not yet know under what conditions Chinese societal actors influence the construction of China’s national interest. I examine under what conditions Chinese scholars and experts working at Chinese think tanks influence the construction of China's national interest.


With my PhD project, I seek to:

  • map the construction of China's national interest as expressed through frames in official foreign policy statements between 2013 and 2019.

  • provide evidence for when Chinese societal actors influenced the construction of China’s national interest.

  • theorize the conditions under which societal actors can influence the foreign policy of an authoritarian regime.

Image by Hanson Lu
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