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, even under tightening authoritarian rule, foreign policy opinion makers such as experts and lobbyists continue to debate their country’s national interest. The broader China’s international engagement becomes; the more societal actors develop diverging expectations about China’s foreign policy.

Research gap and question

Scholars have identified foreign policy opinion makers capable of influencing China’s foreign policy. Some have 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 when foreign policy opinion makers influence the construction of China’s national interest. This projects asks under what conditions do Chinese foreign policy opinon makers, that is scholars, think tankers and lobbyists, influence the construction of China's national interest.


With my PhD project, I seek to:

  • systematically trace how China's national interest is expressed in statements about China's foreign policy since 2012

  • reveal when foreign policy opinion makers influenced the construction of China’s national interest

  • theorize possible conditions under which foreign policy opinion makers can influence the foreign policy of an authoritarian regime

Image by Clay Banks
Image by Hanson Lu