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The construction of China’s national interest: Between top-down rule and societal ideas

Research Puzzle

The return of strongmen politics exemplified by Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin has led many to question whether societal actors can influence the foreign policy of authoritarian regimes. Nevertheless, despite tightening authoritarian rule, there are vibrant societal debates about foreign policy in China.

Research gap and question

Scholars have identified societal actors capable of influencing China’s foreign policy. Some have even uncovered channels through which these actors can exert influence. However, despite excellent work on foreign policy-making in China, we do not yet know under what conditions Chinese societal actors influence China’s foreign policy. I examine under what conditions experts at Chinese foreign policy think tanks and Chinese International Relations scholars, the most likely societal actors to shape China’s foreign policy, influence the official construction of China’s national interest.


My research has implications for understanding the PRC under Xi and the foreign policy of authoritarian regimes:

• It allows to re-examine societal actors‘ influence on China‘s foreign policy and its involvement in international politics through assessing societal actors’ proximity to the state and changes in the state’s openness to societal input.

• It offers new insights on how the regime adapts its strategies to consider societal input.

• It offers a new way of examining societal actors’ influence on the foreign policy of authoritarian regimes.

•  It demonstrates  how we can study (foreign) policy debates under authoritarian rule by accounting for the complex nature of the multifaceted ties between state and society.


Image by Clay Banks
Image by Hanson Lu
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