World flags, with China's at the front, at the south entrance of Expo 2010 Shanghai, near the Expo Boulevard, in front the China pavilion.

China and the World

Strategies, partners, and shapers of China’s international behavior

Understanding China’s global engagement

Analyses of China’s international behavior are often China-centric or otherwise interpret it in terms of its relations with a small number of global powers. Taking a different approach to understanding China’s actions on the world stage, a multi-year study examines how other countries and regions shape Beijing’s perceptions, priorities, and policies.

Research Focus

China’s rise has elicited envy, admiration, and anxiety among its neighbors and more distant countries. Much of what has been written about the modalities and impact of China’s increased activism on the world stage comes close to depicting what has happened (and what presumably will happen in the future) as determined almost entirely by goals, approaches, and instruments conceived in Beijing and implemented as designed by their Chinese authors. Such descriptions and explanations, however, minimize or ignore the other side of the equation, namely, what individuals, corporate actors, and governments in other countries do to attract, shape, exploit, or deflect Chinese involvement.

The China and the World research project redresses this imbalance by examining the actions of China’s partners and the ways in which initiatives and reactions from partners have shaped Chinese foreign policy and the outcomes of its engagements with other countries. This multi-year study, led by Shorenstein APARC Fellow Thomas Fingar, looks sequentially and systematically at China’s interactions with countries in all regions of Asia and across many issue areas.

The project’s overarching goal is to illuminate and anticipate China’s behavior on the world stage, particularly its objectives and policies to achieve them. But it also aims to identify and explain the goals and policy calculations of other countries that see opportunities and perils associated with China’s greater activism on the world stage.

China’s goals, methods, and impacts vary from one region to another, and differences between regions are as interesting and as important as are practices and patterns common to all parts of the globe. Describing and explaining regional differences (as well as differences among countries in the same region) is therefore a useful, if not necessary, prerequisite for examining behavior and interactions at the global level.

North America, to be sure, is arguably the most important partner and shaper of China’s international behavior in the decades since Deng Xiaoping launched the policy of “reform and opening” that has transformed China. The reason for not focusing specifically on the United States in this study is that U.S.-China relations have been studied more extensively than any other Chinese relationship. Nevertheless, the extent and nature of U.S. relations with countries in all regions make it imperative to consider U.S.-China relations and their role, if any, in shaping China’s relationships with other countries.

The project began in March 2012 with a two-day workshop, convened in Beijing at the Stanford Center at Peking University. The workshop focused on China’s relations in Northeast Asia, particularly its engagement with Japan and the Koreas. It brought together scholars and foreign policy practitioners from China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States. Participants from several Southeast Asian countries also attended the workshop to ensure that questions explored were broad enough to facilitate comparisons and the search for patterns and learning across issues and disciplines at the follow-on regional workshop held in Singapore in November 2012.

The Singapore workshop discussed China's objectives and policies with respect to Southeast Asia, but focused primarily on the ways in which China's approach and actions are perceived by countries in the region and what strategies these countries pursue to advance their own interests and maximize their own freedom of action.

The third workshop, held at Stanford in June 2013, examined China’s relationship with South and Central Asia. While there is a focus on the bilateral relationship between China and India, the largest and most powerful regional actor, the workshop also looked at other key bilateral relationships, such as with Pakistan, and at interactions on a regional level, including in the economic sphere, as well as cross-border issues such as migration flows, water, and energy resource development.

An edited volume based on the 2013 Stanford workshop, The New Great Game: China and South and Central Asia in the Era of Reform, was published in 2016. A companion volume based on the 2012 Beijing workshop, Uneasy Partnerships: China’s Engagement with Japan, the Koreas, and Russia in the Era of Reform, was published in 2017. The third volume in the series, based on the 2012 Singapore workshop, is forthcoming.

In addition to the three workshops and related volumes, the project continues with ongoing scholarly work by lead researchers Thomas Fingar and APARC’s Southeast Asia Program Director Donald Emmerson, with collaborators including APARC’s China Program Director Jean Oi. Emmerson’s focus as part of this project is on China-Southeast Asia and U.S.-China relations.


Lead Researchers


Thomas Fingar

Shorenstein APARC Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

Thomas Fingar

Shorenstein APARC Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

Donald K. Emmerson

Shorenstein APARC Southeast Asia Program Director

Donald K. Emmerson

Shorenstein APARC Southeast Asia Program Director
Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Emeritus



China’s Future: Challenges, Choices, and Contingencies
By Thomas Fingar and Jean Oi (eds.). Forthcoming

The Deer and the Dragon: Southeast Asia and China in the Twenty-First Century (working title)
By Donald K. Emmerson (ed.). Forthcoming

Singapore and Goliath?
Journal of Democracy, April 2018

Uneasy Partnerships: China’s Engagement with Japan, the Koreas, and Russia in the Era of Reform
By Thomas Fingar (ed.), Stanford University Press, 2017

The New Great Game: China and South and Central Asia in the Era of Reform
By Thomas Fingar (ed.), Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center book, distributed by Brookings Institution Press, 2016

China’s Rise, Japan’s Quest, and South Korea-US Cooperation
Global Asia, Fall 2014

China’s Vision of World Order
National Bureau of Asian Research book, 2012

Commentaries and Opinion Pieces


Tempting Fate in Northeast Asia
Stanford University Press Blog, April 2017

A Silk Road for the Twenty-First Century?
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), November 2016

The United States and China: Same Bed, Different Dreams, Shared Destiny
The Wilson Center, April 2015

Understanding the Complexities of China’s Global Interactions
Shorenstein APARC News, February 2012

Photo credit: Cesarexpo under a Creative Commons license, via Wikimedia Commons.