- Chinese Strategic Culture and Foreign Policy Decision-Making: Confucianism, Leadership and War
Huiyun Feng aims to explore the nature of Chinese strategic culture and how that culture affects the decision making of key leaders since the founding of the People's Republic of China. The author also aims to show that Alastair Johnston1 was wrong in arguing that Chinese strategic culture is essentially offense and that, in fact, Chinese leaders tend to act within a defensive construct. He also presents an analytical framework that aims to understand and predict Chinese leadership actions in times of peace and crisis.
This book relies heavily on game theory and content analysis; readers not familiar with these tools of analysis may find it a tedious read. Those whose forte is quantitative approaches to political science/international relations will find the book more instructive. For any student of Chinese policy making, Feng provides a strong argument for considering future Chinese policy and potential belligerency through a different lens. The cases provided give sufficient detail for the purposes of the book but do not provide a solid foundation for broad or deep understanding of the factors leading to three wars and several international crises.
In choosing to use quantitative methods to debunk Johnston's cultural realist work, Feng dismisses other schools of theory, including neo-realism, balance of power, and both offensive and defensive realism (p. 2). While readers may differ on whether Feng refutes Johnston sufficiently, the writer, in this reviewer's opinion, does demonstrate a strong Chinese propensity for using just war2 theory to justify pragmatic decision making—theories of international relations that he does not address. That decision may or may not result in offensive action, depending on the specifics of the strategic environment, including the domestic strategic situation, faced by the decision maker. However, as the book's case studies show, Chinese perceptions of threats and self-defined notions of moral high ground significantly influence choices for violence.
Although titled "China as a Rising Power," the first chapter really is an overview of the methodology and primary arguments Feng intends to explore in the rest of the work. He begins by describing what he sees as the major flaws in cultural realists' (primarily Johnston's) explanations of Chinese strategic culture. Explanations of "operational code" analysis and "subjective games" theory—the two primary methods he uses to understand Chinese decision making in subsequent chapters—follow. The author posits three major propositions: Chinese strategic culture is defensive in nature, Chinese leaders prefer peaceful strategies, and Chinese behavior in three major wars is fundamentally defensive in nature. [End Page 173]
The second chapter, "China's Strategic Culture and War," recounts the ancient roots of Chinese thinking and how Confucianism came to dominate it. The author explains the various arguments for and against an aggressive realist interpretation well while consistently pressing his view of China as a defensively minded, strategic culture. He even makes the claim (p. 26) that "In China's 5000 years of history, there were only two large-scale military expansionist movements."3 He closes the chapter with the observation that while leaders may believe in cooperative approaches as a general way of considering national security issues, they may, in times of war or crisis, adopt very uncooperative methods in order to prevail.
In chapter 3, "Mao and Zhou in the Korean War," Feng uses operational code analysis (interpreting speech text to derive a leader's core beliefs) to explore differences between Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. His analysis shows that while Mao was generally more offensive in temperament, both leaders became more offensive as the Korean War unfolded. He acknowledges that the United States had no intention of invading China but points out that the two Chinese leaders felt an existential threat as the Americans moved north of the thirty-eighth parallel. Code analysis shows two additional, almost self-evident, conclusions: leaders differ in their beliefs/temperaments, and those beliefs are often situationally dependent.