Calculating Bully -- Explaining Chinese Coercion

Haikou, China

One of my interview and fieldwork sites

The sign on the building reads "Long Live Chinese Communists!"

Since 1990, China has used coercion – one form of statecraft – for territorial disputes, foreign arms sales to Taiwan, and foreign leaders’ reception of the Dalai Lama, despite adverse implications for its international image. China is also curiously selective in the timing, target, and tools of coercion: most cases of Chinese coercion are not military coercion, nor does China use coercion against all states that pose the same threats to its national security. The question regarding China’s coercion patterns – crucial for the prospect of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region – has not been systematically answered. My book project, therefore, examines when, why and how China attempts to coerce states over threats to its national security. This question entails two parts: 1) when and why does China choose coercion, and 2) if coercion is chosen, what tools does China utilize?
The dependent variable of this book project is the decision to use coercion. I define coercion as actions taken to force the target state to change its behavior. A state can choose from 1) inaction, a situation where coercion is not used, 2) diplomatic sanctions, 3) economic sanctions, 4) gray-zone coercion, 5) military coercion. I explain Chinese coercion with my cost balancing theory and test it against China’s diplomacy. China uses coercion when the need to establish a reputation of resolve is high and economic cost is low and refrains from military coercion when the geopolitical backlash is high.
I employ qualitative methods such as process tracing, leveraging on primary Chinese documents and interviews with Chinese officials, government analysts, and foreign diplomats. I also created a comprehensive database of Chinese coercion since 1990, covering territorial disputes, foreign leaders' reception of the Dalai Lama, and foreign arms sales to Taiwan.

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