China’s Gambits: The Calculus of Coercion

Haikou, China

One of my interview and fieldwork sites

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

This book addresses the puzzle of when, why, and how China attempts to coerce states over perceived threats to its national security. Coercion is the threat or use of negative measures, diplomatic, economic, gray-zone, and military, to force the target state to change its behavior. The coercion literature focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of coercion instead of coercion decisions. It also predicts states to use military coercion over high-stakes issues to maximize expected effectiveness. China is, however, curiously selective in the timing, target, and tools of coercion. Most cases of Chinese coercion are nonmilitary. China does not coerce all states that pose the same threats to its national security. The questions regarding when, why, and how China coerces – critical for theorizing states’ decision-making on coercion and crucial for policy implications concerning peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region – have not been systematically answered. This book, therefore, contributes to theorizing coercion in an era of global economic interdependence. It sheds new light on how contemporary rising powers translate their power into influence and their choice of policy instruments. The book also has policy implications for understanding China’s grand strategy, managing China’s rise, and avoiding great power conflicts.

Leveraging on rich empirical evidence, including primary Chinese documents and interviews with officials, this book proposes a new cost balancing theory to explain states’ coercion decisions while focusing on China empirically. I show that China is a cautious actor and balances the benefits and costs of coercion. The book identifies the centrality of the need to establish a reputation for resolve and economic cost in driving whether states coerce or not. States compel one target in the hope of establishing a reputation for resolve, the need for other states to view the coercing state as strong in defending its interests. States, however, are constrained by the imperative of economic development and, therefore, economic cost, the degree to which the coercing state depends on the target state for markets, supply, and capital. States are more likely to utilize coercion when the need to establish resolve is high and the economic cost is low. Moreover, states will prefer nonmilitary coercion when the geopolitical cost is high. My book identifies a new crucial benefit of coercion: states such as China coerce to establish resolve. It also suggests that the benefits and costs of coercion are in tension with one another. States balance the reputational benefit of coercion against the economic and geopolitical costs. In particular, the book elaborates on how the globalized production and supply chains affect states’ foreign and security policies, connecting international political economy and international security.