China’s foreign policy is expanding in scope and depth and now reaches across the globe. Yet its diplomatic efforts focus on its own complex neighborhood. To advance these interests, China’s leaders practice an interlocking set of foreign affairs activities they refer to as “periphery diplomacy.” This report details the main tools Beijing uses to engage the countries with which it shares borders, assesses the campaign’s effectiveness, and lays out the implications for peace and security in Asia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping during the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires on December 1, 2018. (Photo by Tom Brenner/New York Times)
Chinese President Xi Jinping during the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires on December 1, 2018. (Photo by Tom Brenner/New York Times)

Summary

  • China is expanding its influence around the world, yet the heart of its diplomatic efforts still lies in its own complex neighborhood. To advance the country’s interests in the region, Chinese leaders practice an interlocking set of foreign affairs activities they group under the umbrella of “periphery diplomacy.”
  • China’s strategic rationales for working more closely with its neighbors include upholding the security of its border, expanding trade and investment networks, and preventing a geopolitical balancing coalition.
  • Beijing uses a range of tools for periphery diplomacy, including deepening economic integration, engaging neighboring major powers, and at times using coercion to achieve its aims.
  • Although states around China’s periphery welcome trade and investment ties with Beijing, China’s more assertive actions in recent years have engendered fear and wariness about Chinese intentions.
  • The United States should track China’s periphery diplomacy closely, help provide viable alternatives to investment and trade with Beijing, take steps to blunt Chinese coercion tools, and cultivate and expand regional cooperation in Asia.

About the Report

This report evaluates how China develops and executes foreign policy toward its neighbors under Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping—specifically, the interlocking set of activities Beijing calls periphery diplomacy. 

About the Author

Jacob Stokes is a senior policy analyst in the China program within the Asia Center at the United States Institute of Peace. Previously on the national security staff of Vice President Joe Biden, where he covered Asian security issues, Stokes also served as a professional staff member for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a foreign policy advisor in the US Senate, and a fellow at the Center for a New American Security. His analysis has been published in Foreign Affairs, Defense One, The National Interest, and Orbis, among other outlets.

Related Publications

Beijing Legislation Reignites Hong Kong Protests

Beijing Legislation Reignites Hong Kong Protests

Thursday, May 28, 2020

By: Patricia M. Kim; Rachel Vandenbrink

In Hong Kong, protesters have once again taken to the streets to push back against China’s efforts to assert further control over the territory. After a year of intense demonstrations calling for greater autonomy from the mainland, Hong Kong is now facing proposed legislation from Beijing that would broadly curtail citizens’ rights and freedoms. USIP’s Patricia Kim and Rachel Vandenbrink examine the proposed legislation, how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the situation, and what the U.S. can do in response.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

Jacob Stokes on China’s Hong Kong Policy

Jacob Stokes on China’s Hong Kong Policy

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

By: Jacob Stokes

After Beijing passed a new law curtailing freedom in Hong Kong, protests have again erupted in the territory. USIP’s Jacob Stokes says Hong Kong’s democracy poses a threat to Beijing’s legitimacy, and that if China “can’t produce enough economic growth … then that threat … becomes much more acute.”

Type: Podcast

Democracy & Governance

China Using Pandemic Aid to Push Myanmar Economic Corridor

China Using Pandemic Aid to Push Myanmar Economic Corridor

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

By: Jason Tower

From almost the moment Myanmar detected its first case of COVID-19 on March 23, China jumped to aid its neighbor to the south. China’s army, navy, and government agencies, as well as companies, showered nearly every level of Myanmar’s government and military with health assistance. The question for Myanmar civil society groups was whether the help came with strings attached. On May 21, they got their answer: After a phone call between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Myanmar’s President U Win Myint about COVID-19 response and Chinese assistance, Xi moved to a second agenda item—the implementation of 33 cooperative economic agreements signed during his historic visit to Myanmar in January. Of particular concern: co-construction of the multi-billion-dollar China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment; Global Health

View All Publications