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

Six Challenges for the Biden Administration’s China Policy

Six Challenges for the Biden Administration’s China Policy

Thursday, February 18, 2021

By: Jacob Stokes

Last week, President Biden held a call with General Secretary Xi Jinping, China’s paramount leader. They reportedly talked for more than two hours, a length that, combined with the call readouts, suggests a weighty and potentially heated conversation. Ties between Washington and Beijing have become strained in recent years as the world’s two biggest powers locked horns over geopolitics, technology, economics, and values. Bilateral relations have entered a new and more difficult phase—even as the global environment is characterized by many pressing issues that would benefit from cooperative efforts to address them. In this context, U.S. policymakers will face six major challenges in dealing with China.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy; Conflict Analysis & Prevention

China: The International Community is Failing Xinjiang’s Uyghurs

China: The International Community is Failing Xinjiang’s Uyghurs

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

By: Lauren Baillie; Rachel Vandenbrink

Documented evidence of large-scale human rights abuses in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region has painted a clear picture that Beijing is perpetrating mass atrocities against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim ethnic groups. But even in the face of transparent evidence, the strategies the international community and the United States typically deploy to prevent atrocities have failed to stop the problem. The United States and like-minded countries have an obligation to act to end the ongoing atrocities and to protect the Uyghur people. While many important steps have been taken, none have had a noticeable impact on Beijing. It’s time for the international community to take stock of the atrocity prevention toolkit, to consider why it has failed the Uyghurs, and to discuss how these failures can inform updates or adaptations to respond to the Xinjiang crisis.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Human Rights; Global Policy

View All Publications