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

Tensions Rise as Washington Rejects Beijing’s Maritime Claims

Tensions Rise as Washington Rejects Beijing’s Maritime Claims

Thursday, July 23, 2020

By: Brian Harding; Vikram J. Singh

Based on what Beijing calls “historic rights,” China claims vast swaths of the South China Sea, including waters and features also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei. With no reference to international law, China’s “nine-dash-line” encompasses 80 percent of the South China Sea reaching as far south as more than 1,000 nautical miles from the China’s coast, within 50 nautical miles of Malaysia. Within these waters lie features occupied by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Taiwan, including three artificial islands that China built in 2012 and has since developed into military bases.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

A Rising China Has Pacific Islands in Its Sights

A Rising China Has Pacific Islands in Its Sights

Thursday, July 23, 2020

By: Ashish Kumar Sen

As part of its bid to expand its influence across the world, China is emerging as an important diplomatic and economic partner for the small and far-flung Pacific Islands countries, but its engagement comes with challenges. As the economies of the Pacific Islands countries reel in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese loans and aid are likely to become even more important in the coming months. China’s growing footprint in the region also brings a strategic challenge to the United States’ doorstep at a time when the U.S.-China relationship is under considerable strain.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Beijing Builds Global Support for Draconian Hong Kong Law

Beijing Builds Global Support for Draconian Hong Kong Law

Thursday, July 16, 2020

By: Jennifer Staats ; Rachel Vandenbrink

China’s new national security legislation went into effect in Hong Kong late on June 30, giving Beijing new tools to control public discourse in the city, eliminating freedom of speech, mandating digital surveillance, and granting China extraterritorial powers to enforce the new law. In response, the United States has revoked Hong Kong’ special economic status and joined other democracies in condemning the law. Yet, a number of other countries have voiced their support for the legislation. By building a coalition of support for the new national security law, Beijing is not only tightening its grip on Hong Kong, but also trying to delegitimize critiques of China’s own domestic policies or system of government and strengthen global opposition to democratic values and the notion of universal human rights.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy; Democracy & Governance

View All Publications