Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Realism with a Redemptive Edge: A Self-Image Theory of Chinese Behavior in East Asian Territorial Disputes
Authors: Citron, Tobias
Advisors: Kohli, Atul
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2015
Abstract: This thesis focuses on better understanding Chinese foreign policy with respect to East Asian land disputes, particularly when world powers have been historically involved. Therefore, my motivating research questions are: what interests does China try to maximize in these instances, and secondarily, why might China behave in the way it does? I frame this paper in a theoretical international relations discussion, proposing two theories as possibilities for explaining Chinese behavior. The first, structural realism, posits that balance of power and strategic considerations are most important in states’ decision-making and policy stances. Nations will maximize the national interest of security and improved distribution of power and seek military and economic gain. The second, a tweaked form of classical realism, most generally also sees states as maximizing a shared national interest. However, the classical framework sees more flexibility in what can constitute and mold that national interest, meaning that states, although in rational pursuit, do not necessarily solely focus on strategic priorities. My refined classical realist hypothesis places self-image squarely at the center of this national interest. I define self-image as composed of influences such as identity, culture, and history. As a result, this theory predicts that China will seek to maximize interests related to these factors when carrying out its foreign policy decisions. I ultimately side with a version of the latter theory, hypothesizing that self-image is the guiding factor when China engages in these kinds of regional territorial disputes. Importantly, however, China will seek to enhance its strategic standing as well, according to structural realist predictions, if that opportunity presents itself, which it does in unique cases. Although the majority of this thesis focuses on proving the superiority of this theory, it also proposes an independent variable to explain why China behaves this way: a history of humiliation with respect to the territories I discuss that gives China incentive to prioritize self-image so heavily. My methodology focuses on testing observable implications we should expect to see should the different theories be correct against the historical facts of the case. Although this thesis does not recommend whether the U.S. should view China as an ally or enemy, it provides some potentially successfully bargaining positions to take with respect to China, along with pinpointing some stances that are destined to fail. Finally, I hope this thesis paints a picture of China not as malicious, but as motivated by reasons easily relatable and understandable, perhaps forecasting a future of additional Sino-U.S. cooperation.
Extent: 130 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2017

Files in This Item:
File SizeFormat 
PUTheses2015-Citron_Tobias.pdf3.04 MBAdobe PDF    Request a copy

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.