Sanctions with Chinese characteristics : the effects of China's sanctions rhetoric on its behaviour
Poh, Angela Ming Yan
Date of Issue2018
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
There is a widespread perception that China’s international influence and assertiveness have grown since the 2008/2009 financial crisis, particularly under the Xi Jinping administration. China’s increasing military assertiveness over maritime and territorial disputes has been a cause for concern for many countries. However, China’s use of coercive economic measures does not appear to be as clear-cut, particularly since economic relations have continued to grow between China and countries with which it has political and territorial disputes. Given the conventional belief among scholars and practitioners of international relations that economic sanctions are a middle ground between diplomatic and military/paramilitary action, an empirical puzzle arises: Why has China – widely perceived as an assertive rising power – appeared relatively restrained in its use of economic sanctions? This puzzle will be the core research question for this study. More specifically, this study examines the extent to which China has employed economic sanctions as a political tool, as well as the factors influencing China’s sanctions behaviour. Using a wide range of methods and data – including interviews conducted with 71 current and former politicians, policymakers, diplomats and private actors across 12 countries – this study provides a systematic investigation into the ways in which Chinese decision-makers have approached the use of sanctions both at the UNSC and unilaterally. Drawing from the existing literature on audience costs and rhetorical entrapment, I develop a theory to explain why, how and when states’ rhetoric affects foreign policy behaviour, including the ways in which sanctions are employed. Following which, based on archival research and content analysis, I show how China has perceived itself as a continuous target of Western sanctions and stigmatisation, and has used rhetoric to counter-stigmatise the US and its allies by suggesting that their approaches to sanctions are illegitimate. I argue that China’s longstanding sanctions rhetoric – targeted at counter-stigmatising the US and its allies – has a constraining effect on its behaviour, resulting in its inability to employ sanctions in complete alignment with its immediate political and economic interests. China remains keen to credibly redefine understandings outside its own borders regarding the conditions under which sanctions can legitimately be employed. Therefore, Chinese decision-makers are frequently pressured to align their behaviour with rhetoric when other actors trigger international audience costs for China by using rhetorical action such as shaming or flattery to draw international attention to any deviations between China’s sanctions rhetoric and behaviour. To test my theory empirically, I examine the factors affecting China’s voting behaviour at the UNSC with respect to proposed UN sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (2006-2016); Syria (2011-2016); and Guinea-Bissau (2012); as well as its use and non-use of unilateral economic sanctions against eight potential targets from 2008 to 2017: France (2008); United States (2010); Japan (2010); Norway (2010); the Philippines (2012); Vietnam (2014); Taiwan (2016) and the Republic of Korea (2017).
DRNTU::Social sciences::Political science