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Published in International Politics, 49(3) 2012: 318-45.
The question of China’s grand strategy is of great importance for understanding the international impact of China’s rise. Both Western and Chinese scholars dispute whether China has developed a coherent grand strategy in the reform era. The main reason for the controversy seems to lie as much in theoretical and methodological assumptions about defining and analysing grand strategy as in empirical validity. This article contributes to the debate by adopting a novel theoretical approach to analysing grand strategy by seeing it as the conjunction of national interests and strategic ideas. It examines China’s evolving national interests and strategic ideas in the reform period in order to clarify the exploratory, evolutionary and adaptive nature of policy change. China cannot be said to have developed a premeditated grand strategy during this period. Even though one may still be able to rationalise elements of China’s foreign policies into a grand strategy, it comes at the cost of missing their changing nature.