China seems to strive to redefine the global order around sovereignty and a strong state. Yet is China engaging in a constitutive process shaped by the global economy; or is it an imperial power pursuing national sovereignty at any cost? In the West, there are very different answers to this question. This ambiguity is not by design but rather indicates that China lacks a coherent vision for the world. If the EU is to exploit this, it needs to understand why.
Despite its immense power, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sees the international system as a threat to its stability. Therefore, the party-state – far from constructing a vision of world order playing to its authoritarian strengths – melds its foreign policy around its domestic vulnerabilities. China’s commitment to sovereign prerogatives is thus defensive and reflects the CCP’s vulnerability and fragmentation. The many components of China’s foreign policy institutions are adept at using the language of the strong-state to pursue their own individual goals. Given its internal vulnerabilities, China cannot offer a coherent vision for global order to compete with the West. But China‘s style of foreign policy will still challenge Europe because it undermines trust in existing international institutions. Europe has some potential to influence an inward-looking China and the countries gravitating toward it. But it can only realize it if it better understands how China assesses the world through the prism of its peculiar internal splits and vulnerabilities. Download the full paper here.