Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Philosophy (MPHIL)


Political Sciences


Recent research on power shift, or the change in relative power of states in an international structure, has focused on how states adapt to strategic difficulties. As a key change in international politics, scholars have long discussed how states react strategically to power shift. One school in international studies, neorealism, emphasizes the prime importance of security affairs over other strategic concerns in an anarchic international structure. It explores states’ dilemma in choosing between balancing a more powerful state or bandwagoning with it. While this approach sheds important insights on the study of international politics, the parsimony of neorealism suffers from a lot of criticisms and challenges. Among these, argument on the multi-faced nature of a state’s strategic interests has gained the strongest traction.

Power shift profoundly impacts the Asia-Pacific region. The rise of China, for example, draws concerns for changing distribution of power in the region and around the globe. Others regional states, especially secondary powers, have to redefine their strategies to adapt to the changing geopolitical landscape. However, strategic choices of these states are barely studied. Australia’s reaction to the power shift, for instance, challenges the neorealists’ “balancing versus bandwagoning” model. Australia’s search for her own regional position is filtered through its threat perception. Seeing ideological differences with a rising China, Australian politicians have continuously tried to engage China to gain profit while remaining skeptical about a more assertive China. This thesis challenges the balancing literature and investigates why hedging has been the strategic response used by Australia to deal with the power shift.

This research analyzes and interprets Australia’s strategic dilemma with evidence collected from the Australian government, academics, and media. This thesis affirms the neorealists’ position on the predominance of self-help principle in international politics. However, it also tries to move further to argue that security is the principle that cannot be over-emphasized. Australia simultaneously maximizes her strategic interests, which include security interests and economic interests. Principally, Australia aims at maintaining her status quo position while concurrently balancing against a rising China and bandwagoning with China economically for profit-maximization. By managing the strategic risk posed by China and not turning the China problem into China threat, Australia cautiously decides on her strategic response to prevent a riskier situation.

Recommended Citation

Yeung, M. K. (2016). Balancing versus bandwagoning: The strategic dilemma of Australia’s China policy (Master's thesis, Lingnan University, Hong Kong). Retrieved from