The PRC's changing moral and realist perceptions toward territorial disputes

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Journal article

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Issues and Studies

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Territorial disputes, ideology, nationalism, norms


Cultural and institutional norms shape state identity, which in turn determines a country’s national security definition and foreign policy. In order to understand the national security and foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), we must examine the perception of the Chinese people and elite regarding their country’s historical and contemporary role in international affairs. The PRC has longstanding boundary disputes with the former Soviet Union/Russia and India, and maritime territorial disputes with Japan and Southeast Asian countries. Chinese resentment against past imperialist aggression, and conceptions of what is right or natural as part of their political world-view and diplomatic discourse, must therefore be taken into account in assessing the PRC’s policy toward heightening, negotiating, or settling these territorial disputes with its neighbors. This paper argues that different territorial disputes with different countries took on different saliency at different times, depending on how the PRC leadership defined and redefined its national interest. This redefinition, moreover, accords with the reordering of the state’s norms and identity—from being a revolutionary power promoting a world ideology, to an Asian power reorienting toward regional interests, to a prospective world power tentatively participating in multilateral cooperation. As such, while some disputes are settled or rendered irrelevant as ideological considerations, national identity, and interest definitions change, others are magnified or new disputes may even appear.

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Recommended Citation

Chung, C.-p. (2000). The PRC's changing moral and realist perceptions toward territorial disputes. Issues & Studies, 36(5), 176-196.

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