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China's President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China December 7, 2018. Fred Dufour/Pool via REUTERS - RC13E2330A20

Revolution or evolution? Xi Jinping and the future of China’s foreign policy

The future of U.S.-China relations has not been so uncertain since before the normalization of relations in 1979. There are acute differences over fundamental issues, ranging from governance models to economic practices to human rights to strategic issues.

Because this spike in tensions has coincided with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power, many in the United States associate the downturn in relations with Xi. The prevailing narrative in the United States is that President Xi is determined to take China in a new direction, a direction that many experts on China describe as increasingly illiberal at home and aggressive abroad.

To critically assess this narrative—which could have profound policy consequences—Tarun Chhabra of the Brookings Project on International Order and Strategy and Ryan Hass of the Brookings John L. Thornton China Center have assembled nine experts who are compelling, new voices in the field of China studies in both academia and the policy world.

On some questions, such as whether domestic political pressure is likely to cause Xi to pursue diversionary conflict, the contributors disagree. They generally converge, however, on the conclusion that Chinese foreign policy reflects more continuity than change under Xi’s leadership, and that, as a consequence, significant changes to current policy will be needed to ensure the United States can compete vigorously against an ambitious and aggressive China.

This series of papers on China’s foreign policy raises the curtain on a major, forthcoming Brookings Foreign Policy initiative: a two-year, comprehensive assessment of a rising China’s growing global influence.

As Beijing more assertively challenges fundamental U.S. and allied interests, this rigorous research initiative is designed to furnish policymakers and the public with a new baseline for understanding China’s regional and global ambitions.

Led by Brookings Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy Bruce Jones, the initiative will draw not only on Brookings’s deep bench of China experts, but also the tremendous breadth of its security, strategy, regional studies, and economic development experts. By tapping more than 70 resident and non-resident Brookings scholars, it will assess the trajectory of China’s influence in Asia and other regions, as well as its growing influence on key issue domains and institutions.

Areas of focus will include the trajectory of China’s domestic institutions and foreign policy; strategic competition and great power rivalry; East Asian security; China’s influence in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Oceania; and China’s influence on global governance and norms.

More details will be announced in March 2019.

In a new series, Brookings scholars and former White House National Security Council colleagues Tarun Chhabra and Ryan Hass present 9 new expert voices on China, focusing on how—and how much—Xi Jinping has shaped the trajectory of China’s ambitious foreign policy.

China has been aggressively consolidating control over contested territories in the South and East China seas since at least 2006—well before Xi Jinping took power, writes Andrew Chubb.

Chinese economic statecraft like the Belt and Road Initiative is sometimes effective, sometimes not, argues Audrye Wong.

Under Xi Jinping, China has increased its regional security engagement—Abigail Grace explains what is behind it and what it means.

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