Lukas K. Danner. 2018. China’s Grand Strategy: Contradictory Foreign Policy?

AuthorRamnath Reghunadhan
Published date01 April 2020
Date01 April 2020
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Lukas K. Danner. 2018. China’s Grand Strategy: Contradictory
Foreign Policy? Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. 207 pp.
ISBN: 978-3-319-65777-6.
Lukas K. Danner’s book, China’s Grand Strategy: Contradictory Foreign Policy?,
provides an overarching, uncommon and relatively ingenious theoretical approach
to the foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over a period of
nearly two decades. This has been a period when China has been increasingly
portrayed by a largely Western-oriented and sometimes biased media and
academia as a country with mixed foreign policy strategies and policy oscillations.
The author uses a process-tracing method within case studies to provide an
exhaustive study on how the PRC’s foreign policy has been and still is misconstrued
by various state actors, particularly by successive US administrations. As the
author himself puts it,
there are several different viewpoints about China’s grand strategy… First, some schol-
ars believe that China either has no grand strategy and is still in search of one or is
merely acting pragmatically. Second, there is an argument that China does have a grand
strategy but it is contradictory one. Third, some observers have argued that it is not in
China’s culture to have one coherent grand strategy but rather to seek a middle way.
And fourth, China may be shifting from ‘Peaceful Development’ to another grand strat-
egy. (p. 5)
The essence of Danner’s analysis lies with this understanding that there is a
divergence in understanding China’s foreign policy shaped in no small part by its
ostensible contradictions. Danner accounts for the various approaches to the
PRC’s grand strategy by arguing that it is actually driven by the concept of
‘honour’, which is extended to include the motivations fear, reputation and
legitimacy of the PRC. This is comprehensively conducted through the framework
laid down by Richard Ned Lebow’s cultural motive approach in understanding
international relations. According to Danner, Lebow considers honour as a
function of self-esteem, which in turn, forms and influences identity. Honour also
feeds into a state’s status, standing and prestige. In the Chinese case, Danner
opines that it should be considered as among ‘honour societies’. Although honour
is not the only factor that determines Chinese actions in the international stage, ‘it
is the most important driver’ that should help understand what many consider as
China’s ‘contradictory behaviour’. Honour is the part and parcel of China’s grand
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
7(1) 124–137, 2020
The Author 2020
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2347797020906653
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