Winning Friends and Influencing People with Guns: Understanding the Growth of China's Military Diplomacy
Smith, Steven J.
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Beginning in roughly 2002, China’s once reclusive military commenced upon a steadily expanding program of military diplomacy activity that now includes dozens of annual engagements with scores of states involving thousands of personnel. This dissertation seeks to understand the factors that have contributed to the remarkable rise in Chinese military diplomacy activity during the decade from 2002 to 2012. More specifically, the dissertation focuses on examining two of the common, yet understudied, assertions in the literature on Chinese military diplomacy. The first assertion is that the growth of China’s military diplomacy is due to China’s desire to protect its growing international economic interests. The second assertion is that China uses its military diplomacy activities to promulgate positive images of the state to its domestic and international audiences, using these images to promote China’s international status. This dissertation examines these two assertions by formulating complete arguments for each, beginning with the relevant theoretical foundations and then linking these theories to the empirical patterns of behavior manifest by two representative case studies: the People Liberation Army’s combined exercises with other states and its humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) engagements. Examination of the first assertion regarding China’s international economic interests as a driver of China’s expanding military diplomacy reveals significant correlations between China’s major trading partners, the global transportation routes upon which China depends for its commercial prosperity, and the states China chooses to engage in combined exercises and HA/DR operations. Examination of the second assertion regarding the use of military diplomacy as a means to promote positive images of the state likewise reveals patterns of activity that support the hypothesis. The economic and political attributes of the states China chooses to engage, Beijing’s characterization of those engagements, and the sizes of those engagements are calculated to satisfy the expectations of China’s domestic audiences for manifestations of China’s improving international status while also acknowledging international wariness regarding China’s increasing international security presence. To be sure, China’s expanding military diplomacy activity is motivated by multiple factors, each of which deserves further study. However, this dissertation makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how China’s economic interests and image building goals relate to China’s growing international security presence. Given the tensions inherent in China’s rise, understanding these factors is of value to policymakers in the United States and elsewhere who must understand how and why China’s international military activity is changing as they consider strategic responses.