- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

How Domestic Forces Shape the PRC’s Grand Strategy & International Impact

Kenneth Lieberthal


This chapter examines China’s international goals and impact through the lens of domestic politics and internal changes and assesses how these factors shape China’s grand strategy.

Main Argument

China’s grand strategy seeks to sustain rapid domestic economic development for another decade or more. Economic success has vastly enhanced the PRC’s global importance. Internal requirements strongly affect the PRC’s approach to and impact on the international arena. These concerns make credible China’s declared need for long-term peace to achieve national development goals. The nature of China’s development and the measures to sustain it, however, pose challenges for the U.S. and others.

Policy Implications

  • Given the momentum of its development, barring major disruptions China’s international importance will continue to grow rapidly in the next five years.
  • The U.S. and China share fundamental interests in many traditional and nontraditional security and economic areas and have developed an impressive capacity for collaboration. Underlying mutual distrust is growing, however, with potentially costly future consequences.
  • Traditional U.S. engagement of China is no longer sufficient. "Focused engagement"—according far greater importance to the extent to which Beijing partners with Washington on issues most critical to the future relationship—would be a more effective new approach.
  • China will more likely act as an international stakeholder if the U.S. frames U.S.-China issues objectively, initiates serious efforts to address them, and credibly signals a willingness to engage in long-term bilateral cooperation.
  • By resuscitating its regional diplomacy and addressing Asia’s critical regional economic, environmental, and nontraditional security issues, Washington can strengthen the U.S. position in Asia and reduce the negative effects of China’s growing role and influence there.