Geostrategic Implications of China’s Twin Economic Challenges - By CWP Alumni William J. Norris

Monday, Jan 8, 2018

China’s economic development is entering a phase in which its old growth model is reaching its limit. The Chinese government has embarked on an effort to reorient the economy from an investmentand export-driven model toward one predicated on a larger role for consumption and market forces. At the same time that Chinese policymakers are attempting this structural reorientation, China is also experiencing what many observers consider to be a new normal of much slower economic growth. Although both of these economic phenomena are likely to carry independent foreign policy and security considerations, they could also interact to uniquely affect Chinese foreign policy and security behavior. U.S. policymakers should carefully consider how China’s foreign policy could be affected by those twin economic challenges. The economic downturn and concomitant structural shift in China’s economy has already begun affecting its foreign policy. Security, not economics, is becoming one of President Xi Jinping’s—and China’s—top strategic priorities. As China’s economy reorients domestically and becomes less reliant on international ties, it will likely become less constrained. Moreover, the current economic slowdown and reorientation in China is uncharted territory for the country’s rise; navigating this novel terrain could be more dangerous than is commonly realized. To prepare for such eventualities, the United States needs to remain flexible in its strategic assessment of China’s grand strategy. Some of the strategic assumptions that motivated a rising China’s grand strategy may no longer weigh as heavily, and U.S. policy should be nimble enough to revisit those assumptions and adjust as necessary.


Dr. William Norris is currently a professor of Chinese foreign and security policy at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University where he teaches graduate-level courses in Chinese domestic politics, East Asian security, and Chinese foreign policy. He is also a non-resident associate with the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C. where his work examines the potential for a conventional US-China conflict to escalate to the nuclear realm. Dr. Norris has been a postdoctoral research associate at the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs and a fellow in the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program, a joint program created by the two universities to foster the study of China’s foreign relations. He completed his doctoral work in the Security Studies Program in the Department of Political Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he specialized in the confluence of economics and security, focusing on the role of economics in contemporary Chinese grand strategy.

William Norris Photo


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