U.S. POLICYMAKERS HAVE struggled to come up with the right way to handle China as it grows into a superpower. Before they fasten on a specific approach, they should tune in to the debates raging among China's elite about its foreign policy, writes David Shambaugh, a political scientist at George Washington University.
The questions before the Chinese are fundamental: Should China be active in global affairs or isolationist? Should it draw on its military and economic might to reach its objectives or should it use soft power--diplomacy and culture? How much should China continue to focus on its relations with the United States?
In the swirl of these discussions, "realists"--who place "a premium on building up a strong state that can navigate its own way in the world and resist outside pressures"--currently dominate. Realism has a long tradition in China, with academics, policy researchers, and members of the military among its influential adherents. Realists reject "concepts and policies of globalization, transnational challenges, and global governance" in favor of a narrowly self-interested foreign policy. Recent U.S. moves that are seen as hostile--such as the sale of a $6 billion arms package to Taiwan--and China's humming economy have stoked realist sentiment.
China's nativist school advocates an isolationist foreign policy, arguing that China should avoid virtually all forms of international collaboration. Nativists, found mostly in the ideological wing of the Communist Party, are severely critical of capitalism and the United States, and believe that reform has compromised China's socialist integrity and autonomy. …