Country Report: China (December 2023)


In late 2023, Chinese analysts devoted significant attention to the Indo-Pacific. One analyst examined the implementation of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy under the Biden administration, while evaluating internal and external factors that may limit its success. Others considered how Japan’s view of India has shifted from that of a “swing state” to that of an “indispensable partner” as Japan develops its own Indo-Pacific strategy in the context of US-China competition. A third article theorized that ASEAN has adopted a strategy of institutional hedging as it seeks to maintain ASEAN centrality in the face of a US Indo-Pacific Strategy that threatens to displace it from its regional role, while also maintaining autonomy from China. These articles share a focus on the implications for China of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Indo-Pacific strategies adopted by other actors, recognizing that Sino–US competition forms the backdrop for all these policies and that the US focus on the Indo-Pacific has spurred other countries to respond in ways that complicate China’s strategic picture. Another Chinese analysis explored the closer trilateral relationship between the United States, Japan, and South Korea, arguing that it has further destabilized Northeast Asia. A final article explored the evolution of Russia’s “international positioning” in the international system and the implications for its policy in Ukraine, tracing Russia’s transition from follower and participant to shaper and challenger.

The US Indo-Pacific Strategy

In Heping yu Fazhan, 2023, no. 5, Chen Jimin evaluates the strengths and limitations of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy. Chen argues that the US Indo-Pacific Strategy rests on four key foundations: First, US presence in the Pacific dates back two centuries. Chen traces the evolution of US involvement in the Pacific from an early nineteenth century focus on trade and missionary work to a more expansionary policy that began in the late nineteenth century, particularly after the Spanish-American War. He argues that this long history of relations between the United States and various countries in the region forms the historical basis for contemporary US strategy. A second key foundation is US material power: Chen asserts that, despite economic challenges, the United States remains the world’s leader in terms of comprehensive national strength. This economic, technological, and military superiority, supported by a strong education system and relatively favorable demographic trends, aids the implementation of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy. A third favorable factor is regional geopolitics. Some countries, fearing perceived threats from China or wanting to maintain their autonomy by balancing between great powers, seek closer relations with the United States. Finally, Chen points to the United States’ rise from a small, weak power to a major power and then to the world’s sole superpower as a source of strategic experience. Chen claims that the United States has learned to use great power conflicts to advance its own interests and understands how to balance global participation with continued economic development (the latter point is particularly notable because greater global influence and stable economic growth are two key objectives for Chinese strategists).

Based on these strengths, Chen argues, the US implementation of the Indo-Pacific Strategy has experienced some significant progress since it was first developed by the Trump administration. Although the United States did not originate the concept of the “Indo-Pacific” and many countries have their own versions of an Indo-Pacific strategy, the US emphasis on the Indo-Pacific has greatly increased the global prominence of the “Indo-Pacific” as a concept and a region. Furthermore, a domestic consensus between Republicans and Democrats has formed around the key importance of the Indo-Pacific in US strategy. Under the Trump administration, the Indo-Pacific Strategy was primarily focused on military and security concerns and implementation was somewhat limited by the contradictions between the policy and Trump’s disregard for the US alliance system. The Biden administration has continued the focus on the Indo-Pacific region, but has more fully implemented the strategy by adding diplomatic and economic components and by returning to a more multilateral approach. Chen argues that the US Indo-Pacific Strategy poses a threat to Chinese interests by directly impacting Chinese sovereignty claims and security, negatively affecting its regional environment and its prospects for continued economic development, and forcing China to reallocate resources to the Asia-Pacific.

Nevertheless, Chen argues that US efforts to implement the Indo-Pacific Strategy face both internal and external limitations. A key limitation, in Chen’s view, is the flawed goals of the strategy. Chen argues that the US policy is driven by offensive realism: the United States seeks to maintain hegemony and views China as a strategic competitor. However, Chen vehemently rejects US assumptions about China’s intentions, citing Deng’s and Xi’s assertions that China does not seek hegemony. Regardless, Chen argues that the US strategy is doomed to fail because it cannot prevent China’s continued development of the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Sticking closely to the official narrative, Chen does not consider how Chinese actions might support other countries’ views that China’s intent is not as benign as he claims. Chen further accuses the United States of applying “twentieth century thinking” to the twenty-first century; the US strategy, in his view, reflects both colonialism and a zero-sum Cold War approach. Domestic political and economic constraints are a second internal limitation. Chen points to the political paralysis that results from US political polarization; the two parties might agree, broadly speaking, on Indo-Pacific strategy, but the mechanisms of policymaking have ground to a halt. Furthermore, the Biden administration’s financial investment in domestic manufacturing and other areas undermines its ability to invest in the Indo-Pacific.

The other limitations that Chen identifies are external to the United States in the sense that they involve the decisions of actors other than the United States. One is the flawed nature of the US alliance system. US efforts to increase “responsibility sharing” with its allies raise questions about its ability to continue to provide public goods to the region—and if the United States no longer provides these public goods, Chen wonders how long US allies with remain loyal. Furthermore, each country in the region has its own strategy, often involving a different understanding of the geographical scope of the “Indo-Pacific.” While some countries want to bind the US to the region to balance China, Chen argues that most want to avoid choosing sides and do not want to find themselves stuck in the middle of a great power competition. Another external variable is the “China factor.” The United States must calibrate its actions to avoid escalating competition with China to the point of conflict. The success of China’s own regional foreign policy in shoring up its diplomatic relations will also pose a constraint on the US strategy. A final factor is the global security situation. The recent conflicts between Russia and Ukraine and between Israel and Hamas highlight how unexpected conflagrations can divert US attention and resources away from the Indo-Pacific. Ultimately, Chen concludes, citing Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis, the success of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy will depend on whether it can develop the means to support its objectives.

The Role of India in Japan’s Indo-Pacific Strategy

In Nanya Yanjiu, 2023, no. 3, Yang Siling and Gao Huiping argue that Japan has come to see India as an “indispensable partner” in its Indo-Pacific strategy. Yang and Gao argue that Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy is motivated by its desire to achieve “smart power” status. Smart powers gain influence through alliances, institutions, ideas, and diplomacy, rather than by relying only on more traditional means like the military and economic influence. To this end, Japan is interested in building relations with many partners, including India, rather than solely focusing on its security alliance with the United States.

When Japan first developed its Indo-Pacific strategy it viewed India as a “swing state.” It recognized India’s reticence to participate in its Indo-Pacific strategy because of its tradition of non-alignment and its shared interests with China, but also understood that India viewed China with “strategic anxiety.” As Sino–Indian relations worsened, Japan came to see India as more receptive to cooperation against a perceived Chinese threat, a shift underlined by the increased frequency of high-level visits after 2014. Yang and Gao argue that Japan sees India as an indispensable partner in its Indo-Pacific strategy for several key reasons. First, they view India as a potential great power, given its rapid economic growth and large population. Second, Japan has become increasingly anxious about China. Yang and Gao contend that Japan’s support for Ukraine and, specifically, Kishida’s assertion that “Today’s Ukraine may be tomorrow’s East Asia,” is actually fundamentally targeted at China, rather than Russia. As Japan’s anxiety rises and Sino–Indian relations worsen, Japan sees an opportunity to strengthen its position against China through closer relations with India. Finally, Japan sees its Indo-Pacific strategy as key to its own “rejuvenation;” this strategy supports Japan’s efforts to regain military power, restore political power, strengthen economic power, and create a new Japan-led regional order. India is less likely than other countries to be alarmed by Japan’s military and political ambitions because it was never colonized by Japan. Furthermore, India’s vast markets provide enormous opportunities for the stagnant Japanese economy. As China and the United States compete against each other, Japan sees an opportunity to lead India, Australia, and ASEAN to create an alternate source of power and influence in the region.

Yang and Gao claim that Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategy seeks to create a regional order regulated by the Quad. Japan wants to guard against the perceived China threat, while guiding US behavior through minilateralism. This objective has resulted in three strategic directions, with India playing a key role in each. The first involves the East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and the South China Sea, where Japan expects India to cooperate with the strategy led by the United States and promoted by Japan. The second is to decrease the reliance of ASEAN members, especially Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand, on China. Consequently, Japan supports India’s “Act East” policy. The third involves the Bay of Bengal, specifically India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. Given India’s greater influence in this region, Japan hopes that it can collaborate with India to develop the regional economy.

Yang and Gao argue that Japan’s interactions with India are increasingly characterized by minilateralism, which emphasizes both security and economics. Examples include the security-oriented Japan–India–Vietnam relationship and the economically oriented Japan–India–Bangladesh relationship. Rather that ask India to overtly commit to containing China, Japan instead persuades India to expand its minilateral participation, thereby bringing it into cooperative mechanisms that function to limit China’s influence. By building these minilateral mechanisms, Japan can harness the influence of regional partners and reduce its reliance on the US–Japan security alliance to counter China. Furthermore, by building its regional “smart power,” Yang and Gao argue, Japan can build support for its pursuit of hard power, namely remilitarization.

Nevertheless, India will not necessarily act as Japan wishes it to act. India is willing to join the Quad, but its preferences are not fully aligned with those of Japan or the United States, and it will continue to avoid public criticism of China. In addition, Yang and Gao contend, India lacks the power to help Japan pull continental Southeast Asian countries away from China. The dominance of protectionist voices has also prevented India from participating in RCEP or the trade and investment pillar of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, limiting its economic engagement with Southeast Asia. While India welcomes Japanese investment in the Bay of Bengal, it is wary that Japan’s presence will diminish India’s regional dominance. In the end, Yang and Gao assert, India is neither interested in helping the United States maintain its hegemony nor in helping Japan to establish a leading regional role as a “smart power.” India seeks a multipolar Asia that gives rise to a multipolar world order, meaning that it will not be willing to accept the dominance of any regional power, whether China or Japan. India’s core goal is to maximize its interests while maintaining strategic autonomy.

Despite these limitations, Yang and Gao conclude that Japan’s investment in India as an “indispensable partner” is pragmatic. Japan believes that ongoing diplomatic engagement will shift India’s position over the long run. This strategy may already be paying off; Yang and Gao argue that the downturn in Sino–Indian relations is related to India’s warming to the containment efforts of Japan and the United States. In this context, Sino–Indian relations are unlikely to improve significantly. However, they ominously predict that Japan’s efforts to unite with India against China will cause geopolitical competition to expand from economic issues to the security sphere and result in military conflict. To prevent such an outcome and to achieve its desired “smart power” status, Yang and Gao suggest, Japan should treat China as its crucial partner in creating a new regional order.

ASEAN’s Hedging toward China and the United States

In Dangdai Yatai, 2023, no. 4, Jiang Zhida proposes a theory of institutional hedging to explain ASEAN’s attempts to maintain ASEAN centrality in the face of Sino–US competition. Jiang argues that the US Indo-Pacific Strategy first proposed by Trump seeks to create a US-centered regional architecture and therefore threatens to marginalize ASEAN. ASEAN responded by adopting its own “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” in June 2019 and by completing RCEP negotiations, demonstrating its desire to maintain the principle of ASEAN centrality—a principle Jiang sees as in China’s interests.

Jiang suggests that ASEAN’s strategy can be conceptualized as institutional hedging, which refers to the strategic decision by regional groups of small and medium-sized countries to use “distance” and “engagement” to manage the newly competitive international system created by the major powers and to use “enmeshment” and “leading” to create new international systems and norms that respond to the uncertainty of the regional order. These methods can influence the preferences of major powers and maintain the influence of these groups of small and medium-sized countries as the regional order transforms. The implementation of institutional hedging requires an international environment characterized by a desire by both existing and emerging powers to achieve their strategic objectives through institutions, ongoing competition between existing and emerging powers, and a regional order with a high degree of uncertainty.

By creating distance from the elements of the regional order created by the great powers, groups of small and medium-sized countries can maintain their neutrality and autonomy. However, these groups refrain from challenging the existence of the mechanisms created by the great powers because they want to maintain the great powers’ support for their regional role. At the same time, these groups engage with the international system created by the major powers by accepting some of its benefits, such as the provision of regional public goods, and by participating in some regional cooperation mechanisms. This strategy allows small and medium-sized countries to prevent any of the major powers from becoming dominant in their region and to influence the preferences of major powers, while maximizing their own autonomy and benefits. Simultaneously, groups of small and medium-sized countries use enmeshment to strengthen their own regional cooperation frameworks by expanding the number of stakeholders who participate. They lead by creating cooperation projects that advance issues of shared interest to states both inside and outside the region. These strategies allow groups of small and medium-sized countries to manage the uncertainty of their regional environments by increasing regional collaboration and building norms and an order that promote regional peace and cooperation. These strategies also allow these groups to assert their dominant role in regional cooperation.

Jiang argues that ASEAN has adopted institutional hedging to respond to two elements of the regional order created by the major powers: the US Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). ASEAN member states view the US Indo-Pacific Strategy as a challenge to ASEAN centrality, but many also see opportunities, such as an alternative source of investment funding to the BRI. ASEAN has responded with both distancing and engagement. Various Southeast Asian leaders have expressed concerns about the competitive dynamics central to the US Indo-Pacific Strategy and their potential to destabilize the region. ASEAN has also used its central regional role to shape the Indo-Pacific strategies of the United States and other countries by demanding more cooperation, requesting that the Quad provide more public goods and diversify its issue areas, and urging better linkages between the US Indo-Pacific Strategy and existing ASEAN mechanisms. This engagement has paid off; the White House’s February 2022 US Indo-Pacific Strategy affirmed ASEAN centrality, expanded economic initiatives, and deemphasized the role of the US Navy. ASEAN has also built stronger cooperative relations with the members of the Quad through the 10+1 framework, encompassing issues like vaccines, climate change, and emerging technologies.

Jiang asserts that ASEAN’s use of institutional hedging is also evident in its response to the BRI. ASEAN countries have a significant need for investment to develop their infrastructure and are participants in the BRI, but also harbor concerns. Some worry that economic over-reliance on China will reduce their diplomatic room to maneuver, while others worry that China’s bilateral investment policies will undermine ASEAN centrality. Reflecting these mixed views, ASEAN countries have engaged in a mix of engagement and distancing. On the one hand, China has invested in many infrastructure projects, spanning railways, highways, industrial zones, and ports, and expanding to include digital infrastructure. On the other hand, ASEAN has maintained a certain amount of distance by slow-walking efforts to link the BRI with the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025, inviting investment by other countries, and, in some cases, renegotiating the terms of infrastructure projects based on financing and environmental concerns.

While employing distancing and engagement with respect to the US Indo-Pacific Strategy and China’s BRI, Jiang contends, ASEAN has also used enmeshment and leadership to build new regional systems. The “ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” responds to the US Indo-Pacific Strategy by asserting ASEAN centrality, emphasizing dialogue and cooperation over rivalry, highlighting the pursuit of development and prosperity, and acknowledging the key role of the maritime domain. Through this document, ASEAN engages in enmeshment by expanding its strategic scope and its network of relationships to ensure its central role in the Indo-Pacific region. ASEAN also engages in leadership by shaping regional norms and the regional order, and by asserting ASEAN centrality. The ASEAN Outlook has influenced the Indo-Pacific strategies of major countries, such as Japan, the United States, and India, as well as the EU, and has gained the support of China. ASEAN leaders have also advocated for progress in the four priority areas of cooperation contained in the Outlook.

Jiang concludes that the US Indo-Pacific Strategy poses a significant threat to ASEAN centrality. By adopting institutional hedging, ASEAN can reassert its central role. Nevertheless, ASEAN faces challenges to its unity which limit its ability to fully leverage the Outlook. It will also have to contend with responses by the major powers to its institutional hedging strategy. While it remains uncertain whether ASEAN will be able to maintain its regional centrality, Jiang is confident that it will continue to seek an autonomous, neutral position in the context of Sino–US competition.

US–Japan–South Korea Relations

In Dangdai Hanguo, 2023, no. 3, Li Nan assesses the implications of closer US–Japan–South Korea relations for East Asian regional security. Li argues that the United States and its East Asian allies have only strengthened their Cold War mindset since the Cold War ended, developing an unsuccessful strategy to deter North Korea. The result, North Korean nuclearization, has destabilized the region. Li asserts that the trilateral US–Japan–South Korea security relationship was initially designed to respond to the threat posed by North Korea. Although security cooperation between South Korea and Japan has long been difficult, the North Korean nuclear crisis persuaded the two countries of the importance of strengthening their security dialogue and working together within the framework of their relationship with the United States. Although ostensibly aimed at North Korea, trilateral cooperation also serves to constrain China’s rise as an East Asian military power.

The US–South Korea alliance has deepened since Yoon Suk-yeol took office in 2022, reflecting the Yoon administration’s alignment with the US Indo-Pacific Strategy and its strategy of relying on the United States. The Yoon administration supports the rules-based international order promoted by the United States. The US–South Korea alliance has been upgraded to include more extensive military exercises and greater coordination with NATO and the Quad and has expanded to emphasize economic security. Li views each of these measures as directed at, and negatively impacting, China. During Yoon’s April 2023 visit to the United States, the two countries signed agreements that, in Li’s view, expanded the geographical scope of the alliance from the Korean peninsula to the Indo-Pacific and expanded the focus of the alliance from security to technology, the economy, culture, and many other fields. Li argues that US support for this expanded alliance reflects its support for a greater international role for South Korea and South Korea’s decision to join the US “camp” directed against China and North Korea.

Although US–South Korean relations are strong, Li argues, their relationship is unbalanced. The US commitment to “extended deterrence” to protect South Korea is more symbolic than an actual increase in security protection. US trade protectionism and restrictions on investment in China continue to negatively impact Korean companies. Li also expresses displeasure at the two countries’ statements on Taiwan and the South China Sea, arguing that South Korea has abandoned its previously more cautious position for an aggressive stance. In the end, Li argues, these agreements serve US interests more than those of South Korea.

Li contends that under the Biden administration, the United States has sought to improve trilateral US–Japan–South Korea relations as a key part of its Indo-Pacific strategy and its efforts to contain China. The three parties have engaged in frequent high-level meetings and issued the November 2022 “Phnom Penh Statement on US–Japan–Republic of Korea Trilateral Partnership for the Indo-Pacific Region,” which expanded both the geographic scope and the issue areas covered. Current trilateral cooperation addresses four key areas: deterring North Korea, increasing economic security, containing China, and considering the creation of a joint command.

Nevertheless, this deepened cooperation faces continued headwinds, which will prevent the trilateral relationship from becoming an alliance or quasi-alliance. Despite recently warming bilateral ties between Japan and South Korea, historical issues are a persistent problem. Experience suggests that the United States is unable to effectively moderate between Japan and South Korea when tensions arise on historical issues or any other matter. Japan and South Korea also perceive the threats they face and the strategic benefits from their relationship with the United States differently, which negatively affects the prospects for consistent, long-term security cooperation. When it comes to economic relations, Japan and South Korea are bigger proponents of free trade than the United States and chafe at US protectionism. Finally, both Japan and South Korea face domestic political constraints, with neither Yoon nor Kishida receiving high approval ratings. The success of trilateral cooperation will turn on the durability of smooth Japan–South Korean relations and the extent to which this trilateral cooperation can be institutionalized and insulated from domestic political changes in each country.

Li concludes that the deepening of trilateral cooperation has worsened tensions between North and South Korea. The Ukraine “crisis” has further worsened relations, with North Korea supporting Russia and South Korea supporting Ukraine. The result is the formation of opposing “camps,” undermining the peace and stability of Northeast Asia. Despite Li’s rejection of Cold War thinking and his focus on the impact of the trilateral relationship on North Korea, it is clear that Li is also concerned about the negative implications of closer trilateral cooperation for China.

Russian Foreign Policy and Its Policy Toward Ukraine

In Eluosi Yanjiu, 2023, no. 5, Zhang Hong uses the concept of “international positioning” (guoji diwei) to understand the evolution of Russian foreign policy and, specifically, its policy choices in Ukraine since the end of the Cold War. International positioning (which could alternatively be translated as “international status”) refers to a country’s perceptions of its identity, role, and position, which determine its relationship with the international system and the international order and therefore drive its foreign policy and national interests. Based on a country’s attitude toward the international system and international order, it may be a “leader, follower, participant, shaper, or challenger.” These international positions guide a country’s fundamental foreign policy, impacting its basic principles (for example, whether to adopt a cooperative or oppositional approach) and its goals.

Applying this framework to Russia, Zhang argues that Russia’s international positioning has gone through four phases since the end of the Cold War, as Russia underwent a process of both reevaluating itself, as the successor state to the Soviet Union, and considering its role in the post-Cold War international system. Russia has consistently perceived itself as a significant military power and an influential civilization, but its view of its relationship to the international system and world order has changed repeatedly. From 1991–1995, Russia was a follower of the international system. During this period, Russia accepted the Western international order and sought to participate as an equal member. To this end, Russia pursued cooperative relations with the United States, drew down its overseas military forces, and joined non-proliferation efforts. With the beginning of Yeltsin’s second term in 1996, Russia became a participant in the international system, an international positioning it maintained until 2011. During this period, Russia actively cooperated with the West under the principles of the Western-led international order, even if it was less willing to quietly follow Western countries. Between 2012–2014, Russia took on a more assertive role as a shaper of the international system by advocating for multipolarity and opposing what it perceived as Western (particularly US) efforts to work outside the UN system and intervene in the internal affairs of other states. Russia’s efforts to shape the world order reflected both its belief that Western influence was in decline as global power began to shift toward the East and fundamental conflicts over democratic values, security, and regional economic integration. During this period, Russia promoted the development of non-Western international institutions and the increased influence of the G20. Since the 2014 Ukraine crisis, Russia has been a challenger to the Western international system. Accepting the Russian position that Crimea chose to join Russia and that residents of the Donbas preferred autonomy from Ukraine, Zhang argues that Russia “was forced” to leave the Western-led order. In this view, Russia sought cooperative relations, but Western sanctions and “anti-Russian sentiments” prevented cooperation and paralyzed dialogue mechanisms. Feeling growing concern about “US-led NATO,” Russia increasingly came to oppose the Western-led order. Russia’s 2022 “special military operation” in Ukraine brought these issues to the fore with the ongoing war between Russia and Western-backed Ukraine; Russia’s 2023 “The Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation” opposes US “neo-colonialism,” NATO expansion, and Western hegemony and unilateralism.

Zhang contends that these shifts in international positioning have impacted Russia’s policy in Ukraine, which, as a former Soviet republic, is part of the region that has always been Russia’s top foreign policy priority. Between 1991–1993, when Russia was a follower of the international system, it adopted a liberal policy toward Ukraine and aligned its policy with that of the West. Yeltsin opposed Crimean independence efforts and, together with the United States and the UK, signed an agreement to provide Ukraine with a security guarantee in exchange for its decision to relinquish nuclear weapons left in its territory by the Soviet Union. From 1996–2012, as Russia shifted from follower to participant, it adopted a “pragmatic” policy, which sought to maximize Russian interests by using diplomatic, economic and political resources in the context of the existing international order. Under Yeltsin, Russia pursued resolutions to questions over the sovereignty of Crimea and the port of Sevastopol that satisfied both countries. Putin supported Ukraine’s president, Leonid Kuchma, in exchange for Ukraine’s participation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and diplomatic and border concessions. When Viktor Yushchenko came to power, Russia used energy diplomacy and economic means to pressure his administration to adopt more pro-Russia policies. Russia found more support from Viktor Yanukovych, who warmed relations with Russia, while affirming that Ukraine would remain non-aligned and abandoning efforts to join NATO. Between 2012–2014, as Russia took on a more assertive international position as a shaper of the international system, Russia’s Ukraine policy was characterized by elements of pragmatism and realism. A realist foreign policy emphasizes power politics, sees the use of force as a permissible way to achieve national objectives, and may violate the existing world order. To this end, Russia used carrots and sticks to attract Ukraine to its alternative non-Western regional order and distance it from the EU. Since 2014, as Russia has become a challenger to the international system, it has fully adopted a realist Ukraine policy. Zhang attributes this shift to the overthrow of Yanukovych, which Zhang blames on the United States and the West and argues caused Putin’s pragmatic approach to fail. Russia responded by supporting the Crimean “referendum” and approving its annexation to Russia and by supporting Donbas autonomy. At this point, Zhang argued, Russia no longer believed that it could resolve relations through diplomacy and instead focused on protecting itself from security risks. Zhang suggests that Putin’s decision to take military action in Ukraine reflects Russia’s perception that the West had crossed its “red line” regarding Ukraine and indicates Russia’s shift to positioning itself as an opponent of the Western international order.

Zhang argues that as an ancient, imperial power, Russia has always seen itself as a great power and understood Ukraine as related to its core strategic interests. Since the Cold War, Russia’s foreign policy has consistently viewed post-Soviet states as within its sphere of interest and Russian speakers residing in these countries as requiring its special attention. As the international system has shifted toward multipolarity and Western dominance of the world order has declined, Russa has become more confident in resisting Western power and has challenged the Western international order. Ultimately, Zhang blames the United States and the West for this shift, arguing that they marginalized Russia by refusing to allow Russia to become an “equal partner” in the Western international order when Russia was willing and preventing Russia from joining NATO and the EU. This marginalization led Russian support for the Western-led order to disintegrate, and Western support for Ukraine’s 2014 ouster of Yanukovych pushed Russia to take “extreme measures” to counter the Western international system. (No consideration is given in this analysis for what the population of Ukraine may have wanted; the article seems to conceptualize Ukraine as a pawn between the West and Russia, rather than as a sovereign country with the right to choose its own diplomatic partners.) In the end, Zhang concludes that whether a country can achieve its diplomatic objectives depends on whether its international posturing is well calibrated to its national strength. The current stalemate in the Russia–Ukraine conflict, Zhang contends, demonstrates that neither the West nor Russia have calibrated this appropriately. Western countries persist in zero-sum, hegemonic thinking that does not match their diminished capabilities, while Russia has underestimated the persistence of the existing world order. The result is that the rest of the world must contend with the risks of nuclear conflict and economic recession and the possible collapse of the world order.

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