April 30, 2024

New CNAS Report: Beyond China's Black Box: Five Trends Shaping Beijing’s Foreign and Security Policy Decision-Making Under Xi Jinping

Washington, April 30, 2024 — Today, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) released a new report, Beyond China's Black Box: Five Trends Shaping Beijing’s Foreign and Security Policy Decision-Making Under Xi Jinping, by Jacob Stokes, senior fellow for the Indo-Pacific Security Program at CNAS.  

While China’s foreign and security policymaking has often been described as opaque or like a “black box,” the new report argues that it is possible to develop a better understanding of the people, institutions, processes, and pressures that go into shaping China’s policies toward the world in its “new era” under Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping.

The report identifies five major trends shaping China’s foreign and security policies under Xi’s leadership.

These include:

  • Trend 1: Personalization of the system around Xi;
  • Trend 2: Empowering the Chinese Communist Party over the state;
  • Trend 3: Domestic policy headwinds and the search for alternative forms of political legitimacy;
  • Trend 4: Elevation of regime security over other concerns; and
  • Trend 5: Diplomatic and military assertiveness and seeking an active global leadership role.

Stokes offers an in-depth analysis for each of the five trends, including specific examples of how each trend can be observed in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) today. By examining these trends, and their, the report helps illuminate the macro pressures shaping China’s foreign and security policy decision-making.

The report concludes with a concrete set of recommendations for the United States and partners to better understand and respond to the complexities of China’s evolving approach to global affairs, including:  

  • Recognize that Xi’s personal style and preferences are now the dominant factor shaping China’s foreign and security policies—but how that reality manifests will continue to evolve; 
  • Track how trends shaping China’s foreign and security policy decision-making might affect the country’s various bureaucratic institutions differently; 
  • Anticipate uncoordinated PRC actions, such as the 2023 spy balloon incident, as well as policies characterized by drift followed by rapid shifts because they reflect structural features of the system; 
  • Prepare for deepening policy contradictions alongside continued assertive nationalism from Beijing; 
  • Prioritize direct diplomatic interactions with Xi; 
  • Formally compare assessments of the PRC system with allies and partners; and  
  • Develop contingency plans for different leadership succession scenarios. 

This report is part of High Stakes: Preparing the Next President, a new election-year initiative to explore the most pressing national security issues that will face the next administration. To learn more about this center-wide initiative, visit cnas.org/highstakes.

For more information or to schedule an interview with Jacob Stokes, please contact Alexa Whaley at awhaley@cnas.org. 

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