The following interview with Prof. Shambaugh [1] was carried out in Washington D.C., on January 13, 2014 by Patrick Renz and Frauke Heidemann. The main focus of the interview was on China as a global player. All footnotes are remarks by Patrick Renz and Frauke Heidemann, aimed at giving some additional background knowledge and especially giving the links to the cited documents so that the reader can follow up on these issues easily.


. China as a Global Player

Our first question is about your book “China Goes Global”, [2] in which you describe China as a “very narrow minded, self-interested, realist state, seeking only to maximize its own nationalist interest and power”. [3] Do you believe that China will adapt its policies once it realizes that being such a selfish power is no longer sustainable with the U.S. potentially less willing to heavily invest in securing sea lanes of communication?

I do say that China is a narrow-minded, self-interested power, but that is not a matter of policy choice by China, it is a matter of circumstance and history as well as culture. China has never been a global power in modern history, only in pre-modern history. It is a new development that China has become a global actor and increasingly a global power. As a result, the world is asking things of China like global bases to contribute to so-called global governance but this is very new for China. On the one hand, we can’t blame China for neglecting global governance because it is a new request and expectation from the international community. On the other hand though it is a very legitimate request. All countries live in a globalized world and they all, small or large, should contribute to managing and addressing the different challenges of our world within their capacity. In my view, no country gets a free ride in this world, although obviously small and poor countries should not be expected to contribute much to global governance. Middle powers and big powers certainly should be contributing to the common good. China should be contributing in my view as the second leading power in the world. This means it should be contributing the second largest amount of resources in every category to global governance. It is far from doing that.

When asking whether China is being a free rider, selectively engaging or a responsible stakeholder, the answer is all three. Mainly free riding and very selective involvement. China is a very self-interested power. It does not philosophically understand and accept the premises of global governance because the premises of global governance are rooted in liberalism: global and domestic liberalism. China is a communist state and does not embrace liberalism, in fact it is opposed to liberalism, domestically and internationally. Just from their beginning, from a philosophical basis, China has great difficulties with global governance. Secondly, China was not at the table as a participant when many of the institutions of global governance were created. It does – not legitimately – have the view that it should not adhere to rules made by institutions, of which it was not a part. Just because China was not at the table when these institutions were created does however not mean that it can opt out of the global rules and laws. I take a rather tough line on China and global governance. I think that they are free riding, they have been taking from the international system for four decades more than any other country. They have taken advantage of the resources and the contributions the international system gives to developing countries. But I agree with Zoellick [4] that it is now time to give back and to carry a proportionate level of responsibility in global governance. Again for China that level should be number two across the board. China is not anywhere near that level. There is a lot more that China can do and should be asked and expected to do.

We should give China credit for what they do: they contribute to certain areas such as UN Peacekeeping operations, international crime, counter-terrorism, public health, overseas development assistance, counter-piracy operations. All these things come to mind and those are all tangible areas where China is a participant and contributor to global areas. But even in those areas you have to ask, is China carrying a proportionate level of responsibility? Is it acting as number two? The answer is no. Take UN Peacekeeping operations: China contributes more personnel than any other member of the UN Security Council, but where does China rank in terms of all other nations? Number 13. [5] Countries that are much smaller such as Bangladesh, Denmark, Pakistan, and Nigeria contribute more personnel than does the People’s Republic of China, which has 2.3 million people in their armed forces. That is what I call not carrying a proportionate load. ODA: China is sitting on billions of dollars of foreign exchange and is the world’s largest foreign exchange holder. Where does China rank in terms of aid and overseas development assistance? Not even among the top twenty donor states. The Chinese will quickly say they can’t afford to give aid to other countries because we have so many poor people in our own country. That is partially true but not an adequate excuse when you are sitting on 3.5 trillion dollars. So I find that regarding the global governance issue, China is doing some things but is punching below their weight, not at their weight or even above their weight. We as an international community should ask China to do more and expect more from it.

Prof. Yan Xuetong argues that China should make friends among its neighbors and follow a path where China could provide security reassurance to its neighbors. What do you think of this idea?

I agree with him. That is part of being a major power: providing security to other countries. Other countries look to major powers for their protection, security and for other types of benefits. China does not do that for any country, is a lonely power that has no allies and very few close friends. The only close friends it really has are Pakistan and Russia, not even North Korea. However, even in the case of Russia there are problems in the relationship. China is kind of an odd country; it is alone in the world. Other countries don’t look to it for security provision, inspiration or soft power. So I agree with Prof. Yan that if China is going to be a real power in the world, it should begin to extend the privileges, protection and security to other states, especially to its neighbors. This would be very natural and expected, but also requires that the neighbors look to China and want China’s security umbrella and protection. Right now I don’t know of a single country in Asia except perhaps Cambodia, which would like that. Every other country in that region has difficulties with China – every single one, including North Korea and Myanmar. Therefore, it is hard to imagine how this kind of security umbrella and ally-kind of relationship can be put in place when in fact other countries distrust China. Philosophically however I agree with Prof. Yan, I think he is right on that point. There are also some things we disagree about.

You mentioned China’s troubles with its neighbors. A frequent issue that came up in this context was the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). [6] What do you think about the establishment of this zone itself and about the way it was communicated?

The communication was terrible. It just shows the inexperience of China in perception management. They don’t understand how they are perceived in their region or in the world and how to manage that. If you do something controversial like that, you lay the groundwork for it in advance. The Chinese did not do that, they just announced the ADIZ one day and saw the results of their actions. That shows the immaturity of the Chinese foreign policy process and the insularity of China. They decide to do something without considering what other people think. The way it was done could not have been worse. I am not sure if I have a view on whether it should have been done. The Chinese are correct that other countries have these zones, the U.S. has them and China is entitled to it. But to my understanding usually zones don’t overlap other countries’ zones and if they do overlap other countries’ zones, there should be some mechanisms for ameliorating or regulating that joint air space. In this space it overlaps with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan’s air space at a time of extreme sensitivity and volatility over the islands and deeper issues in China-Japan relations. It is therefore not just a question of announcing it and whether it is legitimate or not, it is also contributing to the escalation of tensions between China and Japan as well as between China and the U.S., and between China and South Korea. Legally, they have a right to do so, but the fact that they overlap with the other countries’ air space is a problem and contributes to the instability of the area rather than contributing to the stability of it.

Regarding all those issues between the U.S. and China, there is not much literature on the role of Europe. Is there a place for Europe in this relationship?

Yes, there is. I have been involved in transatlantic discussions between the U.S. and European countries as well as the EU itself about managing our respective relations with China. In approximately a month we will have a meeting here, bring together leading experts on this and talk about relations with China. There are two levels in which Europe has a role in U.S.-China relations. One is that it is a member of the global community, which goes back to the global governance issue, multilateralism, international law and regulations. As the U.S., Europe and China are all members of organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), it is important to the U.S. and Europe to maintain those regulations when it comes to China. The U.S. and Europe have a common purpose in making sure that China is a global citizen and acts according to the established rules of global order. Of course, the U.S. and Europe have a number of similar problems with China on the trade front: deficits, dumping of goods, etc. The U.S. and Europe have similar positions on human rights and civil society in China, although there is a different emphasis from both parties. For example, Tibet matters much more to Europeans that it matters to Americans. Political dissent matters more to Americans than it does to Europeans. Nonetheless, human rights, the environment and climate change are areas of interest. The U.S. and Europe basically have global governance issues in common.

Therefore, the U.S. is better able to pursue its interests with China if the EU and the individual member states are supportive of those positions and vice versa for the EU if the U.S. is supportive. This is not a matter of ganging up against China in the U.S. and in the EU, it is a matter of holding China to its global commitments. Other countries in Asia and other parts of the world should also participate in that. I see much more commonalities than differences between the U.S. and Europe when it comes to relations with China. The big difference is in the security area. The EU has no security presence and no real security interest in Asia, whereby it has no credibility on security issues in Asia. But the EU has a very legitimate role to play and is very deeply involved through a variety of mechanisms, both on the multilateral level and on the nation state level. I don’t know if you have met Prof. Sebastian Bersick [7] at Fudan University. He teaches in the school of international affairs and has written more than many other scholars about Europe’s role in Asian international relations. He has contributed a chapter to a book I am editing and he is very knowledgeable about this.

Given that the year just started, what do you see as the biggest challenge in U.S.-China relations for 2014?

Managing respective relations with Japan is the biggest challenge at the moment, but there are many other issues. If you have to rank and prioritize them, the danger of war between China and Japan is significant and much higher than most people realize. If there were a conflict between China and Japan, that would immediately draw the U.S. in on the side of Japan and it would therefore become a U.S.-China war, which nobody wants. Managing that relationship is not just a question of managing this Senkaku/Diaoyu Island dispute, [8] it is a much deeper historical problem with the U.S. is in the middle of it. At the moment that is the most difficult issue, but one can argue that China’s general maritime assertiveness also is a broad challenge to U.S.-China relations in Southeast Asia. It is not just Japan, it is also the extent to which the U.S. supports the ASEAN claimants to the South China Sea. At the moment that is the most significant issue on the U.S.-China agenda. Over the next year it will be the most difficult one to manage.

In a New York Times article [9] last year, you mentioned that a critical issue is how to manage an increasingly distrustful and competitive relationship. We were wondering what role you see energy playing in all this? Is it solely about security and military relations?

Energy certainly is an issue in U.S.-China relations and I see it on the positive side as there is this opportunity for the U.S. and China to work together and maintain not just uninterrupted global energy flows but the delivery and transport of energy resources to China, the U.S. and other countries too. I don’t see the U.S. and China in a competitive relationship over energy resources. In fact, given shale gas and the declining American dependency on sources in the Persian Gulf, there won’t be a competition and I see it much more as an opportunity for cooperation between the two countries. Overall, what I said in the New York Times article and more broadly in the book I published on U.S.-China relations, “Tangled Titans”, [10] is that the balance between cooperation and competition in the U.S.-China relationship has shifted. Those two elements have always been present in the relationship since Nixon went to China. This is not new, it has always been competition and cooperation but the cooperation has generally speaking been the dominant factor until the last four or five years. Now competition is the predominant factor and it is going to remain in my view the dominant factor indefinitely. It is not necessarily desirable, but totally natural and predictable. Prof. Yan Xuetong and I agree completely on this. The question is how the two countries manage it so the biggest policy task for both countries’ officials and even non-officials is to manage competition and keep it from drifting towards a full adversarial relationship.

Competition is not the same thing as an adversarial relationship, but competition can turn into an adversarial relationship if it is not well managed or if there is a spark. The Japan issue could be such a spark, and Taiwan as well. Energy in theory could be such a spark. Sparks cause conflicts, but absent a spark trying to manage a competitive relationship is still a challenge. The relationship between the U.S. and China is not a full blown adversarial relationship as was the case of the Cold War. China and the U.S. are not in a Cold War, there is no containment policy, I repeat, there is no containment policy, but there is a strategically competitive relationship that has deep levels of strategic mistrust. There should be a lot of work done on the sources of strategic mistrust, to try to narrow and understand as well as bridge the sources. At the same time we are trying to manage competition, we have to try and expand the cooperative zone and the basket of issues that are cooperative between the two countries. Energy security is a prime example that can be developed much further, anti-piracy, non-proliferation, combating international crime, public health, disaster relief, global joint patrol of the sea lanes are others. The international sea lanes of communication (SLOC) are not only for the U.S. Navy. The world has benefited from the fact that the U.S. Navy has kept them open for more than half a century. However, it is beneficial if other navies, the Chinese included, can help maintain the security of SLOC to some extent. We have to work on areas to expand cooperation, manage competition and keep it from drifting towards an adversarial relationship. Yet, it does have that potential.

There are many oil companies going abroad and needing private security. Do you see any distinction from American or British oil companies going abroad and hiring Private Security Companies compared to a Chinese national oil company hiring PSC?

I see no difference whatsoever and they are totally entitled to do so. My guess is, they may hire foreign companies first because they don’t have their own. Over time they may develop their own. There is a lot of writing about this in Chinese international relations journals in the last view years. So far they have not developed their own companies. After all, they need to protect not just their oil companies’ operations, but also their other commercial activities and their aid workers. It is part of being a major global power: people don’t like you. It also depends on how you behave and on how Chinese abroad behave. I think there is a great danger in Africa and increasingly in the Middle East and Latin America that China is being perceived as a resource-extractor and a typical neo-colonial, imperialistic, energy-driven country that is just trying to get the resources out of these regions without giving back anything. That is something European countries in particular have been experiencing for a long time. Welcome to the world. For the Chinese companies it is however also an opportunity to learn from BP and all those other major oil companies that have been through this.


Thank you very much for the interview.


[1] More about Prof. David Shambaugh at:
[2] David Shambaugh, China Goes Global: The Partial Power (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013):;jsessionid=87925D2CB3CD99759EF15D27282832EC?cc=cn&lang=en&.
[3] China Goes Global, p.310.
[5] The monthly reports of contributions to UN Peacekeeping operations are available at:
[6] More on the ADIZ:
[8] An overview over the island dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands is given by the Economist:
[9] The article “Falling Out of Love With China” is available at:
[10] David Shambaugh, ed., Tangled Titans: The United States and China (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012):

Copyright © 2014. All Rights Reserved.