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The political logic of status competition: cases from China, 1962-1979

Wang, Ziyuan (2018) The political logic of status competition: cases from China, 1962-1979. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Why do state leaders adopt competitive strategies in pursuit of great-power status? Competitive status-seeking acts incur tremendous risks for a state’s geopolitical security as it entails challenging a higher-ranked power. To explain why leaders opt for such risky policies, this study underscores the instrumental importance of great-power status for states and that of personal prestige for the leaders. My central assertion is that leaders undertake competitive status-seeking measures in hopes of furthering their interests in both geopolitical and domestic political arenas. Competitive status-seeking strategy is a preferable policy for leaders who rely upon personal prestige as a dominant vehicle for political survival at home while regarding great-power status as a route to geopolitical security. Through an in-depth study of three cases from the 1962-1979 period of China’s foreign and security policy, this thesis illustrates how this political logic informed the leadership decision on competitive assertions of status. During this period, China’s policy illustrates three varieties of competitive status-seeking strategy—namely, offensive alliance, delegitimation strategy, and display of military power. These strategies respectively display diplomatic, ideological, and military aspects of state power, which serve as central vehicles for leaders to assert great-power status. Invariably they were motivated by leaders’ pragmatic concerns for great-power status in geopolitics and personal prestige in domestic elite politics. As demonstrated by the case studies, competitive stats-seeking measures provide a critical vehicle for leaders to cope with imperatives of geopolitical competition and domestic political survival simultaneously. This study seeks to make three original contributions to the literature on status ambitions and international conflict. First, it treats status aspirations as a variable rather than an invariant driver of state policy as often assumed. Second, it claims that leaders may assert great-power status on their nation’s behalf with a view to enhancing geopolitical security. In this regard, status and security are treated as complementary rather than antithetical. The final aspect of originality in my argument lies in its integration of rationalist and psychological microfoundations. While my argument highlights the instrumental rationality of state leaders in trying to advance geopolitical security and legitimize their authority in domestic elite politics, it also addresses how leaders inspire emotional reactions from domestic audiences to support their risky policy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Ziyuan Wang
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Kent, Christopher and Haacke, Jürgen

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