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The identity factor in Chinese Europe policies: China’s European quest for ontological security

Sverdrup-Thygeson, Bjørnar (2019) The identity factor in Chinese Europe policies: China’s European quest for ontological security. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis contends that Chinese ontological security seeking is an overlooked aspect in China-Europe relations, but that several political actions are difficult to explain without accounting for this factor. Whilst the role of the identity factor in Chinese foreign policies towards other great powers has been thoroughly analysed, the literature has yet to address how it shapes China’s policies towards Europe. This omission is puzzling, given that Europe was a key actor shaping the identity crisis of the Chinese polity after the fall of the Qing dynasty. In addressing this scholarly gap, this thesis has thus sought to answer the question of ‘how does Europe matter for Chinese identity, and how does identity matter for China’s current-day policies towards Europe?’ This question has been approached through a two-pronged research strategy, combining a section of historical diachronic analysis with a section of contemporary synchronic analysis. The diachronic section investigates the Chinese view of Europe from the Opium Wars onwards, through a discourse analysis of political textual monuments from four key eras of ontological security seeking: The efforts at reforming the empire during the Self-Strengthening Movement (1861–1872); the Early Republic Era (1910–1915), with its attempts to realize a new republican state; the early days of the Chinese Communist Party’s New China (1945–1955); and the time around Deng Xiaoping’s reforms (1975–1990). The analysis demonstrates how the Chinese idea of Europe was intimately connected to these fundamental changes in China’s political identity, as Europe moved from being regarded as barbaric, to a political lodestar, to a battleground for Communism, and finally to a role as a fundamentally separate civilization in a multipolar world. The synchronic section proceeds to investigate the degree to which this Chinese view of Europe has been a factor in contemporary Sino-European relations, centring on three cases: the political crisis regarding EU’s embargo on arms sales (2003–2006); the fallout with China’s European partners following incidents in 2007 and 2008; and the diplomatic boycotts of the UK and Norway (2010–2016). Analysing these cases through a three-layered approach based on ontological security theory, the empirical argument of this thesis is that the Chinese discourses of Europe, emphasizing ritualized civilizational recognition, shaped a particular range of Chinese policy choices, that cannot be explained through models based on economic or geopolitical rationality. The thesis also argues that the case of China is salient for exploring aspects of ontological security that until now have been under-theorized. By expanding the theoretical framework to include key Chinese concepts, the analysis contributes both to ontological security theory building, and a better understanding of the identity factor in Chinese foreign policies in general.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Bjørnar Sverdrup-Thygeson
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Callahan, William A.

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