The PRC's Quest for Great Power Status: A Long and Winding Road

IR Working Paper 1998/4

Author/s (editor/s):

Stuart Harris

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper

Find this publication at:
IR Working Paper 1998/4 (PDF, 2.08MB)

Stuart Harris, 'The PRC's Quest for Great Power Status: A Long and Winding Road', IR Working Paper 1998/4, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University, April 1998.

This paper uses the foreign policy outcomes of China's fifteenth party congress to examine China's potential as a great power in the long term. It argues that China's capability as a great power in the short term tends to be overestimated but that this is also true of the long term. In its competition with the United States and other large regional powers for influence, constraints will remain on China's capabilities in the long term that have not obtained and do not now obtain in the case of the US. (Nor did they exist to such an extent for the Soviet Union.) This does not mean that China will not be an important great power in the region. It clearly will be. It means that for a number of reasons canvassed in the paper it will be an incomplete one with important limits on the power that it could project.

Even so, although in the short term China's national interests are served by pursuing a peaceful international environment, it could still impose substantial, and adverse, impacts on smaller countries in the region, should it wish to do so, through the exercise of its political and economic influence. In the long term, the worry would be that, even as an incomplete great power, it could demonstrate the arrogance reflected in the behaviour of other great powers.

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