Post-Maoist China has experienced a major reorientation of both economic and foreign policy. Foreign policy has been largely determined by the needs of China’s economic reforms, and is intimately linked to the political economy and concomitant efforts to use globalization as a tool to attain high growth, trade, and investment. Economics determines China’s foreign policy, along with its approach to the world. China has made major efforts to join international organizations and economic and political forums, and employs its new resources to remold its military forces. In this article, we examine patterns of Chinese foreign policy, the state’s responses to globalization, and the potential future directions for China’s emerging political economy.
Patron-clientelism is the central dynamic propelling leadership change in China, and this model of personal association opened a path for China’s current top leaders. Patron-clientelism bolsters the key features of the Chinese political system: Leninist political organization, intra-party divisions, conflictual decision-making processes, and the vital roles played by senior figures. Patron-clientelism is characterized by both vertical and horizontal dimensions, and it is accompanied by endemic personalism, factionalism, corruption, and nepotism. Clientelistic ties have shaped all leadership transitions since the Maoist period, and they were most evident in the falls of leaders Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang in the 1980s. Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are the latest beneficiaries of the patron-clientelistic system. Xi was propelled by his “princeling” background and his association with the Shanghai faction of former top leader Jiang Zemin. Li is the latest scion of the Communist Youth League faction that produced Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. The recent fall of Bo Xilai illustrates some of the pitfalls of factional and “princeling” leadership.