The Rise of China, Southeast Asia and State Transformation

Dr. Lee Jones
26 April 2017

What does China’s rise mean for international order, for prospects of war and peace? Nowhere are these questions more pressing than Southeast Asia, which has become a real-world laboratory for testing academic theories on the impact of rising powers. Does China’s growing power portend conflict in the South China Sea and the gradual division of ASEAN? Or will growing economic interdependence and institutional entanglements tame Chinese ambitions? This talk suggests that the answers given to these questions are constrained by a view of “China” as a single actor, pursuing a coherent “grand strategy”, when the reality is quite different. State transformation – the fragmentation, decentralisation and internationalisation of Chinese state apparatuses – means that Chinese foreign policy is actually driven by diverse actors with contradictory interests and agendas, constantly struggling for power and control. This often produces inconsistent, contradictory foreign policy output, which is easily misinterpreted. Analysts and diplomats need to be more aware of state transformation and internal conflicts within China to understand what is happening and devise appropriate policy responses. The talk will draw on examples including the South China Sea, the Greater Mekong Subregion, and Chinese overseas aid.

About the Speaker: Dr. Lee Jones is Reader in International Politics at Queen Mary University of London. He has published widely on the politics and international relations of Southeast and East Asia, covering issues of security, political economy, regime development, governance and state transformation. His publications include: ASEAN, Sovereignty and Intervention in Southeast Asia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Societies Under Siege: Exploring How International Economic Sanctions (Do Not) Work (Oxford University Press, 2015); and, with Shahar Hameiri, Governing Borderless Threats: Non-Traditional Security and the Politics of State Transformation (Cambridge University Press, 2015). Website:

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