Political Survival and China’s Crisis Behavior: Three Maritime Cases


Dr. He Kai

29 January 2018

This seminar explores the patterns of China’s foreign policy crisis behavior after the Cold War, with a focus on three maritime cases, i.e. the 2009 Sino-US Impeccable Incident, the 2010 Sino-Japanese boat collision crisis, and the ongoing South China Sea imbroglio. The speaker explains when and under what conditions will Chinese leaders take risks to escalate a foreign policy crisis and when will Chinese leaders avoid risks and deescalate a crisis. Inspired by both neoclassical realism and prospect theory, Professor He introduces a “political survival-prospect” model to explain the variations of China’s crisis behavior. He argues that China’s crisis behavior is a function of Chinese top leaders’ calculations or prospects of their “political survival” status, which is shaped by three factors: the severity of the crisis, leaders’ domestic authority, and international pressure. When Chinese leaders enjoy the prospect of a surplus of political survival during a foreign policy crisis, they are more likely to de-escalate the crisis, i.e., to choose a risk-averse decision to avoid more troubles. If they face the prospect of a deficit of political survival, they are more likely to escalate the crisis, i.e., to take a risk-acceptant policy to reverse the disadvantageous situation.

About the Speaker: Dr. Kai He is Professor of International Relations at Griffith Asia Institute and Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Griffith University, Australia. He is currently an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow. He was a postdoctoral fellow in the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program (2009-2010). He is the author of Institutional Balancing in the Asia Pacific: Economic Interdependence and China’s Rise (Routledge, 2009), Prospect Theory and Foreign Policy Analysis in the Asia Pacific: Rational Leaders and Risky Behavior (co-authored with Huiyun Feng, Routledge, 2013), and China’s Crisis Behavior: Political Survival and Foreign Policy (Cambridge, 2016). His peer-refereed articles have appeared in European Journal of International Relations, European Political Science Review, Review of International Studies, Security Studies, International Politics, Cooperation and Conflict, Asian Survey, The Pacific Review, Journal of Contemporary China, The Chinese Journal of International Politics, Asian Security, Asian Perspective, International Relations of the Asia Pacific, and Issues and Studies.