The Position of the Belt and Road Initiative in the Changes of China's Macro Strategy and Policies

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Professor, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran

2 PhD in Political Science, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Iran



The emergence of China as a rising economic power has created a lot of political and academic speculations about its hegemony in the international system in the future. What China had been pursuing until a decade ago was a kind of global political-security inaction and mere pursuit of economic development plans. However, its leaders have progressively realized that pursuing purely economic goals would leave the maintenance of the security of the world's sensitive economic corridors to the United States. Accordingly, such attitude might impede the achievement of China's important economic goals. Maintaining peace and stability in strategically valuable regions, including the Middle East and Central Asia (MECA), is crucial for China in order to maintain and expand its access to international markets, and even capital markets. Military adventures in the MECA region have greatly benefited the United States, while maintaining the security of energy transfer from this region to China is considered crucial for the continuation of Chinese industrialization and exports of its manufactured goods. Given this reality, it seemed that a change in China's strategy was necessary.
Governments often react differently to similar systematic pressures and opportunities —these reactions are influenced by systemic factors at the domestic level. Hence, domestic political risks associated with the choice of certain foreign policies and the risk-taking propensities of national elites— which are in turn influenced by a set of preferences and perceptions of the elites of the internal and external environments— have a great impact on the policy-making process. It is clear that the worldviews and preferences of the Chinese elites have affected Chinese foreign policymaking. Their preferences which are influenced by domestic needs and systemic pressures in different time periods have led to different policies formulated and implemented by the leadership in China. A variety of approaches, ranging from Mao's revisionist tendencies to Deng Xiaoping's acceptance of the existing international order have been considered throughout the years.
Although the acceptance of the existing order has become a key component of China's foreign policy since Deng, it seems that this acceptance is being pursued by using different tactics during the Xi Jinping era. Xi's foreign policy seems more assertive and effective than that of former Chinese President Hu Jintao. While Hu tended to highlight the policies of ‘peaceful rise’, ‘peaceful development’ and ‘scientific development’ in his grand strategy, Xi has distinguished himself by emphasizing nationalism and using the slogan of the Chinese dream. Xi Jinping's emphasis on the merits of patriotism show the current and deep-seated dissatisfaction of the current Chinese leader with the existing international order. The politically and economically-motivated Belt and Road Initiative should be considered as the central grand plan proposed by Xi, who is probably the strongest political figure in China after Deng Xiaoping. This project is guided by a new foreign and security policy, aimed at achieving global hegemony, and replacing the US as the dominant power in the international system.
In this paper, an attempt was made to answer the following three questions: 1. What changes have occurred in China's grand strategy and policies since Xi Jinping came into power? 2. What factors have led to these changes? 3. How did these factors affected strategic changes in Chinese policies? By using qualitative conceptual analysis of government strategic documents and statements of high-ranking officials of China, in addition to examining the viewpoints of theorists and experts, significant changes in China's foreign policies within the theoretical framework of neoclassical realism are studied. The policies of this Asian country which are influenced by a set of domestic and international factors will be explained. In the research hypothesis, it is claimed that Xi Jinping's different approach to macro-political decision-making has led to a strategic change in Chinese foreign policy due to the pursuit of political-security goals as well as economic ones at the international level. The "Belt and Road" initiative is the most important sign of this strategic change. Achieving a hegemonic power position by peaceful means, in addition to extensive economic and security achievements for China is one of the most important results of the implementation of this initiative. The findings of the research show that Xi Jinping's different approach to the country’s decision-making was caused by the current conditions governing the structure of the international system which is under the US leadership; and this has led to a strategic change in Beijing policies in pursuit of political and security goals. The "Belt and Road" initiative is the most obvious and important sign of this strategic transformation.


  1. الف) فارسی

    1. دهقانی فیروزآبادی، جلال. (1390) «واقع‌گرایی نوکلاسیک و سیاست خارجی جمهوری اسلامی ایران،» فصلنامه سیاست خارجی 25، 2: 294-275، در: pdf (9 مهر 1399).

    ب) انگلیسی          

    1. Blanchard, Jean-Marc F. (2015) “The People’s Republic of China Leadership Transition and its External Relations: Still Searching for Definitive Answers,” Journal of Chinese Political Science/Association of Chinese Political Studies 20, 1: 1-16, <DOI:10.1007/s11366-014-9324-0>.
    2. Byun, See-Won. (2016) “China’s Major-Powers Discourse in the Xi Jinping Era: Tragedy of Great Power Politics Revisited?” Asian Perspective 40, 3:493- 522. Available at: (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    3. Chan, Irene; and Mingjiang Li. (2015) “New Chinese Leadership, New Policy in the South China Sea Dispute,” Journal of Chinese Political Science 20, 1:35–50, <DOI:10.1007/s11366-014-9326-y>.
    4. Christensen, Thomas J. (1996) Useful Adversaries: Grand Strategy, Domestic Mobiliza tion, and Sino-American Conflict, 1947-1958. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
    5. Clemens, Morgan. (2015, April 3) “The Maritime Silk Road and the PLA: Part Two,”China Brief (The Jamestown Foundation) 15, 7: 1-15. Available at: (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    6. Fang, Qiang. (2017) “Xi Jinping’s Anticorruption Campaign from A Historical Perspective,” Modern China Studies 24, 2: 112-138. Available at: fromopenview=true (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    7. Heath, Timothy. (2016) “China’s Evolving Approach to Economic Diplomacy,” Asia Policy 22: 157-91. Available at: pdf/ pdf (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    8. Herrero, Alicia; and Jianwei Xu. (2016) “China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Can Europe Expect Trade Gains?,” Bruegel Working Paper, 5;1-20. Available at: (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    9. Hua, Yiwen. (2015, March 19) “The Time is Just Right for Comprehensively Advancing ‘One Belt, One Road,” People’s Daily. Available at: (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    10. Kennedy, Scott; and David A. Parker. (2015, April 3) “Building China’s “One Belt, One Road,” Center for Strategic and International Studies ( Available at: (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    11. Kim, Hong Nack. (2013, Fall) “China’s Policy Toward North Korea Under the Xi Jinping Leadership,” North Korean Review 9, 2: 83-98. Available at: (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    12. Li, Xiaojun. (2012) “China's Geoeconomic Strategy: China as a Trading Superpower,” London School of Economics and Political Science (, London, UK. Available at: 44204/1/ China's%20Geoeconomic%20Strategy%20_China%20as%20a%20Trading%20Superpower%20(LSERO).pdf (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    13. Lim, Alvin Cheng-Hin. (2015, March 16) “Africa and China's 21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” Asia-Pacific Journal 13, 11: 1-12. Available at: (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    14. Liu, Baocheng. (2016) “The Role of China as a Global Actor,” Journal of International Business Ethics 9, 1-2: 47-71. Available at: (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    15. Nie, Wenjuan. (2016) “Xi Jinping’s Foreign Policy Dilemma: One Belt, One Road or the South China Sea?” Contemporary Southeast Asia 38, 3: 422-44. Available at: (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    16. Raffaele, (2016) “China’s New Opening Up Policy: The One Belt One Road Initiative,” Romania: LUISS (Dipartimento di Scienze Politiche e Relazioni Internazionali, Cattedra International Public Policies). Available at: (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    17. Schweller, Randall. (1998) Deadly Imbalances: Tripolarity and Hitlers Strategy of World Conquest. New York: Columbia University Press.
    18. Shen, Simon Xu Hui. (2015) “Special Issue: New Silk Road Project,” East Asia 32, 1: 1-5, <DOI:10.1007/s12140-015-9232-8>.
    19. Sun, Yun. (2013, February 7) “Westward Ho! As America Pivots East, China Marches in the Other Direction,” Foreign Policy. Available at: (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    20. Swaine, Michael D. (2015) “Chinese Views and Commentary on the “One Belt, One Road” Initiative,” China Leadership Monitor 47: 3-27. Available at: (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    21. Tekdal, Veysel. (2017) “China’s Belt and Road Initiative: At the Crossroads of Challenges and Ambitions,” Pacific Review 31, 3: 373-390, <DOI:10.1080/09512748.2017.1391864>.
    22. “US and Saudi Arabia Sign Arms Deals Worth almost $110bn,” (2017, May 20) Al Jazeera. Available at: (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    23. “What is China’s Belt and Road Initiative?” (2017, May 15) Economist. Available at: what-is-chinas-belt-and-road-initiative (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    24. Wohlforth, William. (1993) The Elusive Balance: Power and Perceptions during the Cold War. New York: Cornell University Press.
    25. Yoon, Sukjoon. (2015) “Implications of Xi Jinping’s, True Maritime Power: Its Context, Significance, and Impact on the Region,” Naval War College Review 68, 3: 40-63. Available at: cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1220&context=nwc-review (Accessed 1 October 2018).
    26. Zakaria, Fareed. (1998) From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of Americas World Role. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.