30 Nov 21

This is an important and timely book, providing a highly detailed analysis of a subject of critical importance, that is, how China sees and thinks about protecting its interests overseas. In Protecting China’s Interests Overseas, the author, Andrea Ghiselli, seeks to provide an examination of the development of Chinese foreign and security policy-making, the thinking that underpins it, and its implications, especially with regard to the future of China’s overseas military presence. Andrea Ghiselli is well-placed to provide such an analysis of Chinese foreign and security policy; he is an Assistant Professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Fudan University (Shanghai), and the head of research for the University of Torino’s ChinaMed Project. Ghiselli’s research encompasses areas including China’s foreign policy and relations with North Africa and the Middle East and foreign policymaking dynamics in non-democratic countries. The depth and quality of Ghiselli’s research is evident, in particular his extensive engagement with Chinese primary sources (detailed in the chapter endnotes and particularly Appendix 1), which provide significant insights into both debates within policymaking or interest-communities, and Chinese public opinion.

Protecting China’s Interests Overseas examines the context for, thinking, and long-term evolution of Chinese foreign and security policy, including considering the impact of emerging non-traditional security threats and their implications. The book is divided into seven principal chapters, encompassing ‘The Chinese Government, the Idea of Security, and Foreign Policy’, ‘The Chinese Armed Forces and the Challenges of Globalization’ (which will be of particular interest to NRmembers), ‘From Deng’s Reforms to Libya’, ‘The Problems of Knowledge in Policymaking’, ‘Chinese Public Opinion and the Interest Frontiers’, ‘Diverse Threats, Diverse Responses’, and ‘Guarding the Interest Frontiers’, alongside an introduction, conclusion, seven  appendices, and a bibliography. This structure provides for a highly detailed and comprehensive analysis of Chinese thinking and the evolution of its foreign and security policy.

Of particular interest to this reviewer, and fellow readers of the NR will be the discussion of Chinese military debates and evolving thinking on traditional and non-traditional threats. Page 56, for example, details how PLA Navy officers have “fully embraced Mahan’s grammar of sea power in their arguments in favor of a larger role for the PLA Navy”, adding “The ‘PLA Navy Lobby’ has played an important role in Chinese security policymaking since the late 1980s, advocating larger naval budgets and promoting policies that emphasize the national importance of Chinese maritime interests and naval capabilities”. Whilst pages 221 to 227 provide valuable analysis of the PLA Navy’s anti-piracy deployments since 2008 and experience in the non-combatant evacuations from Libya and Yemen in 2011 and 2015 respectively. Ghiselli also discusses on pages 227 and 228, the thinking behind the decision to establish China’s first overseas base in Djibouti, and reflecting his wider approach throughout the book, ably explains the rationale from both geopolitical and geoeconomic perspectives.

In Protecting China’s Interests Overseas, Ghiselli provides a well-written, highly detailed analysis of the development of Chinese thinking on its evolving foreign interests and their protection. The book will be particularly valuable to those with an academic or professional interest in Chinese foreign, security and defence policy, but will be accessible to the interested lay reader. The book provides a broad-based examination of the subject, including geopolitics, geoeconomics and the influence of bureaucracies on policymaking, a point Ghiselli highlights: “Like many other governments, especially in large countries, the Chinese government is constantly preoccupied with domestic issues and with the control of the vast bureaucracy beneath it”. Given China’s growing global influence and power projection capabilities, understanding how Beijing sees its interests and the thinking underpinning its international engagement is critical. Protecting China’s Interests Overseas provides valuable insights into and analysis of how and why Chinese foreign and security policy is responding to the evolving nature of China’s overseas interests and the wider strategic environment. This book is highly recommended.