Over the past several years, the most significant overall U.S. foreign policy action of relevance to China has been the announcement and initial follow-through of the so-called “Pacific Pivot” or “Rebalancing” of U.S. attention and resources to the Asia-Pacific.  This policy move (hereafter termed the Pacific Pivot) , albeit in many ways expressing great continuity with past U.S. policy, is being viewed by many observers and officials in the U.S., China, Asia, and elsewhere, as an important response not only to the growing overall significance of the region to American interests, but in particular to the challenges and opportunities presented by an increasingly powerful and influential China.  The Pacific Pivot has thus drawn considerable attention and levels of controversy in many quarters, and nowhere more so than in Beijing.

This article takes a close look at the Chinese reactions to Washington’s increased stress on Asia, including Chinese assessments of the perceived implications of this policy shift for the region and China in particular.  Three categories of sources are examined :

  • Authoritative:  Several types of PRC sources are considered authoritative in the sense of explicitly “speaking for the regime.”   Of these, commentary on the Pacific Pivot has only occurred during Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) or Ministry of Defense (MND) press conferences, and in the remarks of a few senior MFA officials.
  • Quasi-authoritative: Several types of usually homophonous, bylined articles appearing in the People’s Daily are considered quasi-authoritative in the sense that, although indirect and implicit, they are intended to convey the view of an important PRC organization.  Of these, commentary on the Pacific Pivot has only occurred in articles using the new byline Zhong Sheng (钟声),which is an apparent homophone for “the voice of the Central,” and appears to be written by the editorial staff of the People’s Daily International Department.
  • Non-authoritative: Many types of low-level commentary and signed articles appearing in a wide variety of PRC and Hong Kong media convey notable yet decidedly non-authoritative views.    Many of these types of articles include a broad spectrum of diverse reactions on the Pacific Pivot.
Michael D. Swaine
Swaine is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and one of the most prominent American analysts in Chinese security studies.
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The content of statements and commentaries appearing in these sources is compared and contrasted to discern possible differences in the Chinese reaction to the Pacific Pivot.  In addition, their timing and content are compared to apparent changes over time in U.S. formulations, emphases, and military or diplomatic actions regarding the policy move, to see whether and how the Chinese response might be prompted and shaped by specific U.S. policy behaviors.  

The essay begins with a brief summary of the history and evolution of the Pacific Pivot (centering on key leadership speeches and writings as well as statements by U.S. government sources, such as State Department and Defense Department officials and spokespersons), followed by a quantitative and qualitative assessment of the Chinese response, divided into both authoritative and quasi-authoritative versus non-authoritative sources.  The quantitative analysis examines the frequency and timing of the appearance of statements regarding the pivot in selected key media.

The qualitative analysis examines the content and timing of Chinese statements and commentaries with regard to five issue areas where references to the Pacific Pivot are most evident: 

  • Broad regional strategy and U.S.-China relations 
  • U.S. defense doctrine and policies (especially the Air-Sea Battle Concept, or ASBC) 
  • The U.S. military presence in Asia (including basing, deployments, and exercises) 
  • U.S. policy toward the South China Sea territorial disputes  
  • The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) initiative 

However, not all of the authoritative, quasi-authoritative, and non-authoritative sources examined cover every one of these six issue areas.

This article was originally published in the China Leadership Monitor. The full text is available here.