Rebranding China
Contested Status Signaling in the Changing Global Order
Xiaoyu Pu




China is not a superpower; nor will it ever seek to be one. If one day China should change its color and turn into a superpower . . . the people of the world should expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it.

—Deng Xiaoping, speech at United Nations General Assembly, 1974

In November 2015, “China was trumpeting its arrival as one of the world’s great economic powers as the International Monetary Fund elevated the [Chinese] renminbi to the ranks of leading currencies, alongside the dollar, euro, yen and British pound.” Many Chinese elites celebrated the elevated status of the renminbi as another milestone of China’s rise to great power status. Yet a few days later, during the Paris Climate Change Conference, China insisted on its developing country status as Chinese officials noted that “hundreds of millions of people in China are still very poor.”3 A month later, however, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi cautioned against an inflated expectation of China’s global role: “China has no intention to lead anyone, nor does it intend to replace anyone. . . . As the largest developing country, China is moving to work tirelessly for upholding the legitimate rise and interest of the developing countries.”4 During his speech at the Summit Meeting for the Belt Road Initiative in May 2017, Xi Jinping expressed China’s intention to contribute more to global development, but Xi also reassured his international audience, “In pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative, China has no intention to form a small group detrimental to stability.”5 In a speech later that year at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping laid out an ambitious blueprint for China’s national rejuvenation, describing China as a “great power” (daguo) or a “strong power” (qiangguo) twenty-six times.6 But Xi also emphasized that “China’s international status as the world’s largest developing country has not changed.” Xi envisions China becoming a “global leader” in innovation, composite national strength, and international influence in the coming decades. He also declared, however, “No matter what stage of development it reaches, China will never seek hegemony or engage in expansion.”7

These declarations are part of a long series of contradictory signals that China has transmitted to the world regarding its preferred status. On the one hand, China continues to struggle for more recognition as a rising great power; on the other hand, China emphasizes its developing country status, sometimes complaining about other nations’ over-recognition of its rise in the international system. The existing research invariably assumes that China wants to have more status, and the duality of China’s status struggle has received little attention.8

Rising powers are expected to be eager to advance their status and prestige. In the late 1990s, the British strategist Gerald Segal said, “At best, China is a second-rank, middle power that has mastered the diplomatic art of theater: it has us willingly suspending our disbelief in its strength.”9 In the first two decades of the twenty-first century, China carefully crafted its image as a strong nation through high-profile projects such as the Beijing Olympic Games, the Shanghai Expo, and the Belt Road Initiative. With the lofty aspiration of a Chinese Dream, President Xi Jinping aims to rejuvenate the Chinese nation. Additionally, in the South China and East China Seas, China has strengthened its maritime claims. According to Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of US Pacific Command, “China is seeking regional hegemony in East Asia.”10 According to Liu Mingfu, a professor at China’s National Defense University, China and the United States will pursue an Olympic-style competition for global leadership.11 Michael Pillsbury, a former Pentagon official, claims that China has a “secret strategy” to replace the United States as the leading world power.12 When asked if Chinese leaders are serious about displacing the United States as the number-one power, Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore and one of the most insightful observers of China, replied, “Of course. . . . How could they not aspire to be number one in Asia, and in time the world?”13 From these perspectives, it appears that the status competition between China and the United States is inevitable.

China’s “diplomatic art of theater” includes another side, however: Beijing sometimes tries to avoid taking a high-profile role. In 2014, the International Comparison Program of the World Bank estimated that China’s economy, on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP), was likely to surpass that of the United States in size in 2014.14 Instead of celebrating its coronation as the world’s number-one economy, China’s National Bureau of Statistics said that the result was not from official statistics.15 The Chinese media, far from trumpeting the news of China’s expected elevation to the world’s largest economy, downplayed or ignored the announcement altogether.16 In multilateral forums such as the UN General Assembly, Chinese leaders continue to emphasize China’s status as a developing country. While the international audience increasingly views China as an emerging superpower that should take a leadership role, many Chinese elites and the public still hold that China is a developing country and that China should not be eager to take a leadership role in global affairs.17 According to Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, “We have been elevated [in the eyes of others] against our will. We have no intention to compete for global leadership.”18 This problem of status over-recognition is not unique to China. The foreign policy expert Manjari Chatterjee Miller says India has a similar problem. While many international observers fret about the pace of India’s rise, the foreign policy elite within India shy away from any talk of the country’s rising status. According to a senior Indian official, “There is a hysterical sense, encouraged by the West, about India’s rise.”19

China sends contradictory signals about its status and role in the twenty-first century. An assertive China demands greater accommodation of what it considers its core interests in Taiwan, Tibet, and the South China Sea, and leaders of a shirking China urge international audiences to see, not an up-and-coming superpower, but a still relatively poor developing country. How a country projects an image of its preferred status is important, and miscommunication of these signals can have serious consequences. The nature and content of the international order in coming decades will partially depend on what roles the emerging powers, especially China, decide to play.20 Is China a challenger or a supporter of the existing global order? Is China a “free rider” as described by President Barack Obama?21 A key element for a peaceful transition of power is the transparency of intentions that allows the established power to accept the greater role played by the rising power. Signaling by China and recognition of China’s status are therefore crucial. China’s status signaling shapes how China deals with many international issues. For instance, should China primarily position itself as a developing country or a responsible great power in the climate change negotiations? China’s complex roles in the international arena led to some inconsistencies that plagued its position during the Copenhagen climate negotiations.22 Historically, rising powers and established powers have had conflictual relationships, partially driven by competition over status. In international politics, status competition between rising and established powers is often thought to be a zero-sum game. China’s signaling could influence perceptions of China among its audiences, and those perceptions will influence how other countries respond to China’s changing position. For instance, if China were seeking to grow within the existing order, the Sino-American relationship may not be a zero-sum game, and the United States could largely be willing to accommodate China’s rise.23 If China were seeking to replace the United States as a new superpower, however, a Sino-American conflict might be inevitable.24 In particular, if international status is viewed as positional good, it is a scarce resource that cannot be shared by all nations.25 In recent years, China’s more assertive posturing has partially contributed to rethinking by the United States of its strategy toward China.26

Rebranding of a Conflicted China

Beijing’s intentional downplaying of its status, when viewed through the lens of existing international relations theories, appears puzzling; however, the debates in China about its status and role in the world partially explain the puzzle. In the early 1990s, Deng Xiaoping set a guiding principle for China’s diplomacy, emphasizing that China should “hide its capabilities and bide its time,” a low-profile approach known as the tao guang yang hui strategy in China.27 More recently, the Chinese foreign policy community has been debating what China should signal to both domestic and international audiences.28 Systematic analysis is needed to deepen our understanding of China’s international positioning. Some Chinese scholars conceptualize China’s zaidingwei (repositioning) as an issue of diplomatic transformation (waijiaozhuanxing).29 They debate whether China should play a more active role on the world stage.30 Questions related to these debates include: Is China an emerging superpower or a developing country? Should China continue maintaining a low-profile approach in global affairs? How should China manage its status and responsibilities on the global stage? How should China deal with the US-led global order?31

According to Wang Jisi and Cai Tuo, two of the most influential international relations thinkers in China, the heated debates over China’s dingwei (positioning) or zaidingwei within China’s foreign policy community are unique because the broader literature of international politics contains no systemic studies of repositioning.32 While Wang’s and Cai’s assessments of the Chinese scholarly literature may be accurate, I argue that repositioning can be analyzed from a more theoretical perspective. The challenge of how a great power adapts to its new status is not unique to China. According to a comparative study of several “shaper nations,” such as Germany, India, China, and Brazil, their national strategy is often distorted by domestic politics, national identity, and economic concerns, making it difficult to develop a coherent strategy to advance their power and status on the global stage.33 Japan has been struggling for status and prestige, measuring its standing against other major powers.34 Russia’s long-term relationship with the West has been shaped by its perceptions of honor: when Russia perceives its honor is recognized, it cooperates with the West; without such recognition Russia pursues independent policies defensively or assertively.35 In international history, rising and declining powers often have difficulty in objectively evaluating their shifting power and how to accordingly adjust policy. Not only does the inherent uncertainty and complexity in the international system constrain the objective assessment of power and status at a national level.36 Domestic politics also complicates the process of strategic adjustments, leading to pathologies such as underexpansion, overexpansion, or underbalance.37 In the late nineteenth century, domestic political fragmentation inhibited the ability of a declining Britain to assess its relative power position accurately.38 Under what conditions will a rising power pursue an overexpansion policy? When and why will a rising power pursue a shirking policy?39 Furthermore, viewed in a broader context, “the logic of positionality” is an important yet largely ignored topic in the international relations literature.40

This book conceptualizes China’s repositioning as a rebranding strategy. Here “rebranding” refers to the efforts of building a new image. Like a rapidly growing company trying to redefine its goal and brand, China aims to project a new image and to establish a new position. In business, rebranding is creation of a name or symbol, or a combination, for an established brand with the intention of developing a differentiated position within the marketplace. These changes are typically meant to reposition the brand, sometimes in an attempt to distance itself from negative connotations of the previous branding.41 Rebranding has been applied in politics and international relations.42 The concept is especially popular in the literature related to national image, soft power, and public diplomacy.43 I use “rebranding” in this book as a metaphor for China’s diplomatic repositioning, and in this sense it is different from rebranding in business and public diplomacy. As I demonstrate in this book, China’s repositioning on the global stage leads to a more fundamental question concerning China’s definition of identity and interests as well as the design and implementation of its grand strategy. While the Chinese government started the process of rebranding China in the twenty-first century, the debates are far from settled.

Thinking of China’s repositioning as a rebranding strategy requires some explanation. In the scholarly literature, China is often viewed as a prestige maximizer with a strong sense of status insecurity, or status anxiety.44 Traditionally, the status concern of rising powers is the gap between their desired high status and others’ recognition of their status. They have psychological and political motivations to close the gap.45 According to power transition theory, the onset of war between a dominant and a rising power grows more likely as the gap in relative strength between them narrows and as the latter’s grievances with the existing order move beyond any hope of peaceful resolution.46 This status discrepancy is widely recognized as a core issue of power transition in international politics. Another problem of status politics, status over-recognition, however, is understudied.

China’s grand strategy has no coherent blueprint, and there are competing visions for its emerging roles on the world stage.47 This is not to argue that Beijing has no grand strategy but rather that Beijing’s grand strategy includes contradictory elements.48 China has had a diverse domestic discourse about its international role in the first two decades of the twenty-first century. Officials and scholars in China’s foreign policy circles actively debate the opportunities and responsibilities of being a great power. Thus, China remains a deeply conflicted rising power with a series of competing international identities.49 While Xi at the 19th Party Congress set out a clear development goal for China, that goal has some contradictory or ambiguous elements on China’s international role.50 Domestically, many new actors are now part of a complex foreign-policy-making process.51 Beijing’s signals have been increasingly contradictory. China was clearly a status maximizer in the 1990s, but its rapid rise occurred more quickly than anticipated, and it is unprepared for its new international profile. Because China sits in multiple positions in world politics, China has to manage its conflicted roles. For instance, China has the interests of both a developing country and a developed one, and China is both a weak country and a strong one. With multiple identities, China finds it increasingly difficult to define its interests in a coherent way.52

China has been sending mixed signals about its status in international society. While mixed signals are difficult to avoid in all but the most tightly controlled regimes, they seem especially common in China. Mixed signals pose some challenges for China in projecting a desired image, but they also provide Chinese leaders flexibility as they explore the complicated and challenging paths ahead.

China’s mixed signals make it a veritable optical illusion, both a rising superpower and a weak developing country. Unique in current international politics, the rising powers of China and India, owing to the unprecedented sizes of their populations, possess historically unparalleled flexibility in the type of status they can choose to signal. China and India have large economies but are still poor in gross domestic product per capita. No great powers in history have had leading positions in world politics while still in an early stage of economic development as developing countries. China’s two-faced self-presentation to the world, both as a rich rising power and as a poor developing country should be further examined. While China is clearly seeking a higher status through conspicuous infrastructure projects and major international events, China also occasionally signals a low status. Existing literature can predict status-maximizing behaviors, but research on status-minimizing behaviors of a rising power is neglected. China as a status maximizer is not surprising because power transition theory posits that a rapidly rising great power will maximize its prestige. In reality, however, China is not always signaling a higher status. We see a wide range of signaling behaviors. For instance, China refused to assume a larger role during the global financial crisis in 2008 although very eager to provide assistance to Asian neighbors during the Asian financial crisis in 1997. The Group of Eight, widely regarded as an elite power club, might have considered inviting China to join the group, which would have consolidated China’s great power status, but the consensus within China’s foreign policy circle is that membership would contradict China’s own professed identity as a developing country and that it should not join.53 Creating a Group of Two (the United States and China) would certainly escalate China’s international status, but the Chinese are ambivalent. Some Chinese elites and public like the idea because it would increase China’s international status, but Chinese leaders have publicly rejected it.54


CHAPTER 1   Introduction

1. Keith Bradsher and Coral Davenport, “As U.S. and Europe Pass the Hat at Climate Talks, China Clings to Developing-Nation Status,” New York Times, December 9, 2015,

2. Xi Jinping, “President Xi’s Speech to Davos in Full,” World Economic Forum, January 17, 2017,

3. Reuters, “Senior Chinese Diplomat: China Will Assume World Leadership If Needed,” Business Insider, January 23, 2017,

4. Julie Bishop, “Australia-China Foreign and Strategic Dialogue—Joint Press Conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi,” February 7, 2017,

5. Xi Jinping, “Work Together to Build the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” speech delivered at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, Beijing, May 14, 2017,

6. Chris Buckley and Keith Bradsher, “Xi Jinping’s Marathon Speech: Five Takeaways,” New York Times, October 18, 2017,

7. Xi Jinping, “Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” speech delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Beijing, October 18, 2017, report_at_19th_CPC_National_Congress.pdf.

8. For examinations of China’s status in the world, see Yong Deng, China’s Struggle for Status: The Realignment of International Relations (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008); and William A. Callahan, China: The Pessoptimist Nation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

9. Gerald Segal, “Does China Matter?” Foreign Affairs 78, no. 5 (1999): 24.

10. Franz-Stefan Gady, “US Admiral: ‘China Seeks Hegemony in East Asia,’The Diplomat, February 25, 2016,

11. Liu Mingfu, Zhongguo meng: Hou meiguo shidai de daguo siwei yu zhanlue dingwei [The China dream: Great power thinking and strategic posture in the post-American era] (Beijing: Zhongguo youyi chubangongsi, 2010).

12. Michael Pillsbury, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (New York: Henry Holt, 2015).

13. Graham Allison, “What Xi Jinping Wants,” The Atlantic, May 31, 2017,

14. World Bank, “2011 International Comparison Program Summary Results Release Compares the Real Size of World Economies,” April 29, 2014, China did become the largest economy based on PPP in 2014. See “World GDP (PPP) Ranking,” Statistics Times, April 23, 2015,

15. “Woguo burenke GDP chaoguo meiguo” [Our country does not recognize GDP larger than US], CEWeekly, May 6, 2014,

16. For an analysis of why China does not want to be recognized as the largest economy, see Minxin Pei, “Why China Hates Being No. 1,” Fortune, May 5, 2014,

17. Isaac Stone Fish, “Is China Still a ‘Developing’ Country?” Foreign Policy, September 25, 2014,

18. Quoted in David Shambaugh, China Goes Global (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 307.

19. Manjari Chatterjee Miller, “India’s Feeble Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 3 (2013): 14 –19.

20. For a discussion of three possible roles of China in emerging world order, see Randall L. Schweller and Xiaoyu Pu, “After Unipolarity: China’s Visions of International Order in an Era of U.S. Decline,” International Security 36, no. 1 (2011): 41–72.

21. Thomas L. Friedman, “Obama on the World,” New York Times, August 8, 2014, For a discussion on backlash from Obama’s remarks, see “Obama Labeling China as ‘Free Rider’ in Iraq Issue,” China Daily, September 4, 2014, From a diplomatic perspective, China may not like to be called a free rider. But from an analytical perspective, free riding could describe any great power. See Andrew B. Kennedy, “China and the Free-Rider Problem: Exploring the Case of Energy Security,” Political Science Quarterly 130, no. 1 (2015): 27–50.

22. Björn Contrad, “China in Copenhagen: Reconciling the ‘Beijing Climate Revolution’ and the ‘Copenhagen Climate Obstinacy,’China Quarterly 210 (2012): 435 –455.

23. G. John Ikenberry, “The Rise of China and the Future of the West: Can the Liberal System Survive?” Foreign Affairs 87, no. 1 (2008): 23 –37.

24. John J. Mearsheimer, “The Gathering Storm: China’s Challenge to US Power in Asia,” Chinese Journal of International Politics 3, no. 4 (2010): 381–396.

25. Randall Schweller, “Realism and the Present Great Power System: Growth and Positional Conflict over Scarce Resources,” in Unipolar Politics, ed. Ethan B. Kapstein and Michael Mastanduno (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 28–68. For more on positional good in a general sense, see Fred Hirsch, Social Limits to Growth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), 27.

26. For a discussion of China’s assertive diplomacy, see Dingding Chen, Xiaoyu Pu, and Alastair Iain Johnston, “Debating China’s Assertiveness,” International Security 38, no. 3 (2013): 176 –183. For discussions of US rethinking of its China policy, see Harry Harding, “Has US China Policy Failed?” Washington Quarterly 38, no. 3 (2015): 95 –122; Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner, “The China Reckoning: How Beijing Defied American Expectations,” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 2 (2018): 60 –70; and Aaron L. Friedberg, “Competing with China,” Survival 60, no. 3 (2018): 7–64.

27. Deng Xiaoping’s original Chinese does not easily translate into English. But Deng’s main message was that China should maintain a low profile in international affairs. For a detailed analysis of the influence of this idea in China and debates over it, see Dingding Chen and Jianwei Wang, “Lying Low No More? China’s New Thinking on the Tao Guang Yang Hui Strategy,” China: An International Journal 9, no. 2 (2011): 195 –216. All translations are mine.

28. For the argument that China should change its grand strategy and abandon the low-profile approach, see Yan Xuetong, “From Keeping a Low Profile to Striving for Achievement,” Chinese Journal of International Politics 7, no. 2 (2014): 153 –184; and Chen and Wang, “Lying Low No More?” For the argument that China should continue the low-profile approach, see Wang Jisi, “Zhongguo de guoji dingwei yu taoguangyanghui yousuozuowei de zhanlue sixiang” [The international positioning of China and the strategic principle of keeping a low profile while getting something accomplished], International Studies (Guoji Wenti Yanjiu), no. 2 (2011): 4 –9. The political and ideational obstacles to China playing a larger role include not only Deng Xiaoping’s low-profile principle but also China’s long-term principle of nonintervention in the domestic affairs of other countries. To overcome these problems, Chinese scholars tend to use “creative involvement” to describe China’s relatively more active role in some affairs. See Wang Yizhou, Chuangzhaoxin jieru: Zhongguo waiji xin wuxiang [Creative involvement: A new direction in China’s diplomacy] (Beijing: Peking University Press, 2011).

29. Wang Yizhou, “Lun Zhongguo waijizhuanxin” [On China’s diplomatic transformation], Xuexi yu tanshuo, no. 5 (2008): 57–67. Thomas J. Christensen’s book The China Challenge briefly mentions the debates on China’s dingwei without providing detailed analysis. See Thomas J. Christensen, The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power (New York: W. W. Norton, 2015), 3–8. For an analysis of Chinese debate over international positioning, see Xiaoyu Pu, “Controversial Identity of a Rising China,” Chinese Journal of International Politics 10, no. 2 (2017): 131–149.

30. Yan, “From Keeping a Low Profile to Striving for Achievement”; Qin Yaqing; “Continuity Through Change: Background Knowledge and China’s International Strategy,” Chinese Journal of International Politics 7, no. 3 (2014): 285 –314.

31. Pu, “Controversial Identity of a Rising China,” 131–149.

32. Wang, “Zhongguo de guoji dingwei yu taoguangyanghui yousuozuowei de zhanlue sixiang,” 4 –9; Cai Tuo, “Dangdai Zhongguo guoji dingwei de ruogan sikao” [Some reflections on China’s international positioning], Zhongguo shehui kexue [Social sciences in China], no. 5 (2010): 121–136.

33. William I. Hitchcock, Melvyn P. Leffler, and Jeffrey W. Legro, eds., Shaper Nations: Strategies for a Changing World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).

34. Kenneth Pyle, Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose (New York: Public Affairs, 2008).

35. Andrei P. Tsygankov, Russia and the West from Alexander to Putin: Honor in International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

36. Very little literature actually catches the complexity in the international relations system. For an effort to deal with the complex great power system, see Bear F. Braumoeller, “Systemic Politics and the Origins of Great Power Conflict,” American Political Science Review 102, no. 1 (2008): 77–93.

37. Fareed Zakaria, From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998); Jack Snyder, Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and International Ambition (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993); Randall Schweller, Unanswered Threats: Political Constraints on the Balance of Power (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

38. Aaron Friedberg, The Weary Titan: Britain and the Experience of Relative Decline, 1895 –1905 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).

39. For an analysis of under- or overexpansion in the case of US foreign policy, see Peter Trubowitz, Politics and Strategy: Partisan Ambition and American Statecraft (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011); and Arthur A. Stein, “Domestic Constraints, Extended Deterrence, and the Incoherence of Grand Strategy,” in The Domestic Bases of Grand Strategy, ed. Richard Rosecrance and Arthur A. Stein (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 96 –123.

40. In a theoretical essay, two scholars mention that we should pay more attention to the “logic of positionality.” See Janice Bially Mattern and AyÐe Zarakol, “Hierarchies in World Politics,” International Organization 70, no. 3 (2016): 637.

41. Laurent Muzellec and Mary Lambkin, “Corporate Rebranding and the Implications for Brand Architecture Management: The Case of Guinness (Diageo) Ireland,” Journal of Strategic Marketing 16, no. 4 (2008): 283 –299.

42. Margaret Scammell, “Political Brands and Consumer Citizens: The Rebranding of Tony Blair,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 611 (2007): 176–192; Peter Van Ham, “The Rise of the Brand State: The Postmodern Politics of Image and Reputation,” Foreign Affairs 80, no. 5 (2001): 2–6.

43. Ying Fan, “Branding the Nation: Towards a Better Understanding,” Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 6, no. 2 (2010): 97–103; Christopher S. Browning, “Nation Branding, National Self-Esteem, and the Constitution of Subjectivity in Late Modernity,” Foreign Policy Analysis 11, no. 2 (2015): 195 –214; Keith Dinnie, Nation Branding: Concepts, Issues, Practice (New York: Routledge); Jian Wang, “Localizing Public Diplomacy: The Role of Sub-national Actors in Nation Branding,” Place Branding 2, no. 1 (2005): 32–42.

44. Alastair Iain Johnston, “Realism(s) and Chinese Security Policy in the Post–Cold War Period,” in Unipolar Politics: Realism and State Strategies After the Cold War, ed. Ethan B. Kapstein and Michael Mastanduno (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 261–318. Yong Deng says China’s struggle for great power status is an “uphill struggle.” See Deng, China’s Struggle for Status, 270.

45. For instance, on the basis of social identity theory, any country, but especially great powers, has a natural tendency to project a positive and distinctive image and status on the world stage. See Deborah Welch Larson and Alexei Shevchenko, “Status Seekers: Chinese and Russian Responses to US Primacy,” International Security 34, no. 4 (2010): 63 –95.

46. For a comprehensive review of power transition theory, see Jonathan M. DiCicco and Jack S. Levy, “Power Shifts and Problem Shifts: The Evolution of the Power Transition Research Program,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 43, no. 6 (1999): 675 –704. For the application of power transition theory in US-China relations, see Ronald L. Tammen and Jacek Kugler, “Power Transition and China-US Conflicts,” Chinese Journal of International Politics 1, no. 1 (2006): 35 –55. For a critique of power transition theory, see Steve Chan, China, the US, and the Power-Transition Theory (New York: Routledge, 2008).

47. Schweller and Pu, “After Unipolarity.”

48. Denny Roy, “China’s Grand Strategy Is Not Absent, Just Contradictory,” Asia Pacific Bulletin, no. 292 (2014): 1–2.

49. David Shambaugh, “Coping with a Conflicted China,” Washington Quarterly 34, no. 1 (2011): 7–27; Pu, “Controversial Identity of a Rising China.”

50. Timothy R. Heath, “China’s Endgame: The Path Towards Global Leadership,” Lawfare, January 5, 2018,

51. Linda Jakobson and Dean Knox, “New Foreign Policy Actors in China,” SIPRI Policy Paper no. 26, September 2010,

52. Pu, “Controversial Identity of a Rising China.”

53. Thanks go to Ren Xiao for pointing this out.

54. Cong Mu, “Wen Rules Out ‘G2’ Proposal,” Global Times, May 22, 2009,