Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2011

Rising Power… To Do What? Evaluating China's Power in Southeast Asia

Evelyn Goh

March 2011

S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies


Drawing on China’s relations with its relatively weak neighbours in Southeast Asia where we ought to find evidence of China getting other states to do what they otherwise would not have done, this paper asks how and how effectively China has converted its growing resources into influence over other states, their strategic choices and the outcomes of events. First, it adopts the framework of structural and relational power, further disaggregating the latter into persuasion, inducement and coercion as modes of exercising power. Second, it accounts for the reception to power by offering an analytical framework based on variations in the alignment of the extant preferences of the subjects and wielders of power, which determine the degree to which alterations are necessary as part of an exercise of power. The analysis identifies key cases particularly demonstrating three categories of Chinese power: its power as ‘multiplier’ when extent preferences are aligned; its power to persuade when pre-existing preferences are debated; and its power to prevail in instances of conflicting preferences. It finds that the first two categories of power have been most prevalent, while there have been very few instances where Southeast Asian states have done what they would otherwise not have done as a result of Chinese behaviour. These findings suggest that even though China’s power resources have increased significantly, the way in which it has managed to convert these resources into control over outcomes is uneven.