Between ambition and ambiguity: Strategic ambiguity and China's Belt and Road initiative
Whether the rise of China poses a threat or opportunity to international stability continues to spark debate between IR scholars. The ‘China threat’ school, often offensive realists, claims that China cannot rise peacefully because it seeks to replace the US as a hegemon. The Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) is Xi’s flagship foreign policy project and aims to connect China with Eurasia via land and sea routes. While the BRI is a highly ambitious project, it is also a highly ambiguous one – puzzling to offensive realists and other schools who expect rational, optimized foreign policies. This study argues that the BRI’s ambiguity is strategic and helps the CCP to enhance the BRI’s flexibility and ultimately to sustain the CCP’s performance legitimacy. Strategic ambiguity helps the CCP to deliver the BRI as a success to its domestic audiences on who the CCP relies for its legitimacy to power. A case study of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the BRI’s flagship project, reveals the existence of strategic ambiguity as a rational foreign policy tool and sheds new light on the nature of the BRI and China’s foreign policy.
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