Return of the Dragon: Rising China and Regional Security

Return of the Dragon

Author(s):  Denny Roy

ISBN:           9780231159005

Publisher:  Columbia University Press

Year:           2013

Price:          $35.00

Reviewed by Emilian Kavalski, Associate Professor of Global Studies, Institute for Social justice, Australian Catholic University (Sydney).

Perhaps few other actors had their standing in international life as profoundly altered by the end of the Cold War as China. China’s expanding outreach and diversifying roles have provided a novel context for the ongoing reconsiderations of world politics. In this setting, Beijing’s external relations attract policy, scholarly, and public interest both because of its agency and due to the specificities of its individual engagements. The established purview is that it is the complex interaction between the very turbulence of the post-1989 period and the ability to maintain consistent levels of economic growth that have allowed China to demonstrate an enhanced confidence and ability to fashion international relations. In fact, a number of commentators have interpreted China’s growing prominence as one of the clearest indications of the emergence of a qualitatively new pattern of world affairs, which is no longer dominated by Western international actors. China’s global has demonstrated that non-Western actors are just as skilled and willing to engage in the global playground as Western ones.

This shift appears to attest both to the transformations in and the transformative potential of Chinese foreign policy attitudes. At the same time, such changes have backstopped the growing attention to the prospective trajectories of Beijing’s international interactions. Reflecting this interest, Denny Roy’s study provides a perceptive account of China’s foreign relations. The focus is on the security strategies underpinning these relations. In this way, Roy’s investigation offers effective and compelling contextualization of the conflicting opinions on China’s global roles and aspirations, and the whole range of contending views on whether its rise is a sustainable and positive phenomenon altogether. The central aim of the book is to provide “a broad sweep of China’s effect on regional security” (p. 9) through case studies of Beijing’s relations with both its Asian neighbors and the United States. The process tracing provided by the case studies offers an illustrative account of China’s emerging international agency.

In particular, the evidence glean from the instances of China’s relations with Japan, the US, Taiwan, Korea, the South China Sea dispute, etc. confirms Roy’s assumption that China’s growing prominence not only in Asian, but also in global affairs “will likely lead to a net reduction in security for most of the world” (p. 262). As he puts it, China’s rhetoric of a peaceful rise “should not be taken seriously”, because “several virulent forces appear poised to break or slip through the pacifying bulwarks [of its rhetoric]. As an emerging great power, China is ambitious because it can be. Two additional factors drive China’s ambition: the Chinese believe their country is historically destined to be the leader of the region, and they see heavy American influence in Asia as threatening and constraining rather than benign. Chinese feelings of greater entitlement because of China’s rise are overlapping with residual sense of historical victimization stemming from past weakness” (p. 259).

Such conclusion is largely informed by Roy’s own perspective. There seem to be two general camps in Western scholarship about China’s rise – the former includes those that perceive it with unease and the latter includes those who do not think that there are grounds for concern. Roy is clearly siding with those who are nervous about China’s growing outreach. As he proclaims, “I find rising China to be highly assertive in keeping with the expectations of offensive realism in the PRC’s immediate neighbourhood” (pp. 7-8). In particular, what distinguishes him from other commentators is the conviction that Chinese strategy “would not change because of a democratization of China’s system of government. (p. 171) – a statement that sets Roy apart from most observers. In this respect, all those that favour Roy’s position would find a lot of fodder to fuel their anxiety, while to those that disagree, his book will provide plenty of ammunition to demonstrate the problems associated with such fretful analyses. Nevertheless, it has to be acknowledged that Roy does not suggest that there is anything exceptional about Beijing’s ambitious (if not necessarily always assertive) foreign policy strategy. In fact, he is quite explicit that “China has proven itself as capable of hypocrisy as other great powers” (p. 241).

 Regardless of one’s point of view, however, Roy’s account offers a succinct and well-structured introduction to the motivation, practices, and ideas animating China’s security calculus. His analysis seems to concur with the proposition that the current rash of attention to Beijing’s global outreach confirms the variety of new roles and attitudes that it has extended in world politics. In this respect, Roy’s investigation offers an original perspective on China’s external stance. At the same time, it presents a lucid and insightful analysis of the evolution, patterns and practices of China’s foreign policy. One of its greatest strengths is its ability to draw a historically-grounded and unusually vivid account of the content, practices, and frameworks of China’s international agency that will be welcome by students, scholars, and policy-makers alike. Not surprisingly, therefore, the volume would benefit immensely those interested in the history and strategic culture of China’s foreign policy. Roy’s book will also be invaluable for the purposes of teaching and theorizing the ongoing transformations in global life as a result of China’s increasing centrality in the patterns and practices of global politics.

Suggested Citation:

Emilian Kavalski (2014). Review of Return of the Dragon: Rising China and Regional Security, by Denny Roy, East Asian Integration Studies Vol.7, no.8, Internet file: