Regime Complexity and Complex Foreign Policy: China in International Development Finance Governance

This paper examines China’s involvement in the governance of international development finance (IDF), analyzes its approach to the IDF regime complex, and explains its strategic policy incoherence. It shows that in recent decades China has actively engaged with the elemental IDF regimes at multiple levels – global, regional, cross-regional, subregional, and bilateral. It argues that the Chinese government has been strategically incoherent in its policy toward IDF governance, lending support to competing models and norms. China’s ‘forum linking’ strategy with regard to multilateral development banks has enhanced international cooperation while its unconventional bilateral development assistance programs have facilitated ‘forum shopping’ by the recipient countries, thus undermining the traditional IDF framework. There are multiple sources of China’s strategic policy incoherence. Besides the country’s multiple identities and complex interests, this paper highlights the impact of the fragmented nature of the regime complex and Chinese perception of this fragmentation.

Policy Implications

  • China has been flexible and strategic in dealing with different aspects of the international development finance (IDF) regime complex.
  • China's ‘forum linking’ approach to multilateral development finance has enhanced international cooperation.
  • China's unconventional bilateral development assistance has enabled 'forum shopping' by recipient countries and undermined the IDF programs of traditional donors.
  • China’s incoherent policy toward IDF governance is rooted in its multiple identities and complex interests and shaped by the fragmented nature of the IDF regime complex.
  • The persistent debate over whether China is a status quo or a revisionist power does not provide a useful framework for understanding China’s approach to the existing international order(s).


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