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International relations of China (TCJ focus 3+4)


Admission requirements

Some background in Contemporary East Asian politics and international relations would be beneficial, such as completion of the following courses:

  • BA1 ‘East Asia in the Cold War Order’, Political Economy of Japan’, ‘Politics and Economy of China’,

  • BA2 ‘International Relations of Japan’, ‘Modern Chinese Economy A’ and/or ‘Political and Social Developments in North and South Korea’.


As protestors gathered in Tiananmen Square to demand greater political rights in the summer of 1989, it appeared as though the changes that swept Europe with the collapse of the Soviet Union were being replicated in China. Nearly two decades on, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) remains in power, having successfully negotiated the end of the Cold War and built the foundations for China’s rise as a Great Power in the world. China is now integrated into the world economy and has played important political roles, such as directing the course of the six party talks on North Korea’s denuclearization. Yet, to many states, China’s rise appears threatening, despite China’s historical identity as a ‘benign hegemon’ in the Sino-Centric Tributary System until the mid-19th century. Military and political tensions between China and Taiwan threaten to undermine the stability of the Northeast Asian region, and China’s historical animosity towards Japan endures.

This course will explore China’s role in the contemporary international relations of the East Asian region. The course begins with an introduction to China’s international relations and foreign policy making process, as well as an examination of how International Relations theory can help explain China’s role in world affairs. These perspectives are applied to interpret the Chinese government’s response to the Tiananmen Square incident at the end of the Cold War and to contemplate the notion of China as a ‘Fragile Superpower’. The next six classes examine a series of political, economic and security issues in China’s relations with Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, ASEAN, North Korea and the United States from various theoretical perspectives. Students will then investigate China’s role in the United Nations and ascertain the extent to which the Chinese government’s attitude to sovereignty and non-intervention might be changing. The course concludes by considering China’s regional and global roles in the wake of the credit crunch.

The issues addressed in this course will have relevance to a number of disciplines. Students should draw on previous work they have done in other academic fields and demonstrate their knowledge in seminars, as well as in their assessed work. It is also hoped that students will apply the knowledge they gain through studying the international relations of China to other courses they are taking.

Students are expected to use additional sources to those in the suggested reading list and to keep up-to-date with current affairs through reading newspapers, relevant internet sites and online journals.

Course objectives

This module aims to provide a critical examination of key issues and processes related to the international relations of China. The focus of this module is on developments since World War Two, but with a particular emphasis on the post-Cold War period. By the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the complex issues and processes related to China’s political, economic and security relations.

  • Apply conceptual tools to analyze key events and processes in the international relations of China.

  • Demonstrate appropriate cognitive, communicative and transferable skills, develop the capacity for independent learning, critique major texts on China’s international relations, and participate in class debates.


Tuesday 9.00-11.00. Timetable

Mode of instruction

Lecturers and seminars

Course load

  • 24 Hours of classes

  • 72 Hours of reading and web post responses/class preparation (6 hours per week over 12 weeks)

  • 24 Hours to complete the Research Essay

  • 10 Hours to prepare for the debate

  • 10 Hours to prepare for the Essay Plan

Total: 140 Hours for 5 ECTS

Assessment method

Participation element (incl. attendance, participation, debate, and pop quiz): 40%
Analytical element (essay plan (1,000 words)): 20%
Research element (research essay (2,000-2,500 words)): 40%


A handbook denoting weekly readings will be posted on Blackboard the week before the start of the semester.
Additional information (powerpoints, useful websites, etc…) will also be found on blackboard over the course of the semester.
Students are also required to submit five web posts (short responses to seminar questions based on the weekly readings) over the course of the semester.

Reading list

Core textbooks include:

  • Johnston, A.I. and Ross, R.S. Eds. 2006. New Directions in the Study of China’s Foreign Policy. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

  • Zhao, Quansheng. Liu, Guoli. Eds. 2009. Managing the China Challenge: Global Perspectives. Abingdon and New York: Routledge. Please note that this book has not yet been published in paperback and may be too expensive for you to buy.


Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Contact information

Dr. L. Black
Room 008, Het Arsenaal;
Office Hours: Tuesday 15:00-17:00
Alternative times are by appointment only


This course provides a solid foundation in International Relations Theory upon which students can build in the BA3 Regionalism and Regionalization in the International Relations of East Asia course.