Why did President Bush take America to war with Iraq in 2003?

The decision for the United States and its allies to invade Iraq in 2003 is one of the most controversial foreign policy acts in modern US history. The reasons for going to war in Iraq remain at the centre of contemporary debate. Those critical of the war argue that Bush acted irrationally, with some suggesting that the Administration’s judgment was clouded by the tragedy of 9/11. Others suspect that the war effort was an attempt to control Iraq’s oil. I make the case against these theories and argue that Washington’s officially stated reason for invasion- the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein, remains the most plausible explanation for the war. Though America’s invasion did not find conclusive evidence of Hussein’s alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) or links to Al Qaeda, these threats were reasonably believed at the time and justifiably acted upon by the Bush Administration. The promotion of democracy in Iraq is a further purported reason for the war. I argue that rather than underpinning the decision to go to war, the prospect of a democratic Iraq was merely a supporting factor. 

Then President George W Bush is seen addressing the US Army soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas about the possibility of military action against Iraq in January 2003 [File: Jeff Mitchell/Reuters]

9/11

The devastating effects of 9/11 reflected a turning point in American foreign policy. Some suggest that the decision to invade Iraq was impulsively made by officials who were jaded by the tragedy. However, this accusation does not stand up to scrutiny. The terror attacks demonstrated the capacity of lightly armed terrorists to wreak havoc and destruction on the United States. The Bush Administration’s fears were only heightened by allegations of Saddam Hussein’s WMD capability. The 9/11 attack on America’s homeland induced a visceral response that made Washington more acutely aware of their vulnerability to international terrorism. This awareness fundamentally transformed American foreign policy. The Bush Doctrine assumed that Cold War standards of deterrence and containment were no longer effective in regulating the actions of rogue states in a new age of international terrorism. Aware of the risks that Saddam Hussein could pose to the US, Bush called for assertive US leadership and the strategy of pre-emptive attack ‘against emerging threats before they are fully formed and can appear suddenly in our skies and cities.’

The necessity of pre-emptively attacking rogue states to protect national security was reinforced by the international community. Following the 2002 Bali Bombings which killed 88 Australians, Prime Minister John Howard stated the need to consider pre-emptive action as a last resort. Likewise, the European Union agreed that ‘threats such as terrorism may require action even before crises arise.’ This further strengthens the claim that the US declaration of war in 2003 was a prudent and reasonable response to the threat assessments of the time. In the US, 9/11 provided the wake-up call that thrust national security to the top of the Bush agenda. This change was echoed by policy makers throughout the world who also became more aware of the need to combat international terrorism. Therefore, the decision to invade Iraq was not impulsive or irrational, it was practical and made in accordance with the most accurate threat perceptions of international terrorism at the time.

Oil

Great powers of the past have often been driven by resource control. The interpretation of the Iraq war as a ploy to gain control of Iraq’s oil reserves continues to enjoy widespread currency today. To make this case, critics point to the oil industry links of Bush Administration officials ranging from President Bush himself, to the Secretary of Treasury Paul O’Neill and National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice. Gaining control of oil in the Middle East would have enabled the US to control the resources of China and India, the fastest growing economies in the world. However suspicious these factors may seem, both indicate a coincidence rather than a conspiracy. Closer examination of the facts leads to the conclusion that the Iraq war was not fought for oil. 

In the wake of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, America did not significantly benefit from Iraqi oil contracts. Despite the deployment of 200,000 US troops to Iraq and the estimated $2 trillion expended during the war effort, American companies were not given preferential treatment in virtue of their country’s involvement. Indeed, companies from nations that were neutral or hostile to the Iraq war were given equal footing to the US during oil negotiations. Only one US company (Exxon-Mobil) was successful in gaining a contract. This deal was no more impressive than the deals achieved by Russia’s Lukoil, Norway’s Statoil, Malaysia’s Petronas or Japan’s Japex. Furthermore, the most significant beneficiary of post-war oil contracts was China, emerging as the largest buyer of Iraqi oil in 2013. Considering that the Iraq war came at such a high cost to the American tax payer, while doing little to fuel the profits of American oil companies, it is extraordinary that the oil conspiracy continues to hold such popularity today. Defenders and detractors of the 2003 decision alike should acknowledge that the ‘oil narrative’ is a selective and speculative account at best.

National Security  

The officially stated and most plausible reason for the 2003 Iraq war was the national security threat that Saddam Hussein posed to the United States. At the time of the war, Saddam Hussein had been a brutal dictator of 25 years and a central threat to peace in the Middle East. Prior to 2003, the US had made ‘honourable efforts’ to contain and deter the threat of Iraq. Notably, the US engaged in diplomacy at the UN, imposing sanctions on Iraq and participating in the passage of 16 UN Security Council resolutions between 1990-1999 which demanded Iraq destroy all WMD and cease support for international terrorism. Hussein repeatedly defied these resolutions and responded to US funded peace keeping initiatives such as the Oil-for-Food Programme with corruption. Hussein also shot down US aircrafts which were in place to protect the Iraqi people from genocide. It was in this context that the Bush administration decided that the containment of Iraq through sanctions and deterrence was ineffective and could no longer ensure the national security of American citizens. The use of American military force was intended to defeat Saddam while also sending a cautionary message to any other nation currently harbouring or enabling terrorists.

From the American perspective, the two most concerning accusations of Saddam Hussein’s regime were his alleged WMD programme and ties to Al Qaeda. Though these allegations have since been discredited, the decision to go to war was based on leading threat perceptions of the Iraqi regime available at the time. While the intel regarding Saddam’s links to terrorism and WMD later proved to be incorrect, Saddam Hussein was a known aggressor of peace within the Middle East who had proven a distain for cooperation with the United States. Even putting the WMD and terrorism threats to one side, this regime was one that posed considerable dangers to the national security of the US. 

WMD Threat 

Saddam’s purported possession of WMD was of great concern to the United States. The reasonable chance that Saddam possessed WMD was a risk that President Bush was unwilling to gamble on. As he stated in the 2002 State of the Union address ‘We must prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the world.’ In the case of Iraq, Saddam Hussein had a history of using WMD to murder thousands of his own citizens, ‘leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children.’ Thus, America only needed to refer to recent history to establish Hussein’s tolerance for utilising WMD. The Bush Administration then had to determine whether Saddam continued to possess WMD. This suspicion was difficult to prove, but equally difficult to rule out as the full account of chemical warfare munitions was never verified and international inspectors were routinely met with obstruction from the Iraqi government.

While the purported WMD were never found in Iraq, this does not mean that their potential existence did not warrant the invasion in the first place. Akin to all major foreign policy decision making, Bush’s declaration of war was a decision made under time-pressure constraints and with intel that was still in the development stages. Only after the war would it become known that Saddam’s deception about his WMD capacity stemmed from his desire to deter adversaries, such as Iran, and intimidate domestic foes, such as the Kurds.

Prior to the declaration of war, US intelligence strongly supported the theory that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD. Critics argue that analysts were bullied into finding evidence to support the Bush Administration’s agenda. However, American bipartisan inquiries such as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Robb-Silberman Commission, established to investigate the post-war intelligence, overwhelmingly found that analysts were not forced to manipulate their findings regarding Saddam’s alleged WMD. A further critique is that some intelligence agencies discovered evidence which contradicted the widespread belief of Saddam’s WMD capabilities and that Bush policy makers ‘cherry picked’ intelligence which bolstered the case for war while ignoring contrary evidence. Such claims are significantly weakened by the weight of the international consensus at the time. Suspicions of Hussein’s WMD program were not only supported by American intelligence analysts but also the clear majority of analysts working within the international intelligence community. This included analysts from countries strongly opposed to the war such as France, Germany and Russia. Though intelligence on Saddam’s WMD possession was inaccurate at the time of invasion and Saddam was arguably not as dangerous as the international community had initially believed, the Bush Administration made a time-pressured decision based on the genuine and most commonly held threat perceptions of the day.     

Terrorism Threat 

In light of Washington’s heightened sense of vulnerability to international terrorism, Saddam Hussein’s alleged and substantiated links to international terrorist groups further cemented the case for war in 2003. The Iraqi regime had a history of aiding, training and harbouring terrorists. Captured Iraqi documents published by the Institute for Defence Analyses reveal that although Saddam had no operational links to Al Qaeda, he did have ties to multiple terrorist groups, including the Palestine Liberation Front, Hamas, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and Afghanistan’s Hezb-e-Islami. Bush feared that Saddam’s links to terrorism could result in the deployment of further terrorist attacks against the United States. The risk of another devastating terrorist attack on American home soil was tangible as terrorism continued to destabilise the international community after 9/11. In 2002, journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded, there was also an assault on a synagogue in Tunisia and American diplomat Laurence Foley was killed in Jordan. In October of the same year, the Bali Bombings killed more than 200 people. As Saddam Hussein was a clear enemy, President Bush could not rule out the potential for him to deploy terrorism against the United States or support another organisation to do so. Though Saddam Hussein was not found to have links to Al Qaeda or the 9/11 terrorist attack, his ties to other Islamic terrorist groups still characterised him as a threat. The US strategy to pre-emptively destabilise the Saddam regime was therefore warranted.   

Democracy 

Fostering democracy in the Middle East, was a supporting reason for President Bush’s campaign to oust Saddam Hussein in 2003. The Bush doctrine at its core advanced the theory ‘that people who are free and prosperous do not fly airplanes into skyscrapers.’ Toppling the Saddam regime gave the US the opportunity to help the Iraqi people build a new democracy. In the same way that post-war reconstruction had been successfully achieved in Germany and Japan, the Bush administration hoped that the instatement of democracy in Iraq would ‘fundamentally reshape the Middle East.’ Though there were considerable failures and setbacks in the reconstruction effort following the war in Iraq, today Iraq is a strategic partner of the United States and a voice of democracy in the Middle East. The war in Iraq enabled the fall of the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein — something that the Iraqi population had not been able to achieve. If Saddam had managed to transfer power to his sons, the regime may have survived for years or even decades. Though the democracy in Iraq remains fragile and imperfect today, the US role in overthrowing the Hussein regime subsequently enabled Iraqis to participate in their first relatively free and fair elections at both the national and local levels in 2005. This was a victory and promising path to freedom for a country that had a history of authoritarian political culture, tribalism and ethnic and sectarian violence.

A woman voted in Najaf, Iraq in 2014, in the first national election after U.S. forces pulled out of the country in 2011.
PHOTO: ALAA AL-MARJANI/REUTERS

There are numerous reasons that are purported to have been behind Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Those critical of the decision argue that the war was motivated by America’s lust for oil or was merely a knee-jerk reaction to the tragedy of 9/11. I have argued against these theories and have instead asserted that the Bush administration went to war first and foremost for the stated national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Following the honourable attempts to diplomatically disarm the Iraqi regime, the US and their allies invaded Iraq due to fears of Saddam’s WMD possession and links to terrorism. Both allegations held widespread bipartisan support in the US and were also reinforced by the international intelligence community. Though the accusations against Hussein were not established, 9/11 made the US aware of their vulnerability to international terrorism and the need to quash threats early on. An additional benefit of invading Iraq and winning the war, was the promotion of democracy. Though this was not Bush’s sole objective, it was a strong consideration which supported the final decision to go to war. 

The Iraq war remains a contentious aspect of US foreign policy today. However, most arguments made against the war have been made with the benefit of hindsight. It is important to remember that the war in Iraq was waged on the relevant information and risk assessments available to the Bush Administration in 2003. The US acted under time constraint and developed foreign policy that intended to protect the security of the international community.   


How Australia should approach China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang

Australia has traditionally held the conventional wisdom that as China grew economically, it would establish a middle class that would pressure the government to recognise human rights. Under the presidency of Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has instead shown that economic growth can reinforce a dictatorship. 

The religious and ethnic persecution of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province is of growing concern to the Australian government. The United Nations estimates that at least one million Turkic Muslims are being detained in internment camps and forced to undergo ideological re-education. Uyghurs are currently working within factories of well-known multinational companies such as Apple, BMW, Volkswagen and Nike in conditions which strongly suggest forced labour.

Amnesty International alongside members of the international community have criticised the CCP over its treatment of the Uyghur people. President Xi, has been unmoved by this mounting  pressure, recently remarking that the Chinese approach to its internal affairs was “completely correct” and remained a “major task for the entire party and nation.”

Amnesty recognises that Australia is deeply committed to human rights. Australia recently passed its Modern Slavery Act (2019) to combat violations of human freedom in global supply chains. Australia has also utilised its status as a constructive middle power to promote human rights through forums such as the UN Human Rights Council (2018-2020) and the ‘Liechtenstein initiative.’

Australia’s current approach towards China’s abuses prioritises soft diplomacy and is premised in the belief that China will eventually progress to respect the human rights of its citizens. Amnesty stresses that this approach of quiet diplomacy has proven to be ineffective. Therefore, Australia must immediately reform its foreign policy approach towards the CCP. If left unchecked, the threat posed by China’s human rights violations undermines Australia’s  objectives to promote human rights and makes a mockery of the international human rights framework. 

Recommendations: 

1.  Australia should implement a preferential refugee program to provide Uighur Muslims with priority protection and resettlement in Australia; 

2. Australia should follow the United States in screening and banning certain exports believed to have been produced by forced Uyghur labour;

3. Australian state visits to China should be conditioned on human rights progress and the granting of access for UN investigators to independently assess conditions in Xinjiang. 

Human Rights Council

Action on China’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims presents a unique opportunity for Australia to demonstrate international leadership through human rights advocacy. China has continued to manipulate the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) by proposing resolutions which undermine the international system. In 2018, China proposed a UNHRC resolution calling on states to ‘promote mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights.’ The resolution implied that human rights could be negotiated and that economic development should take precedence over individual human rights. This stance weakens the international human rights framework by normalising the idea that human rights are voluntary.

While Australia and other countries have leveraged international forums to criticise the CCP’s human rights abuses, such motions have been completely ignored by China. In 2019, Australia partnered with 21 other UNHCR countries in writing a letter to the CCP calling for an end to the mass detention of Uyghur Muslims. China retaliated by suspending its human rights partnership with Australia.

2020 marks Australia’s final year on the UNHRC. Though Australia’s lobbying has not resulted in a marked improvement to human rights in China, Australia must take advantage of its final months on the Council. Australia could draw attention to its human rights initiatives on the Council by establishing a preferential refugee program to provide Uyghurs with priority protection in Australia. This would enable Uyghurs willing and able to escape from persecution to rebuild their lives. It is currently estimated that there 12 million Uyghurs living in Xinjiang. While Australia is unable to facilitate what will likely be a mass influx of people, Australia could commit to a refugee quota and encourage its partners to help shoulder the burden. Though this policy will not address the root causes of the human rights abuses in China, it will send a clear message to the CCP that its behaviour is unacceptable, while providing safety and security to survivors. 

International Leadership

Australia has an opportunity to enhance its status as a regional and world leader in human rights by renouncing China’s abuses. While Foreign Affairs Minister Payne has previously criticised China for its repressive policies against the Uyghurs, Australia can and must do more.  

State visits are a foundation of international diplomacy, and the CCP utilises photos opportunities  from foreign visits to fuel propaganda. In November 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron visited China and made no public mention of human rights concerns. Quiet diplomacy is ineffective in pressuring the Chinese government to modify its behaviour. Most importantly, such visits are disheartening to Chinese citizens, the ultimate agents of change. Australia can set a better diplomatic example by refusing to coordinate state visits to China so long as conditions remain unchanged. The Australian government can also utilise its normative influence to encourage allies to do the same. By publicly calling out Beijing for its human rights violations, this will send a clear message to the CCP while emboldening victims to enact change. 

Australia is also reticent of China’s growing influence in the Indo Pacific region. In response, DFAT is interested in identifying new ways to promote Australia as a partner of choice for development and trade in the region. Promoting a compelling, human-rights respecting alternative to China will enable Australia to differentiate itself from the CCP and gain greater support from its regional partners. 

Trade Considerations 

China and Australia have a strong bilateral trade relationship which should be a key consideration when taking any political action against China. China is Australia’s largest trading partner for both imports and exports, currently accounting for 27.4% of Australia’s total world trade.  Noting that China is such a significant trading partner, Australia finds it challenging to implement trade sanctions as this may disrupt the country’s economic prosperity. 

Trade has been used by the United States government as an important lever to sanction Chinese imports from Xinjiang. The U.S. now screens products that have originated from Xinjiang to detect goods which are potentially linked to state-sponsored forced labour. In September 2020, the U.S. implemented an executive order blocking Chinese imports such as cotton, garments, hair products and electronics from the region. Amnesty International recommends Australia explore a similar policy of screening imports in order to deter modern slavery.

So far, Australia has been unwilling to take action against China’s repression. This was evident in 2019, when Foreign Minister Payne described China’s treatment of Uyghurs as ‘disturbing,’ but simultaneously refused to implement sanctions against China. Australia’s inability to turn rhetoric into action against China demonstrates a complacency that goes against Australia’s interests and values. 

Adopting a tough stance on the CCP poses significant risks to Australian trade. However, if Australia can cooperate with other countries to address China’s blatant disregard for human rights, the international balance of power will shift. Though China can endure unilateral sanctions from Australia, its economy cannot take on the entire world.

Conclusion

Adopting these recommendations will enable Australia to promote its international leadership on human rights and build credibility within the Indo-Pacific region. Though unilateral actions by Australia will not enact instant change in China’s behavior, its example will encourage others to follow suit. This will heighten the financial and political costs of China’s oppression. Amnesty International hopes that this pressure will eventually result in an end to China’s systemic religious and ethnic abuse of Uyghur Muslims. 


Who is the partner of choice for developing states?

The European Union have provided development and trading partnerships with nations from every corner of the globe. In doing so, the EU promotes democracy and human rights by attaching social provisions and human rights conditions to their agreements. For example, EU development partnerships in the Indo-Pacific or Central Africa will be subject to clauses regarding the internal affairs of a country.

Comparatively, China’s programs and partnerships do not bind political clauses to agreements. China promotes norms of ‘unconditionally’ and ‘win-win’ economic outcomes and will turn a blind eye to the internal affairs of the countries it partners with.  This approach allows China to be increasingly viewed as the development partner of choice as they are willing to meet the immediate economic needs of states.      

The Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 further elevated the status of China’s economic model.  Responding to the crisis, China unleashed substantial stimulus packages through the state-controlled financial sector and aided regional neighbours. China’s trade surpluses and currency manipulation have also led it to accumulate the world’s largest foreign currency reserves, thus becoming a central part of the international political economy. China’s performance, when juxtaposed with Europe’s response which was largely confined to bailing out poorly regulated banks, positions China strongly to extend its normative power throughout the developing world.            

The European Union’s strict criterion for its membership and programs rests on principles of democracy and the rule of law. While developing countries have traditionally been willing to make concessions in their internal affairs in return for economic benefit, China is providing ‘no strings attached’ partnerships and an economic model that outperforms that of the EU. Therefore, the EU’s normative influence to promote democracy throughout the world is waning significantly.   

To maintain a normative presence which continues to push developing nations closer towards democracy and the recognition of human rights, the EU must do more to acknowledge the role of China by allowing reform in areas of traditional EU development initiatives. Greater flexibility and inclusion in EU programs will enable a balance to be struck between economic and social development. This will also reduce the appeal of China’s development program which often leaves countries devastated by national debt and forced to maintain deferential stances towards the grand strategy of the CCP.

A right to develop?

The “East Asian Miracle” was the title of a 1993 World Bank report which attributed the rapid economic growth and development of Asian countries post-World War II to the success of neoliberalism. While the neo-liberal theory of development is widely held in the West, the developmental state theory poses a challenge to the Anglo-American analysis, providing an alternate explanation for the rise of economies within East Asian following World War II. 

Critics of the neo-liberal consensus argued that Asian economies rapidly developed due to the strong, centralised roles assumed by governments in economic planning. Regional leaders such as Former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Yuan Yew also reacted to the atmosphere of neoliberal triumphalism that was conveyed in the World Bank report and advocated for others to “look East” toward countries like Japan for models of economic development rather than West.

Developmental state theory argues that late industrialising nations need to take measures to catch up with advanced capitalist economies. Protection and oversight from central governments can help to created a dynamic environment for countries to develop evenly and strengthen their industrial capabilities prior to integrating into the neo-liberal global market. 

While developmental state theory provides a plausible alternate explanation for the rise of East Asian economies, the model is not superior to a democratic capitalist system. The strong role of the government in developmental states gives rise to authoritarianism. In the interests of pursuing drastic economic development, states subordinate political objectives. This means that citizens are not free to criticise their government or actively have a voice in policy development. 

The process of industrialisation enables developing states to drastically improve living standards and reduce abject poverty. Such needs are arguably more pressing than the actualisation of civil liberties in countries where access to food, water, shelter and sanitation are not ubiquitous. 

Given these considerations, it is reasonable to offer developing states a grace period in which they can prioritise national economic development above the civil rights of citizens. However, when has a state sufficiently developed to a stage where the international community can pressure them to uphold the human rights of their citizens?

In practice, the international community has had difficulty in grappling with such questions. Most notably, China lays claim to the second most powerful economy in the world while also holding developing-state status which allows it to maintain the need for international concessions and time to adequately develop. 

The right to develop is an internationally recognised right at the United Nations and has also been ratified in a number of international instruments and national declarations.

  • 1991 China published a White Paper on its right to prioritise economic stability over Western priorities of civil and political freedoms (essentially China published the view that individual freedoms, while important should not come before the interests of the collective)  
  • Right to Develop is recognised at the UN (since 1986) and this resolution and way of thinking continues to be a prominent issue cited by developing countries when discussing international issues (UN- Res. 41/128) 
  • This right is also recognised in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights
  • Reaffirmed in in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the 1993 Vienna Programme of Action and  2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Though the international community has found consensus on the existence of an international right to develop, a lack of clarity remains on when this right expires.

So long as China continues to argue its status as a developing state and the leader of the developing world, the right to develop will increasingly be used as a tool for countries to argue that authoritarian governance and centralised economies are not merely temporary but rather provide a strong alternate model to democratic/capitalist governance. This reality will result in a world that is less free, and more divided between East and West.

The Wolf Warriors of China are not diplomatic, who are they fooling?

China’s approach to diplomacy has adopted a brand new modus operandi. It is diametrically opposed to almost all diplomatic niceties once pursued and fostered by Chinese diplomats in their dealings with the world. Today, Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Xining’s insists that Chinese diplomats show a “fighting spirit” and become a vicious pack of wolf warriors. Despite such blatant behaviour on the international stage, the CCP continues to defend their actions arguing that they are diplomatic and noble. Is this hypocrisy really fooling anyone?

In recent months Australia has been the recipient of insults and threats from China, we are not alone in such attacks. From North America to Europe, to Asia and Africa, the Chinese wolf warriors have set fire to the goodwill that had been built up over two decades of so-called smile diplomacy.

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister of China, Wang Xining gave a speech at the Australian National Press Club in Canberra. His remarks underscored the importance that China attaches to mutual respect, goodwill, fairness and a grand vision for the China-Australia bilateral. All seemingly diplomatic aspirations. However, a glance at the CCP’s recent international behaviour reveals the utter insincerity of these remarks.

Consider the virtue of mutual respect, which Wang described as following basic norms of sovereignty and non-interference in international affairs. When the Turnbull government passed legislation to restrict the activities of China from interfering in and covertly influencing Australian democratic institutions, Beijing responded with rage. 

Wang’s claim of Chinese goodwill which he characterised as the need to resolve differences in an amicable manner also fails to accurately capture China’s recent behaviour. China ruthlessly imposed economic restrictions on Australian barley exports in response to the Morrison government’s call for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19, a virus which has killed hundreds of thousands worldwide and has reeked economic and social destruction.

Regarding the principle of fairness, Wang placed that virtue in the context of a non-discriminatory investment and trade environment. Yet, China has made it blatantly clear that is seeks more than merely win-win trading relationships with other countries. China has the most restrictive trading rules of all major world economies and has a history of intellectual property theft and forced transfers.

Last, the aspiration that our two countries evolve from economic partners towards agreeing on a ‘grand vision’ to enhance stability and prosperity in the Pacific region. While this sounds promising in a speech, the values of China and Australia are in conflict. China’s grand strategy seeks to shape the Pacific in a hierarchical and Sino-centric manner where the rights and privileges afforded to China are different to privileges of smaller countries.

Initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative, Made in China 2025 and concessional loaning to Pacific developing states enable China to weaken America’s alliances in the region and in its place create regional dependence on China. In the long term, this will enable China to dictate prices, policy and discourse when interacting with its economic partners. China’s “shared vision” is one in which Australia and others play a deferential role to China.

Australia and the world are less concerned with what Beijing says and more with what it is doing. For this reason, the Morrison government has moved to use external affairs powers available under the Constitution to outlaw independent state initiatives with China (and other countries) deemed to violate Australia’s national interest.

Most notably, Victoria’s previous commitment to the Belt and Road Initiative will not be permitted to go ahead. This is a critical step that will significantly diminish China’s political influence in Australia and will also ensure that Australia can speak with one voice in managing what will continue to be a problematic relationship with the CCP. 

Judging from China’s previous form, the CCP’s response to Australia’s new legislation will blatantly violate China’s stated virtues of mutual respect, goodwill and fairness.


ABC


Chinese diplomat Wang Xining’s National Press Club address

Hong Kong: One Country, One System

In light of the ongoing 2019-20 Hong Kong protests, China’s ceremonial parliament has voted to bypass Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to enact dramatic national security legislation. According to the Chinese government, these new laws are intended to crackdown on ‘secessionist and subversive activity … terrorism and foreign interference’. Beijing has previously blamed the lack of a national security law for last year’s alarming anti-extradition protests. However, activists remain concerned that these laws will undermine civil liberties and bring an end to Hong Kong’s unique partial autonomy.

Hong Kong is currently governed under a “one country, two systems” model underpinned by two key documents: The Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. These established China’s rule over Hong Kong – subject to significant caveats including the continuation of British capitalism, maintenance of the common law, protection of civil liberties and an understanding that Beijing would not directly intervene in the city for a period of 50 years from the city’s 1997 handover. Significantly, Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that Hong Kong shall enact national security legislation “on its own.”

While details about the application of these new security laws remain unclear, they clearly encroach upon Hong Kong’s existing autonomy from China. The ‘crimes’ stipulated in the security laws have vague definitions and could potentially include any attempts to voice dissent against the Government. Such laws may also lead to widespread arrests on arbitrary political charges, a crackdown on free speech, and the unleashing of China’s security organs, such as the Ministry of State Security and the People’s Armed Police. If these reforms are unable to bridge the divide between Hong Kongers and Beijing, then Hong Kong may remain a tinderbox of revolt for years to come.

The enactment of this legislation has prompted wide-spread criticism from international actors such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. In the United States, the Trump Administration has announced that it will no longer treat Hong Kong as being autonomous from the Chinese mainland as a result of Beijing’s latest intervention. In addition to the political ramifications, Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub is now in danger. For businesses, the main value of the city is that its financial and legal systems are more transparent and fair compared to China’s. These features make Hong Kong an attractive option for both foreign and Chinese firms looking to prove their credibility in the region. Any erosion of the rule of law and freedom of speech risks undermining this appeal.

Following US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would strip Hong Kong of its special privileges, China’s state media have taken aim at the US by comparing #BlackLivesMatter protests with the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. A commentary published in China Daily – a mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party – said US politicians should do their jobs and help solve problems in the US, instead of trying to create new problems and troubles in other countries.

Chinese attempts to equate protesting in some US cities with wide-spread calls for democracy and freedom from China in Hong Kong are disingenuous and politically-motivated. At this critical time, it is important that Western media outlets critically assess China’s claims and report them for what they are. Racial tensions in the US and Chinese interventions in Hong Kong are entirely seperate issues. Failure to recognise these clear differences and blind acceptance of CCP rhetoric plays right into Beijing’s hand and may cost the people of Hong Kong their freedom.

Mearsheimer got it right

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, John Mearsheimer articulated a bold thesis- the great-power rivalry was not over. While Mearsheimer was ignored, Covid-19 has exposed the intense Sino-American security competition that he predicted.

In The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Mearsheimer, argued that insecurity and conflict remained inevitable structures of the anarchic international system. Further, Mearsheimer argued that as China increased in power and ambition it would become more assertive in protecting its security and prosperity depended. As the global hegemon, the US would go to great lengths to stop the rising power from dominating Asia.

Two decades ago, Realism the long-standing theory of international relations took a hit following the unexpected end to the Cold War. Theories of Liberalism and Constructivism flourished and analysed what appeared to be a new world entering an era of increased globalisation and interdependency. State rivaries and military power seemed to matter less. The prevailing wisdom was that rapid economic growth ensured the emerg­ence of a democratic polity in China, as it had in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. China was categorised as a developing country, afforded grace for its communist rule while it “peacefully” progressed and lifted millions out of poverty. It was thought that the more China embraced­ global capitalism, the more likely it would integrate peacefully in the rules-based international order.

However, Mearsheimer contested such Wilsonian thinking, arguing that the brutal competition of power is a root function of the structure of the international system, a reality which has been true since the time of Thucydides. He called this the “tragic nature of great- power politics.” In an anarchical international community, without a central body to enforce rules and norms, great powers find it impossibl­e to trust each other. The tragedy is that striving for security leads to heightened tensions, a concept known by international scholars as the ‘security dilemma.’

For Mearsheimer, the consequences were clear: by growing ­enchanted with the Chinese market, the world was choosing to play with fire. Far from progressing to become a ­responsible democratic nation, Beijing was bound to upset the strategic sensibilities of neighbouring states, from Japan and South Korea to India and Vietnam. As a result, Mearsheimer advised the US to pivot strongly in Asia, deepen security ties with its allies and develop new strategic partnerships with old foes.

Alas, after America’s Cold War victory, both Democratic and Republican administrations indulged in what Mearsheimer’s academic colleague Stephen Walt calls the “hubristic fantasy” of global “liberal­ hegemony”, which both scholars warned would cost the US dearly in prestige and influence. Meanwhile, China’s rise continued. The CCP advanced its defence mechanisms, developed per­sis­t­ent cyber-espionage and pushed nationalism supported by wide-spread propaganda. Today, China plans to forcefully takeover Hong Kong alongside its relentless intimidation of Taiwan and aggressive­ build-up of military islands in the South China Sea. China is now showing every possible sign of seeking to overthrow the US-led security system in the region.

We now have an important and pressing choice to make. Will the United States follow the advice of Mearsheimer and lead a coalition to pursue a containment strategy. Or, adopt an approach of “engaging and constraining” China, as former Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade head Peter Varghese suggests.

American national identity: land of the free

National identity refers to a shared belief among a group of individuals that they form a cohesive whole due to shared history, connection to a territory and common distinctive characteristics. Within modern America there are some who question the existence of a national identity. Others argue that while a shared American identity currently exists, social division and fragmentation will result in the demise of US national identity. Contrary to such views, national identity in the United States has proven to be resilient throughout history and plays an important role in continuing to unify a diverse population.

The US was formed on the idea of “the essential dignity of the individual human being, and of certain inalienable rights to freedom and justice.” This identity is exemplified in American leaders and seminal texts such as the Declaration of Independence, The U.S Constitution and Bill of Rights, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King Jr.’ s “I Have a Dream” speech. US national identity continues to be comprised of America’s founding ideals, evidenced through the American Dream, American Exceptionalism and volunteerism.

Puritan settler John Winthrop conceived of America as a “city on a hill,” a distinct place with a heaven-sent obligation to build a new world. In the aftermath of the War of Independence, many citizens agreed that Americans had “formed a character peculiar to themselves, and distinct from other nations.” Today, many Americans continue to perceive their nation in this exceptional light. In the era following World War II, America has made strides to become the world’s economic, military and cultural hegemon. US exceptionalism is further predicated on American’s strong tradition of successful immigration. Since its founding, America has been the ‘nation of nations’ and a refuge for the poor, oppressed and persecuted; sentiments which are inscribed inside the base of the Statue of Liberty. In 1858, Lincoln stated that when immigrants internalised the creed that “all men are created equal,” they “have a right to claim it as though they were blood and flesh of the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence.” Today, immigration continues to be largely supported by both major political parties. In contrast to much of Europe, America has no major political party calling for ethno-cultural policies that would see a ban on immigration. These combined factors afford Americans a world-leading standard of living. Such standards outrank all other countries of major size and geopolitical importance. US history of post-WWII dominance and leadership on the international stage has reinforced and magnified traditional conceptions of American exceptionalism: a core aspect of American national identity.   

A long-standing tradition of volunteerism is another hallmark of American national identity based on the founding values of personal responsibility, moralism and equality of opportunity. It was Benjamin Franklin who formed the first volunteer fire department in 1736, and many American militias during the Revolutionary War were comprised of volunteers. Some of the most well-known American charitable organizations, such as the YMCA and the American Red Cross, date back to the 19th century. Writing about his travels through the US in the 1830s, the French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville frequently commented on Americans’ tendency to form voluntary civil associations. He was impressed by their desire to come together with their friends and neighbours to accomplish community goals. Today, this same tradition of civic duty and community development is exemplified by the 40% of Americans who actively volunteer their time. This figure sets the United States apart as one the most philanthropic nations in the world. The strong culture and history of volunteerism in the United States lives on today and continues to enable a highly diverse population to unite around shared goals and common purpose.

Another aspect of American national identity with particular relevance today is the concept of the American Dream. This refers to the belief that anyone can attain their own version of success in a society where upward mobility is possible for everyone. Imbued with a sense of community, the Dream speaks to people of all races, ethnicities and cultures. The Pilgrims realised this dream, imagining a new destiny for themselves as did the founding fathers. In the 1830’s de Tocqueville observed the ‘charm of anticipated success’ in American society and his research led him to discover that this same optimistic outlook existed among the European colonists some 200 years’ prior. The American Dream is an elastic element which continues to be a defining element of American identity in the 21st century. Athletes invoke it during championship games, immigrants leave their homes in search of it and aspiring politicians appeal to it as a basis for their candidacies. From its earliest settlers to its most recent arrivals, the shared hope and aspiration at the heart of the American Dream is a key component of American identity.

The idea of American identity is under constant pressure to change by those who experience barriers when attempting to access freedom and equality in the United States. While America’s Declaration of Independence and the Constitution proclaim universal liberty, such documents have coexisted alongside the exploitation and exclusion of black Americans and women. Despite immense social progress, some Americans argue that racism and sexism continue to divide American societies. The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) has emerged in response to controversial law enforcement policies and police brutality against members of the African American community. At the centre of this issue is the social concern that African Americans are not afforded the same societal protection as other Americans. The #MeToo movement similarly draws upon the historic injustices encountered by American women while also raising awareness of the contemporary experiences of sexual abuse survivors. The movement exemplifies the intention of American women to seek freedom from barriers of sexual exploitation they experience, which currently prevent them from realising the full effects of freedom, equality and the hope implicit within the American Dream.

These movements both symbolise a powerful message: all Americans long for freedom, equality of opportunity and access to the American Dream. Historic and contemporary racism and sexism in the United States have prevented people from accessing these promises. In Gunnar Myrdal’s description, America has represented the ideals—not the perfect execution—of liberty. Therefore, contest within the United States does not undermine the concept of US national identity, rather the ongoing quest for greater freedom within America attempts to reconcile society with the country’s founding values, emphasising the continued relevance of core aspects of American identity: liberty, equality and hope.

American national identity is broad enough to encompass all citizens, yet powerful enough to establish a shared connection between Americans, their country and their national aspirations. Though the United States will continue to face pressure to change, American identity will remain consistent and will continue to uphold the shared culture, ideals and values which founded America. 

References

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Armstrong, Joslyn. “A Dream Deferred: How Discrimination Impacts the American Dream Achievement for African Americans.” Journal of Black Studies, vol. 50, no. 3 (2019): 227–250.

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Cullen, Jim. The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a Nation (Oxford University Press. ProQuest Ebook Central 2014.

Devos, Thierry and Hafsa, Mohamed. “Shades of American Identity: Implicit Relations between Ethnic and National Identities.” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 8, no. 12 (2014): 739-54.

D. Lavy, Marvell. “Volunteerism in America.” Contract Management 45, no. 8, Aug (2005): 65-69.   

Erickson, Bradley M. ” Understanding American Identity: An Introduction.” Master’s Thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, California, 2017. 

Gunnar, Mydral. “An American Dilemma.” Race vol. 4 (1962): 3–11.

Habermas, Jurgen. “The European Nation-State and the Pressures of Globalization.” New Left Review 235 (1999): 46-59.  

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Hughes, Richard. “Teaching Note Race, Housing, and the Federal Government: Black Lives on the Margins of the American Dream.” Radical Teacher 106, no. 106 (2016):138–140. 

Jack, Elkin Terry. “Alexis De Tocqueville’s America.” National Civic Review 106, no. 1 (2017): 30-31.

Momen, Mehnaaz. “The Paradox of Citizenship in American Politics Ideals and Reality.” Ideals and Reality 1st Ed (2018): 33-35.

Miller, David. On Nationality. Oxford Political Theory, Clarendon, 1997.  

Schuck, Peter H.  “James Q. Wilson and American Exceptionalism.” National Affairs 43, (Spring 2020)

Song, Sarah. “What does it mean to be an American?” Daedalus (Spring 2008): 31-40.

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Realism and the diverging foreign policy approaches of the United States and China

The COVID pandemic has showcased a proliferation of blame, acrimony and military aggression between the United States and China. Additionally, we have witnessed the fragility of international institutions as the WHO which struggled to balance the strategic interests of China with the health of the global community. Core realist tenants of the anarchical, state-centric international order are proving relevant in the study of modern international relations.

The emergence of the COVID-19 global pandemic has inspired varying international responses from the United States and China. China severely mismanaged the outbreak of the coronavirus through censorship and denial. As precious weeks passed and the seriousness of the outbreak became apparent, officials of the Communist Party of China made extensive preparations to protect their population, while only selectively sharing information with the international community. Amid the global pandemic, the Chinese government has continued to advance its strategic ambitions in the South China Sea and has been accused by the United States government of exploiting the crisis to gain territory. On April 2, Vietnam reported a Chinese military ship deliberating sinking a Vietnamese fishing ship in the disputed territory. In March, the Chinese government commissioned two research stations with defence capabilities on maritime turf claimed by the Philippines. The US international response has differed significantly from China’s approach.

America’s democratic values and trusted institutions have enabled more accurate reporting of COVID-19 figures, this has allowed epidemiologists to develop policies to ‘flatten the curve’ and contain the virus. The US Centre for Disease control also continues to publish information that helps American citizens gain access to medical services and minimise community transmission. The US has prioritised holding China accountable for the global spread of the coronavirus and has scaled up its military presence in the South China Sea. In March, the US military conducted live-missile testing in the Philippine Sea, sending a message of deterrence to China. On March 31, President Trump announced the suspension of all US funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO) due to concerns of its mismanagement of the COVID pandemic and “China-centric nature.”

Structural realists assert that the architecture of the international system forces states to compete for limited power. For this reason, cooperation within international institutions often proves fragile. The COVID pandemic provides a vivid reminder of the relevance of these realist precepts. States are fearful that cooperation may enable another state to advance their capabilities and gain greater power and influence relative to them. In this case, President Trump declared the suspension of all funds to the World Health Organisation, perceiving the benefits of US cooperation within the WHO to be waning relative to the growing influence of China. Structural realist theory also provides valuable insight into China’s behaviour within the WHO. States will engage in international institutions when they perceive opportunities to gain power relative to their competitors. President Xi Jinping of the Chinese Communist Party has established the priority to challenge the American global order by strengthening Beijing’s multilateral clout. The World Health Organisation’s response to the spread of coronavirus has demonstrated the influence China wields in the institution relative to the US. Until mid-January, the WHO stated that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission on a large scale, this statement was made without independent investigation into China’s claims.  Following the US decision to halt funding, China identified a US leadership void and stepped in to fill it, announcing a 30 million dollar increase in their contributions to the institution, enabling greater Chinese influence in global health and the portrayal of China as the new champion of multilateralism. So long as China continues to benefit from this institution relative to others, structural realists predict they will continue to amplify cooperation and influence within the World Health Organisation. 

According to realists, the main goal of states within the international system is survival. States understand the best way to ensure their territorial integrity is to be more powerful relative to others. These conditions place a premium on the possession of military power as states are aware of the inherent risks of conflict. China has historically undertaken expansionist strategies to guarantee security and survival, during the global COVID pandemic China has scaled up its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, seizing the strategic opportunity presented by the diminished capabilities of the United States. On April 2, a Chinese Coast Guard ship rammed and sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat carrying eight fishermen off the disputed Paracel Islands. Beijing blamed the Vietnamese ship for fishing illegally in Chinese waters. In the previous month, China commissioned two new research stations on artificial reefs it has built on maritime turf claimed by the Philippines. The reefs are equipped with defence silos and military-grade runways. John Mearsheimer asserts that hegemony is the most effective way to secure the survival of a state. For this reason, the rivalry among the great powers for hegemony is a constant feature in the international system. 

The US government and military officials have criticised China for its increased militarisation in the South China Sea during the global pandemic. From the US perspective, the waterway is a vital channel for US-style sea power. In mid-March, US military vessels and aircraft conducted live-fire missile testing in the Philippine Sea. By demonstrating US military capabilities, a clear message of deterrence was sent to China. Structural realism offers a simple explanation for the recent foreign policy of China and the US. China is an emerging global hegemon and is pursuing as much power as possible within the South China Sea while discouraging others as a means of guaranteeing their security. The US seeks to maintain the status quo of American regional hegemony within the South China Sea and is attempting to balance against the increasingly combative behaviour of China.  

While structural realism provides unique and helpful insights into understanding recent COVID-inspired foreign policies of the US and China, the theory fails to grapple with the influence of domestic politics on a state’s external behaviour. Structural realists assert that the driving forces for international relations are systemic and uninfluenced by domestic politics. States are considered interchangeable ‘black boxes’ that will behave similarly as the international system creates the same basic incentives for all states. This level of analysis has limited structural realism in its understanding of the diverging COVID strategies of the US and China. Differences in the domestic political systems of China and the United States have proven relevant to recent international relations. Neo-classical realists have attempted to reconcile this criticism of structural realism by recognising the impact that domestic politics may have on a state’s external behaviour. Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping protecting the reputation and authority of the Chinese Communist Party is prioritised above human life. China’s authoritarian leadership and communist political system led to the censorship of COVID information and prevented China from signalling early warnings to the international community. 

The United States is a democratic republic and stresses the importance of free communication between people and government. These internal values within the US have led to high rates of testing and the transparent disclosure of these figures to the international community. At current, the US has recorded the highest COVID death toll in the world, surpassing China. In saying this, it is important to remember that while the Chinese government claims to be ahead of the US in containing the virus with no reports of new cases, we have reason to doubt China’s information due to its censorship of early COVID warnings and lack of cooperation throughout the pandemic. We will likely never know how many Chinese citizens were infected and died due to COVID-19. In the US, President Trump downplayed the coronavirus and offered advice which conflicted medical experts. However, the democratic system in the US underpins the leadership of the President. When a US president fails, citizens can count on the objectivity of trusted institutions such as the U.S Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to provide accurate and objective information. The Disease Centre’s weekly morbidity and mortality report has been a fixture of critical communication between government and the public since 1946 and this has continued throughout the COVID pandemic. 

Neo-classical realist theory inspires the contemplation of alternate foreign policy decisions which may have emerged had COVID-19 first broken out in New York rather than Wuhan. Internal conditions within the United States uphold democratic values enabling stronger communication between government and citizens. These societal underpinnings are likely to have guided a different foreign policy approach to China. While we can never truly be certain of this assumption, in order to prevent the COVID-19 global pandemic, an approach focused on saving lives rather than preserving power, based on transparent reporting and international cooperation was required, the US has exhibited these priorities in their COVID response while China did not.

The relevance of structural realism in the study of modern international realtions has been reinforced by the COVID-inspired external behaviours of China and the United States. The theory provides a useful framework for understanding inter-state completion, the fragility of international cooperation and military security. While it is limited by its system level of analysis, neo-classical realism has built upon previous work of structural realists and can assist in our understanding of the domestic forces behind foreign policy.


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