The process by which China makes its foreign policy is often considered to be a black box — or at least very difficult for outsiders to discern.

The head of the Chinese Communist Party is the ultimate decision maker. But as in any government there are also various bureaucracies with their own — and sometimes competing  — interests.

Suiseng Zhao is a professor of international studies and Director of the Center for China-US Cooperation at Joseph Korbell School of international studies university of Denver. He is a scholar who has written extensively about the bureaucratic politics that helps shape Chinese foreign policy and the broader tapestry of Chinese institutions that inform foreign policy decision making.

In our conversation,  we kick off discussing the role of the People’s Liberation Army — the PLA — in a recent decision to send an unprecedented number of fighter planes to the periphery of Taiwan’s airspace. We then discuss the implications of the fact that Xi Jinping has been able to centralize foreign policy decision making to a far greater degree than his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.

I have long wanted to do an episode that helps listeners better understand the process and institutions that shape Chinese foreign policy, I think you will find this very helpful.

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