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How does Xi Jinping make sense of the World?

21 June 2024

4 mins

By Leah Knorren Nichols

I’m a final year student at Loughborough University studying International Relations (BA). I have been at Loughborough for 4 years, which included both a study abroad at Lund University (Sweden) and a placement with a start-up in Hamburg (Germany). My course allowed me to expand my knowledge in many areas and explore topics I’m most interested in such as the Politics of the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. I have accepted an offer for postgraduate studies at the University of Warwick.

After travelling to China when I was younger, I developed an interest in Chinese culture, history and politics and at university, I was able to take Chinese Mandarin lessons. During my second year, I took a module called ‘Foreign Policy Analysis’ that I thoroughly enjoyed and decided to write about Chinese Foreign Policy under Xi Jinping, the current Chinese President. This later became the basis for further research and laid the foundations for my dissertation.

For my dissertation, I was therefore able to combine my interest in Chinese politics and Foreign Policy Analysis. By researching contemporary Chinese foreign policies, I found four initiatives proposed by Xi Jinping from 2012 until 2022: the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Global Development Initiative (GDI), Global Security Initiative (GSI) and Global Civilisation Initiative (GCI). They are ambitious initiatives of international cooperation in the area of development, security and diplomatic policies that Western academics are seeking to better understand. According to Chinese academics, all four initiatives are linked in their aim to establish a new world order and Chinese media have praised the initiatives. Amongst Western academics, the initiatives are puzzling, and many are wary of China’s intentions. However, if these projects are successful, they have the potential to rewrite current norms and rules of the international system according to Beijing’s vision. For politicians and academics alike, it is therefore highly relevant to understand the reasons behind the initiatives.

I thus set out to make sense of the rationale of these initiatives. Researching the initiatives made me wonder how much the reasoning behind these initiatives can be traced back to Xi Jinping and his beliefs. Since assuming office, Xi Jinping has been able to exert a tight control on both the party and the state, not seen since Mao Zedong. I thus adopted the cognitive approach of Foreign Policy that focuses on the individual decision-maker in explaining foreign policy decision-making. By drawing on both primary data (i.e. his speeches) and secondary data (i.e. biographies), I created a robust framework of analysis to understand Xi Jinping, the person, and his current foreign policies.

I found that Xi is a deeply historical person who is often found reminiscing about China’s past glories, and he is often found using historical analogies to make sense of the present. For example, he is influenced by the narrative of the ‘Century of Humiliation’, a period where China was the victim of foreign aggression and colonial rule from the 19th century onwards. Xi blames the West and Japan for the once great Chinese Empire to have fallen behind. Based on his perception of history, Xi sees it as his historic responsibility to not let the past repeat itself and to restore China’s past glory. According to Xi’s beliefs-set, he now believes China should become a leader and not a bystander in global affairs anymore. The initiatives set out to do exactly this: rejuvenate the nation and become a leader in the area of development and security policies as well as diplomatic relations. Whether or not these projects will achieve their aim is yet to be seen and until today, they remain vague policies of international cooperation. But, especially amongst non-Western countries, the initiatives are welcomed with open arms.

Completing this work was a challenging but very rewarding task. It included many hours reading propaganda and analysing Xi’s speeches. Through my research, I hope to have shed some more light on contemporary Chinese Foreign Policy under Xi Jinping. I am grateful for the support and advice offered by my dissertation supervisor, Taku Tamaki, throughout this project.

Short Reading List:

  • Breuning, M. (2007) ‘Foreign Policy Analysis: A Comparative Introduction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Brown, K. (2016) CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping. London: I.B. Tauris.
  • Brown, K. (2018) The World According to Xi: Everything You Need to Know About the New China. London: I.B. Tauris.
  • Chang-Liao, N. (2016b) ‘The sources of China’s assertiveness: the system, domestic politics or leadership preferences?’, International Affairs, 92(4), pp. 817–833. Available at:
  • Holsti, O.R. (1976) ‘Cognitive Process Approaches to Decision-Making’, American Behavioral Scientist, 20(1), pp. 11–32. Available at:
  • Lin, A. et al. (2022) All the Emperor’s men, Financial Times. Available at: jinping-emperors-men/

Photo by / Ricardo on Unsplash

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