Open Forum

Implicit in these debates is a prior question: how can we know what China’s strategic goals are in the first place? International relations theorists have long speculated based on comparative history and deductive logic, but the gold standard is evidence from China itself. Without access to privileged information about the inner workings and designs of the Chinese party-state, however, we have to make do with three categories of open source data: documentary evidence, such as party documents and non-authoritative books and articles; inferences based on China’s development of military, economic, and diplomatic power resources; and the track record of Chinese behavior, notably on contentious regional issues. Each category presents unique challenges, but can—alone and in combination—yield some insights into China’s ambitions. Thus, it is worth asking what these sources can tell us, what they cannot, and how we can apply analytic rigor to data that are often, at best, incomplete and difficult to interpret.

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