EASSC Publications


Pragmatism in China’s Foreign Policy: Operationalising pragmatism in international relations

Date of this Version


Document Type

Conference Paper


Pragmatism in International Relations (IR) is on the rise in the last decade. Pragmatism presents itself as a panacea to the ‘ivory tower’ effect in IR theory, having lost touch with reality and the increasing theory-praxis gap. However, dissecting the two key book length exposition of Pragmatism in IR, there is strong sense of growth potential of this topic but applying Pragmatism at the IR discipline level fails to appreciate the contextual problem solving approach that Pragmatism can offer. Hence, this article will focus on Pragmatism in Foreign Policy (FP; sub-discipline of IR) where it is operationally possible to appreciate nuances of its contextual problem solving. FP Analysis literature has hitherto focused on the macro-structure and micro-agency perspectives. There is a need to focus on meso-relational perspectives in problem solving context. It is through FP events that FP thinking becomes clearer; similarly, it is through the usage of Pragmatism in FP that Pragmatism in IR becomes clearer (assuming IR is a dynamic interplay of FP of various countries). Specifically, this article will illustrate how Pragmatism in China’s FP works, the enablers and inhibitors of China’s Pragmatism: historical context, geography, power (military, economic, diplomatic), political system, stage of development, socio-culture, philosophy (Confucian Zhongyong, Sun Zi, Taoist, Yin Yang) and personalities (such as Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping).

Journal, Book or Conference Title

East Asia Security Symposium and Conference 东亚安全座谈谈论会

Publication Details

Author information: Charles is a budding pracademic. Currently Head Research Trainer in the Ministry of Defence (Singapore) and Lee Kong Chian Graduate Scholar at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He was schooled in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences and currently completing his PhD in Public Policy. He specialises in US-China-ASEAN relations and Singapore studies. He is an avid reader and enjoys synthesising seeming boundaries (East v West, academics v practitioners, arts v science, wisdom v knowledge, public v business administration, public policy v international relations). Charles has been a youth leader since 2002 contributing in Commonwealth, UK and Singapore and has won several leadership accolades; most notably, Goldman Sachs Global Leaders Award 2004, HSBC Youth Excellence Award 2005. Currently, President of Association for Public Affairs and Editor-in-Chief for Journal of Public Affairs, he is a nominee for Young Global Leader, World Economic Forum (2016).

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