Strategic Hedging and Unipolarity's Demise: The Case of China's Strategic Hedging

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Strategic hedging is used by second-tier states in order to improve their relative position vis-à-vis the system leader. It is most likely to occur in unipolar systems that are experiencing power diffusion, and it involves the improvement of both military and economic capability while simultaneously avoiding a direct confrontation with the system leader. Strategic hedging takes place against the backdrop of key system dynamics involving the diffusion of hard and soft power away from the system leader toward various second-tier states. In this article, I argue that strategic hedging by second-tier states involves a gradual, multistage process, starting with a significant power difference between the hedging state and the system leader, and possibly leading to the disappearance of this difference as a result of successful hedging policies. I provide a four-stage transformation mechanism that allows the analyst to gauge the level of transition to the second phase of strategic hedging by second-tier states. I use China as a case to illustrate our hypothesis. The results show that the transition to the second phase is not yet complete in the case of China, but, that this could be the case in the next few years. As the second-tier state evolves to the second phase, its relative military capability increases while its relative economic growth slows down. Progressing through the stages of strategic hedging, the second-tier state's fears of upsetting the system leader fade as the power difference between itself and the system leader declines. Given the importance of strategic hedging as a new structural theory in international relations, this study not only contributes to the development of this theory, but also provides systematic indications of Great Power dynamics in the foreseeable future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)354-377
Number of pages24
JournalAsian Politics & Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2017


  • balance of power theory
  • great power competition
  • rising powers
  • second-tier states
  • strategic hedging behavior

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