Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Josef Korbel School of International Studies

First Advisor

Suisheng Zhao, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Karen Feste

Third Advisor

Jack Donnelly


Balance of interest, China, Foreign policy, Iran, North Korea, Strategy


This study tests two hypotheses. First, China cooperates with the United States only when it is able to obtain material rewards. Second, without material incentives from the United States, China straddles between the United States on one hand and Iran and North Korea on the other. My findings show that neither Structural Realism, which holds anti-hegemonism alliance, nor Constructivism, which holds positive assimilation of the nuclear nonproliferation norm explains Chinese international behavior comprehensively. My balance of interest model explains Chinese foreign policy on the noncompliant states better. The cases cover the Sino-North Korean and Sino-Iranian diplomatic histories from 1990 to 2013 vis-à-vis the United States. The study is both a within-case comparison—that is, changes of China’s stance across time—and a cross-case comparison in China’s position regarding Iran and North Korea.

My comparisons contribute to theoretical and empirical analyses in international relations literature. Theoretically, the research creates different options for the third party between the two antagonistic actors. China will have seven different types of reaction: balancing, bandwagoning, mediating, and abetting that foster strategic clarity versus hiding, delaying, and straddling which are symptomatic of strategic ambiguity. I argue that there is a gradation between pure balancing and pure supporting. Empirically, the test results show that Chinese leaders have tried to find a balance between its material interests and international reputation by engaging in straddling and delaying inconsistently.

There are two major findings. First, China’s foreign policy has been reactive. Whereas prior to 2006, balancing against the U.S. had been a dominant strategy, since 2006, China has shown strategic ambiguity. Second, Chinese leaders believe that the preservation of stability in the region outweighs denuclearization of the noncompliant states, because it is in China’s interest to maintain a manageable tension between the U.S. and the noncompliant states. The balance of interest model suggests that the best way to understand China’s preferences is to consider them as products of rough calculation of risks and rewards on both the U.S. and the noncompliant states.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Kang-uk Jung


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

425 p.


International Relations