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12.05.2020 | Research Article | Ausgabe 4/2020

Journal of Chinese Political Science 4/2020

Ganging up on Trump? Sino-German Relations and the Problem with Soft Balancing against the USA

Zeitschrift:
Journal of Chinese Political Science > Ausgabe 4/2020
Autor:
Sebastian Biba

Abstract

Soft balancing has recently been framed as a general foreign policy strategy that is basically open to any state. However, what coalitions can actually engage in joint soft-balancing behavior? To date, the literature has focused on more traditional foe-foe constellations and less traditional friend-friend constellations. In the former, all the soft-balancing partners are foes of the opponent; in the latter, all the soft-balancing partners are friends/allies of the opponent. But what about mixed soft-balancing coalitions in which one partner is a foe of the opponent whereas another partner is an ally/friend of the opponent? This article sets out to argue that such mixed soft-balancing coalitions are not possible. It moreover contends that the reason for this is the fact that the execution of soft-balancing behavior is more demanding and more consequential than one might think upon hearing the term “soft.” The hurdles for the ally/friend of the opponent in such a (theoretical) mixed soft-balancing coalition are therefore too high to actually follow through with such a strategy. To support its arguments, the article analyzes a crucial case study based on a most-likely-case design. More precisely, it looks into Sino-German reactions to US president Donald Trump’s “America First” approach. The article indeed finds that while both China and Germany have lamented Trump’s “America First” approach, the leap for Germany as a US ally and friend to translating the complaints about Trump into tangible soft-balancing activities together with China has simply been too big. Even though Germany and China are themselves close partners, Germany ultimately remains too close to the USA, and US positions on China, for Sino-German soft balancing against the USA to be a workable option.

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