Rising powers and foreign intrastate armed conflicts : trends and patterns of China's intervention in African civil wars

  • Obert HODZI

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


What influences one state to intervene in another’s intrastate armed conflict? In answering this question, existing scholarship has tended to emphasise the position of the intervening state in the international system; suggesting that, that is the main determinant factor of a state’s external intervention behaviour. As a result, existing research on intervention in foreign intrastate armed conflicts is dominated by a focus on great powers and their intervention methods. Employing the neoclassical realist causal logic, this thesis argues, on the contrary, that whether a state intervenes in a foreign intrastate armed conflict is a factor of both systemic and state level factors. A state’s intervention behavior is therefore determined, first, by the increase in its relative economic power, then by its changing perception of threat to its interests abroad. What it means is that a state’s position in the international system, rising power, great power or small power, is not the only determinant factor in exploring its intervention behavior, unit level factors also matter. In advancing that argument, this thesis significantly challenges the prevailing assumption that intervention in foreign intrastate armed conflicts is a preserve of great powers, and an instrument of their foreign policy; and thus, broadens the intervention discourse to include the intervention behavior of rising powers. Yet, still there exist, in current literature, a lack of research which systematically connects the above neoclassical realist theoretical reasoning with empirical analysis of intervention in foreign conflicts by rising powers vis-à-vis the 21st century global order recalibrations. By exploring the intervention behaviour of China, a rising global power, in intrastate armed conflicts in three countries, Libya, Mali and South Sudan; and by using the comparative case study method to assess trends and patterns in its intervention behaviour, as its relative economic power increases and its perception of threat evolves, this thesis highlights a more systematic interlink between theoretical and empirical analysis that takes into consideration the changing status of rising powers in the global system and its effect on their intervention behaviour. It therefore makes a case for an empirical study of China’s intervention in intrastate armed conflicts in Africa that considers the interactive dynamics between systemic and domestic variables in its causal explanation of China’s foreign intervention behaviour. In doing that, it points out that understanding intervention in terms of great powers and military action limits our exploration of the emerging re-conceptualization of intervention, its practice and methods as employed by rising powers in foreign intrastate armed conflicts. The thesis therefore makes a case for an innovative (re-)definition of intervention that enables an analytical assessment of the emerging intervention practices.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Political Science
SupervisorChien-peng CHUNG (Supervisor) & Baohui ZHANG (Supervisor)

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