Diplomatic Control, Foreign Policy, and Change under Xi Jinping: A Field-Theoretic Account

Dylan M. H. Loh


This article outlines how Xi Jinping has exercised control over diplomatic actors, particularly China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and draws out the effects of this control for the ministry and for Chinese foreign policy. Leveraging Bourdieu’s (1984) concept of “field,” I demonstrate how Xi has – through processes of socialisation, restriction, and displays of fealty – bred local diplomatic field incentives in which actors exhibit more loyal, assertive, and disciplined behaviour. Next, I introduce the idea of “transversal disruption” – the potential of local fields to disrupt and introduce change on and in overlapping fields, and vice versa. Practice theorists have relatively little to say about inter-field effects, and this article seeks to fill this gap by showing how field rules in the transnational diplo-matic space can change when fields meet. I illustrate the above through three cases of field encounters: the multilateral Track II diplomacy field; the transnational fields of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); and, the China–Malaysia bilateral diplomatic field.

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