Geopolitical competition between big powers is often depicted as a chess game, where major countries make moves through acquiring geopolitical followers. To compete for and build up influence, regional powers often patronize neighboring countries. Through distributing economic, political, or military benefits, a regional power tries to shape client states' interests and policy orientations in ways favorable to the patron. In April 2015, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal and claimed a death toll of more than six thousand. China, Nepal's big-power neighbor, immediately poured 3.3 million dollars aid into the country, to alleviate the loss and buttress the Nepali government. Such an act exemplified the patronage diplomacy mentioned above because it ``pays political dividends down the road" in Beijing's competition for influence over Kathmandu against Washington (which also donated 1 million dollars). However, major countries do not distribute patronage benefits with equal generosity to all neighboring states. When Typhoon Haiyan wreaked similar destruction on the Philippines in November 2013 that also claimed casualties of more than six thousand, China's initial response was to donate a paltry 100,000 dollars.
In this CWP talk, Dalton Lin sheds light on what motivates a regional power to direct largess toward one neighbor while snubbing another in the face of extra-regional power’s competition for buying influence. When regional power rivalries are intense, high security pressure forces a regional power to be risk-averse and prioritize distributing patronage to neighbors having affinity to the regional power. In contrast, when regional power rivalries are loose, low security pressure gives a regional power the leisure to buy off neutral neighbors, who sit on the fence but might be brought into the fold through patronization. Findings of a case study on China’s aid to North Vietnam at three critical junctures of the Vietnam War support the above mechanism, but the talk will touch upon the theory’s relevance to contemporary East Asia as well.
Dalton Lin, CWP Postdoctoral Fellow