The Flag Lags but Follows

The PLA and China's Great Leap Outward

Published in: Chairman Xi Remakes the PLA: Assessing Chinese Military Reforms, Chapter 4, pages 171–199 (2019)

Posted on RAND.org on May 18, 2021

by Andrew Scobell, Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga

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Does trade follow the flag, or does the flag follow trade? In China's "reform and opening" policy, the sequence appears to be first trade, then investment in resources and infrastructure—now codified under the so-called One Belt, One Road (OBOR) or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—followed by efforts to protect the physical manifestations of extended engagement with the outside world. While "trade follows the flag" may have been "a reasonable maxim for 19th-century imperialism," it does not appear to be a viable course of action for a 21th-century great power in a globalized world economy.

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