in: International Studies Quarterly, 09.06.2020
This paper addresses a largely overlooked actor in China’s foreign relations, the International Department of the Communist Party of China (ID-CPC). Using publicly available documentation, we systematically analyze the patterns of the CPC’s external relations since the early 2000s. Building on an intense travel diplomacy, the ID-CPC maintains a widely stretched network to political elites across the globe. The ID-CPC’s engagement is not new; but since Xi Jinping took office, the CPC has bolstered its efforts to reach out to other parties. We find that party relations not only serve as an additional channel to advance China’s foreign policy interests. Since President Xi has come to power, party relations also emerged as a key instrument to promote China’s vision for reforming the global order. Moreover, China increasingly uses the party channel as a vehicle of authoritarian learning by sharing experiences of its economic modernization and authoritarian one-party regime. The cross-regional analysis of the CPC’s engagement with other parties helps us to better understand the role of the CPC in Chinese foreign policy-making, pointing to a new research agenda at the intersection of China’s foreign relations, authoritarian diffusion, and transnational relations.