This study employs offensive realism to provide a baseline for assessing Beijing's strategic choices in dealing with regional neighbors. In theory, when an ascending power is not yet capable of dominating its home region, it would strive foremost to prevent external powers from extending their influence in its vicinity. To attain that goal, it will likely adopt a carrots-and-sticks strategy, by rewarding some neighbors and punishing others according to their readiness to accommodate its ascendance and keep a cautious distance from external powers. Empirically, China's management of territorial disputes from the 1950s onward is quite consistent with these theoretical expectations. Viewed in this light, restraint and assertiveness are not inversely related in Chinese foreign policy behavior. Rather, they are two sides of the same coin and serve the same overriding purpose of countering adversarial (especially US) influences in China's neighborhood.

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