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A Strategic Shift in Chinese Diplomacy: China Strives to Be the Number Two World Power

Posted by on 2013/04/13. Filed under Breaking News,Opinions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


By Dr. Tao Peng

On February 21st, 2013, the Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed in its regular press conference that China’s future President Xi Jinping will visit Russia. This means that President Xi Jinping treats Russia as the first country that he will visit after taking office. Before this, on February 20th, Russian President Vladimir Putin met the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Moscow. This intriguing action to announce Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia before starting the National People’s Congress and CPPCC sessions in Beijing is seen as a demonstration that China attach strategic importance toRussia and as a counter signal on Japan and the United States. The timing that the Chinese Foreign Ministry officially announced that the President would visit Russia corresponded exactly to the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the United States. China’s newly appointed President who decide that Russia will be his first visiting country was also seen as a manifestation of the CPC diplomatic strategy to bid farewell to its past paradigm based on “Sino-US axis, and it means that China shows the United States its jingoistic diplomatic attitude. Combined with the Communist China’s previous tough stance on the issues of the Huangyan Island in the South China Sea and the Diaoyu Islands in East China Sea and Xi Jinping’s recent speech of the “bottom line” for the Foreign principle of the People’s Republic of China (such as: “any foreign country should not expect that China will take its own core interests to do business and swallow the bitter fruits that damage China’s sovereignty, security and development interests”), the intention of the Party to highlight the partnership between China and Russia is a response to America’s return to Asia, and it also shows that the CPC’s diplomatic strategy starts the transition from the type of tactics to a strategic model. One can also imagine that the Chinese Communist Party’s future foreign policy would gradually shift from defending to expanding and from the conservatism to the activism and be trying to build up its hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region and its status of the world’s second power after the United States.

Say goodbye to “keeping a low profile”

Due to the return of the United States to the Asia-Pacific region, neighbouring countries (such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan and other countries) have intensified the controversy with China on territorial sovereignty or on sovereignty in the territorial sea in recent years, and China as a regional power exerts increasing influence in the field of world politics and economic. In this case, China’s passive and restraint foreign policy of “keeping a low profile” in the past is increasingly being questioned and criticized by Chinese politicians, academics and military (left and right wings), it was rebuked for a lack of strategic thinking and global pattern of diplomacy. As opposed to this, China’s Attitude for the dispute of the territorial seas (such as the South China Sea and East China Sea) is getting tougher and transforms gradually its foreign policy from mere protest into insistence on confrontation. From time to time, China’s Communist new leadership headed by Xi Jinping issued a series of unprecedented tough signal, such as: it publicly disclosed the bottom line of China’s foreign policy principles, warned the army that they should be ready to fight, and so on. This indicates that China will transform it’s negative conservative attitude of the past into an increasingly hard-line approach in dealing with international disputes. In other words, in the future disputes of regional issues, if the bottom line is touched and the surrounding disputing countries insist on no compromise, the CPC would not exclude the possibility of starting a local war or armed conflict. Especially on the issues, which involve China’s core interests, China would not continue the unilateral policy of restraint. China whose national strength is increasing would also no longer continue to hide its diplomatic motives.

In the eyes of Chinese researchers, the real factors to cause the Change of China’s foreign policy are mainly the following two:  firstmost, China becomes a global economic and military power, and its national interests are also increasing regionalized and globalized. This reality requires China to stress on its suitable great power status in the Asia-Pacific region and worldwide. The growth and impact of China’s national strength make the major powers such as the United States, Japan, India and the surrounding countries worry and sceptical about China. In this regard, these countries have taken a range of prevention and boycott measures (such as the U.S. strategic focus to the Asia andthe growing territorial disputes of neighbouring countries with China). As a coping reaction, China shifts the focus of its foreign policy from the “keeping a low profile” to an offensive and tough policy and openly displays its determination to defend national “core interests”. Secondly, CPC high-level decision-makers realize that strength of the sovereignty disputes can update the ideological concepts of the nationalism and the patriotism, and social differences can also be integrated in the control of the external crisis. Objectively, the intensification of such territorial sovereignty disputes in recent years has shown a similar function: the usually opposing factions on social issues unite invariablybecause of a consistent hard-line foreign policy.

Striving to be the world number two

In order to contribute the new steering of China’s diplomatic strategy, the mainland academics and government Think Tanks are developing a new mode of thinking and programs of the Chinese future foreign policy. In their view, to maintenance and enhance its regional and global multi-level interests, China has to meet two strategic requirements. First of all, the Chinese Communists should have to give up the negative and restraint diplomatic strategy of “keeping a low profile”, to take a positive and different foreign policy and to establish strategic thinking and own discourse system for a great power diplomacy. China should also influence the world with own discourse system. This shift could be done through military, economic, intelligence and soft power. Secondly, China must strategically distinguish between friends and enemies, friends of rivals and friends of mine and break the past Non-Aligned diplomatic principles of China’s Communist. In other words, China’s diplomatic focus should be placed on friendly nations and hostile countries. In accordance to the Chinese mainland Expert’s point of view, the following countries could diplomatic strategically recognized as the potential or illusionary enemies: the nations that would have possible military conflicts with China because of territorial sovereignty disputes (such as Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines), the large countries who fear the high-speed development of China, do everything possible to curb the development and use of force to coerce China (such as the United States) and the states that start possible proxy war with China (such as North Korea, Pakistan and Myanmar). Russia should be seen as political allies of China. Russia and China both are the objects to be curbed by the United States. These two countries have a strong economic complementarity. Their leaders have a high degree of mutual trust and understanding in the processing core interests and international relations. European Union should be China’s economic partner. China and Europe both are not optimistic about the U.S. economic outlook. In dealing with international economic affairs, China and Europe are increasingly becoming allies. India is seen as potentially important economic partner country of China. Iran, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela and other nations are deemed to be the friendly countries of China. Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Brunei could be the nations, which China approach or cooperate with. South Korea, Australia, Singapore and Thailand belong to political allies or friends of potential enemy countries of China such as the United States, Japan and other countries.

Another similar mention of mainland academics is that the Chinese Communists should have a top-level design of grand strategy in foreign policy. This formulation emphasizes the role and focus of power in international relations to safeguard the fundamental interests of China. As an operation and overall design to achieve foreign policy goals, national diplomatic strategy requires a clear strategic objective, goals or imaginary opponents, a system of ideas, steps, methods, plans and so on. Diplomatic strategy means that large countries can not only adapt to the environment, but also is able to create the environment and to choose their own strategies to change external environment in relation to the variations of their own interests. In this concept, the Chinese should change their still passive position of a recipient of the existing international system and gradually transform their country into a “maker”. China should take advantage of changes in the external world for its own interests, fight to be the world’s second power, take critical gesture to the hegemony of the United States and challenge the discourse system under Western control, not only strive to maintain the balance of power but also focus on alliance in international relations, elevate the Chinese culture and the Summary of the Chinese Achievements to the level of universal experience and so on. China should have a clear strategy to vie for a responsible world’s second power in order to eliminate the concerns of the United States about China’s rise. In addition, the Chinese should fight for dominance in the Asian affairs and firmly secure the second position in the world. China’s diplomacy should not continue to engage in “keeping a low profile” because this causes the United States to suspect China’s real intention. The opaque diplomatic intentions could lead to the guess of the United States and the international community and so increase the cost of China to catch up with the West.  Strategic clarity would enhance the credibility of the Chinese actions to reduce the opponent’s strategy misjudgement. On the contrary, if China’s grand strategy is not clear and the bottom line is not understandable, it may make some countries insatiable and so force the Chinese to be passive. Besides, there is another view that the People’s Republic of China has to develop and disseminate its “own universal values”, to send troops to foreign countries, to establish overseas military bases as well as to build a strong sea power if the Chinese would go globe and tightly secure their second position in the world.

More unrest in the world?

In view of a series of the actions of China’s Communist in its foreign policy since last year, the information transmitted by the senior leaders as well as the mainstream view of the mainland academics, China’s diplomatic strategy in the future will have a unprecedented steering, that is to say that China will transform its past “keeping a low profile” strategy into a clear and strong diplomacy that does not tolerate foreign nations to hurt its “bottom-line”. What impact or influence has this Change of Chinese diplomatic strategy on the security and development of the Asia-Pacific region and the whole world? Will it promote the peaceful development of the region and the globe or to create more instability factors? Clearly, China’s increasingly tough attitude in the national disputes and its trying to act as the world second largest nation will continuingly cause worry and counter of neighbouring countries in the Asia-Pacific region and lead to the resistance of the European Union,thus this will result more instability in the Asia-Pacific region and intensify confrontation between China and the United States as well as the Western Countries. If the Chinese Communist Party can really build up its status of a world’s second power and the ability to grasp the initiative in Asian affairs, this will have to see how China’s national strength, domestic politics and social conditions will develop, and it depends on how the international environment changes, how the interactivity of policies of different nations looks like in the future, how the way of China’s own use of the power will be, how the Chinese moderate their goals and how the internal situation of Chinese Communist Party evolves. The question whether the shift in China’s foreign policy is good or bad for the regional and globe peace and development as well as for China’s own has yet to be answered and validated by the time.


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