26 November 2012
by Emre Tunc Sakaoglu, JTW
While climbing the steps of global prominence, the new Chinese leadership which took seat on November 15 after the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) will have to deal with various challenges in its foreign policy, including contentious issues concerning security. The gigantic economy of the rising country dazzles the rest of the world in addition to creating a feeling of fear and respect regarding the former’s considerable achievements and surging defensive capabilities, which emerged over only a couple of decades. But there is still great ambiguity from the perspective of the global community about what China’s essential intentions in the international arena are and what motivates China’s drive of rapid modernization efforts in various fields including increased military spending.
In today’s world order, economic interests, political motives and security agendas of major powers are usually intertwined, although zero-sum rivalries are still valid on many occasions of political friction. In addition, China’s administrative tradition has brought its own fears, dreams and specific definitions of interest from centuries back to this date and synthesized these elements into what we refer to as its contemporary foreign policy perspective. Therefore, a balanced evaluation and foreshadowing of China’s intentions and interests would require the recognition of a scale of dynamics that interrelate or diverge, and are candidates to determine China’s path to increased international assertiveness. Being shaped by region-specific, sometimes egotistical, but still cooperative and consensual motives as well in various contemporary circumstances, all these factors should be placed by relevance in the right order on the colorful spectrum through which the dragon views the world.
In order to shed light on the new outlook of China’s foreign policy from the “inside,” the 4th Xiangshan Forum is organized bi-yearly by the International Military Branch of the China Association for Military Science (CAMS) under the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Between November 16-18, 2012, the foremost international event aimed to elaborate in depth on the security and foreign policy agenda of the Asia-Pacific region. It took place right after the 18th Conference of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and the election of Xi Jinping to succeed Hu Jintao as the new president of China by the Central Committee of the CPC. China’s security concerns, and the sources of friction as well as prospects of security cooperation between major and resident actors in the Asia-Pacific region from the perspective of China’s foreign policy-makers, comprised the main focus of the panels and conferences conducted under the umbrella of the 4th Xiangshan Forum.
Preserving while reforming the international system
Beijing’s foreign policy principles can be summarized as equal sovereignty, creating a win-win environment, non-alignment with any revisionist or ideological camps, and non-confrontation except for “national causes” regarding China’s close neighborhood. Hence, while cooperative partnerships and an emphasis on stability are brought forward, intervention in domestic politics or the territorial integrity of any state is frowned upon by Chinese foreign policy authorities.
Decision-makers in Beijing also complain about the remnants of the Cold War mentality, and the influence of ideological prejudices within the international community which lead to misapprehensions regarding Beijing’s quest for international stability, investment-friendly markets and mutual interests. Hence, Chinese officials are eager to establish diplomatic and economic ties, as diverse as these could be, with various countries of the world. Beijing puts forward that this quest is persistently pursued to overcome prejudices and relevant multilateral initiatives that may form in a way to confront or at least to exclude Beijing’s prior efforts in an overtly-realistic manner, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) led by the United States.
According to Chinese military authorities as well as its foreign ministry circles, international norms and laws which are the basis for liberal theory, should be preserved as they are, indeed more essentially by powerful actors such as the U.S. and China through bilateral and multilateral tools. Moral obligations and material interests of the global community converge to a certain extent today, and the degree of international trustworthiness and density of diplomatic ties inclusive of China, like any other country, rely on the preservation and reproduction of the modern norms put forward initially by the United Nations in a systematic manner.
A proactive diplomacy and networking
As a result of Beijing’s abovementioned concerns and priorities, it strives to maintain regular military exchanges, bilateral agreements as well as multilateral diplomatic proactivity in the international arena to introduce itself to every corner of the globe “accurately” as a responsible and reliable partaker. Many examples of successful diplomatic endeavors on the part of China include either the creation or expansion of platforms such as the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, ASEAN+3, ASEAN Regional Forum, Six-Party Talks mechanism, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the East Asia Summit. China also became a member of the World Trade Organization in 2001 and took part in various United Nations peace-keeping missions up to now in various continents. China’s main focus has been formulating confidence-building measures (CBMs) within such different platforms in order to assure its partners of the reliability and long-term vision of its peaceful, respectful and win-win conduct.
Also, the strategic exchange of motives and ideas with the help of enhanced communication through both official as well as civilian levels (via tourism, business and specialist forums for instance) is a consequent element of Chinese decision-makers’ world-view. For instance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) were both founded on these grounds with the initiatives of Beijing at the outset. Nevertheless, China persistently opposes the idea of translating the latter, special forum into a Group of Two (G-2) within the G-20 on the grounds that multi-polarity, instead of Cold War style bi-polarity, will be determinant in the future course of global power balances.
However, Beijing still preserves the idea that China constitutes the chief figure for emerging markets and developing countries and the United States for industrialized developed countries. Therefore China spares special focus for its bilateral relations with the United States as the “primus inter pares,” or the “first among equals.” At the same time, China’s other bilateral ties as well as multilateral initiatives target mainly practical cooperation with the developing world, similar to the one with the United States. Beijing views economic integration and practical cooperation as the main ways to counter multi-faceted security threats, instability and ideological polarization that may altogether emerge between major actors of international relations, which would be the worst scenario for Beijing’s interests and decades-long efforts in image-making.