The recent symposium on China’s peripheral diplomacy has attracted great attention and extensive discussions in the international arena because of its highest level, most extensive scope, most profound implications and extremely influential signal. Meanwhile, Chinese media has also paid great attention to deriving nourishment and “positive energy” from international reactions.
Some people say, the rapid growth of China’s comprehensive national strength has given rise to “massive panic” in its surrounding countries. Some people even make such remarks that China’s peripheral situation is critical with frequent outbreak of fires and it is becoming increasingly isolated, therefore it has begun to hold out “olive branches” in an attempt to “break out of encirclement”. This does not square with facts and represents gross misunderstanding and misjudgment about China’s diplomacy.
To pursue “good-neighborly and friendly relations” and the “Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence” has always been China’s national policy. China’s diplomacy embraces both inheritance and strong creativity. At present, the quantitative progress of the change of the times is accelerating. With great foresight, China’s new leadership charts long-term plans and a roadmap at the strategic level, strives for a new prospect for diplomatic work (some friends in Hong Kong say that it pursues a “new diplomatic policy”), and further expands its broad road in the neighborhood. Two outstanding features of this endeavor merit attention.
One, in comparison with the past, the peripheral diplomacy “has gone up one more flight”. President Xi Jinping’s proposals on working together to build a “China-ASEAN community of common destiny”, energetically supporting and promoting regional “interconnection” and opening economic belts along both the new silk road on the sea and the silk road on land comply with the calls of the times, echo the propositions of SCO and APEC and conform to the needs of the neighboring countries, the ASEAN and Central Asian countries in particular. China’s development will benefit its neighbors, which, in turn, will render powerful support to China in enabling the “Chinese Dream” come true.
Two, the peripheral diplomacy is more “three-dimensional” and “vivid”. Since the beginning of this year, Chinese leaders have successively visited neighboring countries on many occasions. In particular, China proposed to Central Asian countries, India and ASEAN that different ways may be adopted to carry out cooperation with them on infrastructure development to support their immediate requirements (e.g. the feasibility of ‘high-speed railways for rice’ with Thailand). To this end, China also set forth the initiative on preparation for the establishment of an “Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank”. In succession, China reached agreement on joint development on the sea with Brunei, announced to establish a working group on the sea with Vietnam and reached agreement on border defense cooperation with India. India, Vietnam and Brunei are China’s neighbors of different sizes ranging from large, medium and small. All of them have some disputes with China either about boundaries on land or territorial waters. The above-mentioned agreements are conducive to jointly controlling disputes, relaxing or even dissolving conflicts and safeguarding the larger interests of peace, stability and cooperative development of bilateral relations. All these exemplary agreements constitute the orientation of China’s endeavor and vivid expressions of China’s philosophy of “kinship, sincerity, reciprocity and inclusiveness”, showing a distinctive “three-dimensional” character.
As a matter of fact, China’s peripheral diplomatic strategy has also taken into consideration some incessant “negative factors”.
There are two striking phenomena at present. The first is Japan’s constant trouble-making against China on the question of the Diaoyu Islands. Japan tries to drag the U.S. into the mire, knock together a junior NATO in Asia and sow discords between China and her neighboring countries. All these are but Japan’s pipe dream. In spite of that, China should not take them lightly when it is working hard to further expand its broad road. China cannot afford to neglect the possible obstacles, winds or even storms on its broad road. China persists in taking the road of peaceful development and in displaying its affinity. Should Japan be bent on crossing its own “narrow log bridge”, well then, go ahead! However, should Japan misjudge the situation and imagine that China is weak and easily bullied and dares not confront Japan for the sake of peripheral security and peaceful development, it would commit a gross mistake. It will eat the bitter fruit of its own making in the end.
The second is the US “rebalance strategy”. There has never been any balance of forces in the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. has maintained the predominant position. The so-called “rebalance” of the U.S. is in reality the intention to continue its absolute predominance. However, there is bound to have some changes in the balance of forces because China will inevitably enhance its military power along with the growth of its comprehensive national strength in order to safeguard its state sovereignty, independence and security. Nevertheless, China does not challenge the U.S. It does not ask the U.S. to leave this region. On the contrary, China has kept showing goodwill to the U.S. in the hope that the two countries would dedicate their efforts to shaping a new type of inter-power relationship. It hopes that the U.S. would deliver more “positive energy”, be cautious in words and deeds and show a little more respect for China’s core interests. If the U.S. can take an objective attitude towards China, the new orientation of their bilateral relations and their respective and mutual needs for “win-win cooperation”, it looks that it is not difficult to resolve the problem. The ball is in the US court.
Wang Yusheng is China’s former APEC senior official, and Executive Director at the Strategy Study Center of the China Foundation for International Studies.