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Foreign Policy

The Motivations for China’s New Periphery Strategy

Nov 18 , 2013
  • Chen Jimin

    Associate Research Fellow, CPC Party School

Since the establishment of Xi’s administration, major steps have been taken in the diplomatic field, which highlights in China’s Asian strategy. From the geopolitical perspective, the Asian strategy is China’s greater periphery strategy. Obviously, it is of vital importance for a country’s security and development to formulate and implement its periphery strategy. As the saying goes, “one can choose his friends, but cannot choose his neighbors.” Therefore, in essence, a state can take the initiative to improve its peripheral environment and should not just passively accept it. 

Chen Jimin

So far, some momentous diplomatic activities have been undertaken. China’s top leaders frequently visited neighboring countries in the first year in office, showing the enthusiasm and initiative. In March, President Xi Jinping picked Russia as his first visiting destination, which was not only the inheritance of Chinese diplomatic tradition in recent years, but more importantly, the judgment of the current international situation. China and Russia share a lot in common; Their strategic interests, challenges and international responsibilities. Their economies can be complementary to each other, and they will move towards a more mature, and far-reaching cooperative direction. Afterwards, Premier Li Keqiang visited India and Pakistan in May; President Xi visited five Central Asian countries in September and attended the APEC summit held in Bali, Indonesia; Premier Li subsequently attended the East Asia Summit held in Brunei, and then paid a friendly visit to Thailand, Vietnam. Besides, on October 24-25 2013, a high level meeting dedicated to periphery diplomacy was held in Beijing, focusing on top-level design in peripheral diplomatic strategy. Additionally, China will soon establish a national security committee, according to a communiqué issued after the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee. It will create favorable conditions to improve the effectiveness of foreign policy-making and policy implementation in terms of the organizational structure. 

What are the reasons for the Chinese government to invest so many resources and efforts in the periphery diplomacy? In my opinion, there are three main motivations: 

First, it is decided by Chinese national identity. National strategic choices and the definition of national identity are intrinsically linked. China’s national identity is complex. China, however, is overall a regional developing country with increasingly global influence. Though China has become the world’s second largest economy, it remains a developing country in terms of the development stage and the structural strength. It is still a regional power because its global project capabilities (e.g. military) are limited, especially compared with the U.S. Clearly, the region refers to Asia. Thus, from a geostrategic point of view, Asia is crucial for China’s security and development, which is the most important factor for Chinese new administration to advance and upgrade its Asian strategy. 

Secondly, it is required by the objective of Asia integration. Currently, Asia gathers two contradictory features with the “angel” and “devil” faces: On the one hand, Asia has been experiencing the rapid economic development, which has become the most important engine to boost the global economic growth. The so-called power shift from the West to the East largely lied in the economic field; on the other hand, Asia also has the complex of geopolitics, the diversities of civilization, the disputes of history problems and real interests, which makes Asia one of the most fragile regions in the world for security. Meanwhile, major powers have increased strategic investments in Asia and the region seems to be a new place for the world’s big powers game. Under such circumstances, the “dual structure” has emerged in Asia. For example, some Asian countries depend on China’s economic development, but seek security aid from the U.S. There is a dilemma existing in the region, namely,  the “Asia paradox,” named by South Korean President Park Geun-hye. That is, countries in the region are closely linked in economy while political conflicts among them have been increasing. The future of Asia, however, will eventually be created by the countries in the region. To break the “dual structure” or “Asia paradox” and move towards a regional integration relies on the efforts of all, mostly the major countries in the region. As the region’s most important, powerful state, China does not and cannot evade its regional responsibilities. The new administration’s periphery diplomacy, to some extent, is also originated in China’s responsibility for promoting regional integration to achieve long-term sustainable development in Asia. 

Finally, it is the necessary choice to deal with external challenges. After the financial crisis, the international power structure has entered a new round of adjustment. In this process, China faces enormous challenges in the external environment: in the economic sphere, facing sluggish external demands, China’s economic development is in a difficult transition period; in the geopolitical sphere, the major powers have strengthen their Asia policy, which brings challenges for China’s Asia strategy. Thus, focusing on periphery diplomacy is a necessary choice for China to deal with these challenges. Of course, the choice is a proactive behavior. Some analysts believe that China’s periphery diplomacy is mainly motivated by the U.S. “Asia-Pacific rebalancing” strategy. Personally, I believe it is one of the driving factors, but not the main one. Actually, the Chinese government holds a clear and consistent policy standpoint on the U.S. presence in Asia, that is, China recognizes and respects the U.S. interests in Asia while hoping and calling for the United States to be a constructive force in the Asian regional affairs. In other words, China does not try to exclude the United States from Asia as part of its Asia strategy objectives. Therefore, China’s periphery strategy has the characteristics of inclusiveness and openness. 

Chen Jimin, Ph.D, is an Assistant Research Fellow for the Institute for International and Strategic Studies at the Party School of Central Committee of C.P.C.

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