The periphery of the United States is simple and easy to deal with as it is bound by the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean on its west and east sides. Many Chinese believe that this is a gift the God has given the US, and it is also the geopolitical condition for its long hegemony over the world. So periphery diplomacy, if not of little significance, is a matter of limited concern in the overall map of the US diplomacy.
In sharp contrast, China has a surrounding environment that is much more complicated and full of uncertainties. Therefore, a good periphery is vital for China to be a global power in a real sense. A good surrounding environment will serve as a springboard for China to go global and play its role of a responsible world power, which other countries expect. If not the top priority, periphery diplomacy is still of vital importance to China’s agenda of diplomacy.
Chinese leaders are clear about the impact China’s rise will have on its neighbors. A big tree invites wind. Even if China follows the road of peaceful development, some other countries will not necessarily feel assured about its intentions. Behind this is a question that China must face: While striving for national reinvigoration, it must carefully handle its readjustment in the relationship with international institutions and its relationship with neighboring countries. This is one of the biggest challenges China has to face since it began its expedition of national rejuvenation. This challenge will remain throughout the process of China’s rise. Those with vision and insight point out that, in the second decade of this century, China’s rise has advanced from a period of preparation to that of friction, during which more problems and challenges will arise.
Chinese leaders are also clearly aware of the complicated impact that the US’ pivot to Asia will have on its periphery. In a certain sense, the US’ pivot constitutes a disturbance to China’s strategy in Asia. Such a pivot will undoubtedly play a role in impeding China’s efforts to develop ties with its neighbors. In fact, Japan, the Philippines and some other countries have already misinterpreted the message that the US pivot to Asia has sent. This has brought about a number of immediate and potential challenges in China’s periphery.
China will not be able to make progress in tackling these challenges just by keeping a low profile. Instead, it must take an initiative in creating a favorable periphery.
President Xi Jinping has both courage and wisdom in handling diplomatic issues. Former Chinese president Jiang Zemin has spoken highly of Xi’s such quality, which also deeply impressed senior US diplomat Henry Kissinger. Xi has attached much importance to the question of periphery diplomacy since he took office as president, proposing that efforts must be made in creating a favorable periphery. In October, a seminar was convened in Beijing to discuss issues concerning periphery diplomacy. The focus of this meeting was to map out the strategic target, basic principles and overall plan of China’s periphery diplomacy for the next five or ten years. Specific methods and schemes were also worked out to solve the immediate problems that China’s periphery diplomacy faces.
This meeting marked the beginning of Xi Jinping’s new era of China’s periphery diplomacy. The strategic target strikes a balance between the defense of national sovereignty and the maintenance of regional stability. It stresses that efforts will be made for better political and economic relations with neighboring countries, for closer security cooperation and people-to-people contact.
For the basic principles, China will continue to maintain friendly relations with neighboring countries and regard them as partners. The concept of qin (closeness), cheng (earnestness), hui (benefit) and rong (inclusiveness) is incorporated into the principles.
These four Chinese characters will be the key words for China’s periphery diplomacy. With them, China will be able to realize virtuous interaction with the United States, India and other major countries. To put it simply, closeness refers to developing close relations through frequent visits. Earnestness is to show enough sincerity in solving neighborhood problems. Benefit refers to the principle of mutual benefit, on which cooperation with neighboring countries will be strengthened to weave a network of common prosperity and therefore neighboring countries will benefit from China’s development. Inclusiveness means that Asia and the Pacific region should be broad enough to include various parties for common development.
Chen Xulong is Director of the Department for International and Strategic Studies at China Institute of International Studies.