What Kind of Neighborhood Will China Build?

China International Studies | 作者: Ruan Zongze | 时间: 2014-05-28 | 责编: Li Xiaoyu
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by Ruan Zongze

  

The new central leadership has highlighted the strategic importance of better relations with neighboring countries and the construction of a solid foundation for China’s neighborhood strategy so as to create favorable conditions for Chinese development. China is strengthening top-level strategy in foreign relations, focusing on global-level relations and staying committed to relations with neighboring countries. Chinese diplomacy is undergoing an important transformation, which is characterized by forging ahead, actively shaping its environment and mutual benefits and win-win results. China never avoids contradictions or causes trouble, and it is not afraid of provocation. However, under the period of frequent contradictions, how should we view the evolution of the neighboring situation? What kind of the neighborhood must China build? What kind of China does the surrounding neighborhood need? How should China shape a prosperous and stable neighboring environment? How can China pursue the path of peaceful development amidst disturbances? This paper will discuss the above issues.

 

I. How to Recognize the Neighboring Situation and its Evolution

 

China needs a peaceful neighboring environment in order to concentrate on development. At the moment, China’s neighborhood is undergoing great transformations. It is a period of vigorous structural evolution and intensive contradictions as well.

 

1. China aspires for a peaceful and prosperous neighborhood

According to history, it is most favorable for China’s Reform and Opening when China’s neighborhood maintains peace and development. Said differently, peace and development constitute prerequisites for China’s Reform and Opening. The instability of China’s surrounding neighborhood will inevitably encumber the Chinese economy and even disturb China’s development. After the founding of the People’s Republic, China was forced into several conflicts and wars during the Cold War, making it difficult for China to concentrate on economic development. At the end of the 1970s, China shifted its focus to domestic economic development, thus changing its national destiny and launching the great Reform and Opening. All of this was attributed to the superb strategic judgment of Deng Xiaoping.

When the 11th Party Congress’ Third Plenum decided to prioritize economic development, the world was still in the Cold War mindset, with the United States-Soviet Union confrontation escalating for a time. Against this backdrop, Deng Xiaoping judged that peace and development were the themes of the times. He believed that the forces for peace outweighed the forces for war. By the time the Cold War ended, China had accumulated valuable experiences from a decade of reform and opening, laying a solid foundation for its later economic take off. The burgeoning development in Asia also offered a favorable external environment for China’s economic success.

China’s Reform and Opening policy attracted worldwide attention and attained tremendous achievements. Over the past 30 years, the Chinese economy has grown rapidly, averaging around 10 percent annually, promoting the soaring growth of China’s foreign trade. When China was engaged in peaceful development and concentrating on domestic buildup, the United States was enjoying its “historical holiday”: the Afghan war and the Iraq war launched by the United States and the financial crisis “made by Wall Street” in 2008 brought severe harm to the United States.

The economic bubble that burst in Japan has plunged the country into economic stagnation for more than 20 years, now often referred to as the “two lost decades.” Given this context, East Asia experienced great structural changes. China has already overtaken Japan and America in some areas: in 2010, China transcended Japan in terms of GDP, and in 2013, China took the place of the United States to become the world’s largest trading country. Chinese official data demonstrate that the value of China’s imports and exports in 2013 exceeded 4 trillion dollars, topping the record of 4.16 trillion dollars. China’s total trade value in 2013 was 250 billion dollars more than that of the United States. It is forecasted that over the next few years, the gap in the trade value between China and the United States will widen further.

The most striking change in China’s neighborhood lies in the profound change in the regional balance of power. The power structure in Asia has undergone new changes, which are largely characterized by the rise of China, the anxiety of the United States and the decline of Japan. Although there are no causal relations between the three, the rise of China has undoubtedly accelerated the pace of the other two trends, exerting profound and complicated effects.

 

2. The neighborhood wants a peaceful and prosperous China

Historically, China’s stability has ensured the stability of China’s neighborhood; the prosperity of China will lead to the prosperity of its neighborhood. Therefore, the common destiny of China and its neighborhood has long been recognized. Today’s Asia is an important engine for world economic recovery, and the important engine for Asia’s development is China. China has become the main market for neighboring countries and the largest trading partner for many of them. Peace, cooperation and development are the trends of the 21st century.

On September 8, 2013, Premier Li Keqiang stated in an interview: “In the 21st century, the trend toward peace and development has gained momentum. China has developed in such a peaceful environment and is heading toward national renewal in a peaceful way. We have no reason to change our path of peaceful development. The Chinese nation has no such tradition to seek hegemony or expansion. And in the past several thousand years, the Chinese nation has developed a philosophy to treat its neighbors amicably, valuing peace above anything else and cherishing harmony in diversity. They constitute the historical foundation for China's policy of building friendships and partnerships with its neighbors.”

The success of China’s Reform and Opening depends on a peaceful surrounding environment. Likewise, in order to accomplish the Chinese dream, China will also need a lasting stable international environment. China’s reform is bringing increasing cooperative opportunities for surrounding countries. In the 1990s, in the face of the outbreak of the Asian financial crisis, China adopted the responsible policy of expanding imports from its neighboring countries while refraining from devaluing its currency, prompting the economic recovery of its surrounding countries. When the global financial crisis broke out in 2008, China once again assumed a responsible position by scaling up cooperation with neighboring countries, establishing an FTA with ASEAN and helping neighboring economies recover from the crisis. China is advocating the spirit of mutual accommodation and learning, striving to strengthen mutual trust through dialogue and promoting various types of economic and financial cooperation, thereby making a great contribution to the security and prosperity of Asia.

 

3. Structural evolution intensifies geopolitical rivalry

China’s success is based on its Reform and Opening and the peaceful development of its neighborhood, rather than being based on the failure of other countries. China’s rapid rise, however, has resulted in the roughly balanced dual-center structure in East Asia with China and the United States as the cores. At present, China’s neighboring environment has displayed a very distinctive dualistic character. On the one hand, nearly all of the acute conflicts and potential conflicts in the world have converged in this area, from great power rivalries, nuclear non-proliferation, territorial disputes, the “three forces” of terrorism, extremism and separatism, social transformation, energy and water resource security, among other issues. On the other hand, the countries with the fastest growing economies are located in this area, and the regional economy is the world’s most dynamic, attracting worldwide attention. If the former is viewed as a challenge, the latter will of course be an opportunity.

China’s power structure, complicated environment and development opportunities all have not only disturbed the nerves of countries in the region. These changes have also attracted the attention and speculation of the world, pushing China into a vortex of contradictions. Some countries have a feeling of unprecedented anxiety, and some even accuse China of eating their lunch, attempting to transfer their domestic conflicts to China. In this context, the United States’ rebalancing strategy in the Asia Pacific has incited some countries to be more arrogant in making trouble to “contain China,” causing the rekindling of some territorial disputes. In the meantime, China’s rightful response was exaggerated and distorted as “assertive” and “over-reacting.” There are people who are also concerned that China will drive the United States out of the Asia Pacific and replace the United States as the new hegemon.

On November 23, 2013, the Chinese government, in accordance to the “People's Republic of China National Defense Law,” the “People's Republic of China Civil Aviation” and “People’s Republic of China flight basic rule,” announced the designation of the East China Sea air defense identification zone (ADIZ). This measure was irreproachable, as it is conducive to China’s efforts to effectively safeguard the security of its airspace and maritime rights and provide the foundation for regular sea and air monitoring and surveillance around the Diaoyu islands and their affiliated islands. As a result, this move increases transparency and reduces the risk of misjudgment. Furthermore, the United States and Japan already set up air defense identification zones in the 1950s and 1960s. China’s action, however, was regarded as provocative.

In January 2014, Admiral Samuel Locklear III, commander of US Pacific Command, delivered remarks during a naval conference in which he said that the era in which the United States controls the blue water area and airspace of the Pacific without any challenge is coming to an end. In the Pacific, China’s rise is the key factor for placing American warships and military service personnel under dangerous situations. On February 7, 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed this fact, saying, “The United States neither recognizes nor accepts China’s declared East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone,” when meeting with the visiting Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida. China has been heralded as a sign of the end of American hegemony in the Pacific.

 

II. How to Shape a Peaceful and Prosperous Neighborhood

 

Neighborhood diplomacy holds the overarching position in the chessboard of Chinese diplomacy. China has deemed its relationship with neighboring countries a priority of its foreign policy, committing itself to establishing neighborly and friendly relations characterized by peace, stability, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation. Since 2013, China has taken many moves to build new neighborhood relations. President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang chose neighboring countries as the destinations of their first state visits shortly after they assumed office.

China has conducted Heads of State and government-level exchanges with over twenty neighboring countries, including more or less all the neighboring countries, and China’s neighborhood diplomacy has the double features of having an active shape and divergent control. In the face of the great changes and transformations of the world, China, as the biggest developing country, is following a path of peaceful development, shaping and promoting the upgraded version of multi-pivot diplomacy, creating a favorable international environment for the realization of the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation.

 

1. Coordinating new diplomacy with the Chinese Dream

President Xi put forward the Chinese Dream, saying that “In order to build a moderately prosperous, democratic, civilized and harmonious modern socialist country and to achieve the Chinese dream, we need to achieve national prosperity and revitalization, as well as the happiness of the people,” demonstrating China’s global international horizons and outlook. China maintains good faith, builds amicable ties with its neighborhood and will continue to follow the basic principle of building friendships and partnerships with neighboring countries. China will continue to share the benefits of development with neighboring countries in order to dispel suspicion. Through its actions, China has proven that it is willing to establish a community of common destiny with neighboring countries and share prosperity and security while sticking together through thick and thin.

Chinese leaders interpret the new diplomatic concepts with prac-tice, connecting the Chinese dream with the aspirations of the people in neighboring countries, allowing the sense of common destiny to take root in the neighboring countries and conveying Chinese confidence to Asia and the rest of the world. China is pushing forward strategic cooperative partnerships with its neighboring countries. China established strategic cooperative relations with Brunei Darussalam in 2013 and built separate strategic partnerships with Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and elevated its bilateral relationships with Malaysia and Indonesia to become comprehensive strategic partnerships.

China has made positive progress in the negotiations on FTAs with neighboring countries. China and Korea have held eight rounds of talks on the Sino-Korean FTA, and both sides have reached a consensus on tax cuts on the trade of goods. Thus far, three rounds of negotiations have been undertaken for the establishment of the Sino-Japanese-Korean FTA, and 15 working groups and expert groups have been established. Initially, they discussed the basic mode and framework of the negotiations. When Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited China, both sides reached a consensus to establish a Sino-Sri Lankan FTA. China and Pakistan held meetings to discuss the second-phase tax cut in the Sino-Pakistani FTA. China supports the launch of the RCEP negotiations, and to identify the scope of the negotiations China helped establish the goods, service and investment groups and rules of origin team, customs procedures team and trade facilitation team. China put forward the draft initiative to upgrade the Sino-ASEAN Free Trade Area, and this was received positively from ASEAN.

China is increasingly contributing to cooperative initiatives. For instance, China is discussing the conclusion of the Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation with ASEAN, and the building of a Sino-ASEAN “community of common destiny.” China is building the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Trade Corridor, China-Pakistan economic corridor and “2+7” conception. China is also planning to establish an “Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.” The above initiatives take economic, trade, scientific, financial and cultural cooperative channels into account to explore converging points for intensifying cooperation with neighboring countries. This will demonstrate China’s will to join efforts with the countries concerned with accelerating infrastructure construction and pushing ahead interconnectivity for the benefit of people from the countries under the initiatives.

 

2. Benevolent interactions with major countries

China is actively exploring the path of major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, and it will actively build a new model of major-country relations and work relentlessly for a sustainable world peace. At the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping flew to Sochi on February 6, 2014 to attend the opening ceremony of the 22nd Winter Olympics. It was the first attendance by a Chinese Head of State at the opening ceremony of a major overseas sporting event. Xi's visit demonstrates the “high level and uniqueness” of Sino-Russian ties, as well as the good working relationship and friendship between the leaders of the two countries.

In 2013, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang undertook their diplomatic “debuts” in China’s neighborhood. President Xi Jinping chose Russia as his first foreign destination, firmly cementing the Sino-Russian comprehensive strategic partnership. The two countries signed the “Joint Statement of the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation on Win-Win Cooperation and the Deepening of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.” Politically speaking, both Russia and China share mutual respect and treat each other equally. Economically, they seek mutual benefit and win-win results. In terms of security, they share responsibility and they accommodate and learn from each other culturally.

Premier Li Keqiang chose India and Europe as his first destinations. In May 2013, Premier Li visited India, where the two countries published a Joint Declaration underscoring the fact that China and India are partners rather than adversaries. In October, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited China. It was the first time since 1954 that the Prime Ministers of the two countries visited each other within the same year. This year also marks the 60th anniversary of China and India’s advocacy of the five principles of peaceful coexistence. Both sides decided to hold commemorative activities to further promote the principles in the new era.

The above diplomatic activities have successfully leveraged China’s foreign relations with the United States, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. In June 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping and American President Barack Obama had a relatively laid back meeting at the Annenberg “Sunnylands” Estate in California. President Xi put forward the proposal of building a new type of major-power relations featuring “no conflicts or confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation” and his proposal received positive feedback from President Obama.

President Xi, when meeting with the visiting United States Secretary of State John Kerry, stressed that China and the United States should blaze a trail for new-type major country relations that feature equality, mutual trust, tolerance, mutual learning, cooperation and common prosperity. John Kerry said that the world is undergoing significant changes, and that the United States will take a strategic, broad and long-term vision in positioning its bilateral ties with China. The United States would like to work with China to pursue the requests of the presidents of both countries, increase high-level visits, deepen dialogue, mutual trust and cooperation and jointly tackle challenges. If this is accomplished, they will bring benefits to the two countries and their people, safeguard world and regional peace and security and inject a strong impetus for the two countries to build a new type of major country relations.

This meeting proved that the Sino-American relationship would never build its interests on opposing the external threat, as it did during the Cold War. China and the United States will now converge their interests on how to “build” a new world order that features cooperation and win-win prosperity.

In November 2013, the 16th Sino-EU Summit was held in Beijing. The two sides exchanged full and frank views on their strategic partnership, domestic developments and the economy, trade and investment relations, as well as other international issues. China and the EU announced the launch of negotiations on the China-EU Investment Agreement. Both sides jointly adopted the China-EU 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation, a comprehensive document that sets out China and the European Union’s shared aims to promote cooperation in the areas of peace, security, prosperity, sustainable development and people-to-people exchanges. It will take the China-EU Comprehensive Strategic Partnership forward over the coming years.

On November 26, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attended the Sino-Central and Eastern European Countries Summit held in Romania. The China-CEE Summit signals cooperation between the newly emerging forces and is also an important mechanism for facilitating Sino-European cooperation.

 

3. Building “two Silk Roads” to boost integration

China is active in establishing a sense of common destiny, advocating the Silk Road economic belt and the 21st century maritime Silk Road, which bears practical significance for pushing ahead win-win cooperation in its neighborhood. Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a speech at the Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan on September 7, 2013.

At the event, President Xi proposed that in order to make economic ties closer, mutual cooperation deeper and space of development broader between the Eurasian countries, the two parties can innovate their mode of cooperation and jointly build the “Silk Road Economic Belt” in a step by step manner to form overall regional cooperation.”  To this end, President Xi put forth a 5-point proposal: strengthen policy communication; improve road connectivity; promote trade facilitation; enhance monetary circulation; and strengthen people-to-people exchanges.

The Silk Road economic belt, which connects western China and covers a vast area and population including the Central Asia and South Asia, offers huge market and growth possibilities. The conception will encourage the parties in the region to discuss trade and investment facilitation and make appropriate arrangements to eliminate trade barriers, reduce trade and investment costs and enhance the circulation speed and quality of the regional economy, forming the architecture for regional cooperation. This initiative was widely supported by countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed building an Information Silk Road at the first stage.

In February 2014, when meeting with President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin explicitly stated that “Russia is supportive of China’s proposal for the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road, and is willing to connect Russia’s Trans-Eurasia railway with the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road to create many more benefits.” Putin’s remarks are very important, given that the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt cannot move forward without participation from Russia.

In the east, President Xi Jinping called for establishing a maritime Silk Road adapted to the needs of the 21st century. On October 3, 2013, while addressing the Indonesian parliament, President Xi Jinping said, “Since ancient times, Southeast Asia has been an important hub along the ancient maritime Silk Road. China will strengthen maritime cooperation with ASEAN countries to make good use of the China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation Fund set up by the Chinese government and vigorously develop maritime partnerships in a joint effort to build a maritime Silk Road for the 21st century. China is ready to expand its practical cooperation with ASEAN countries across the board, supplying each other’s needs and complementing each other’s strengths, all aiming to to jointly seize opportunities and meet challenges for the benefit of common development and prosperity.” China is taking the initiative to jointly develop the maritime Silk Road for the 21st century, a move that will boost friendly cooperation with Southeast Asian countries, as well as the application of the Chinese diplomatic concept of “amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness.”

Together, the Silk Road economic belt and maritime Silk Road cover the areas of Central Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia and stretch all the way to West Asia, Europe and Africa. They are an open, inclusive and expandable platform that endeavors to promote economic, trade and cultural cooperation, rather than a kind of mechanism. The cooperation is project-driven and is therefore flexible and pragmatic.

The Silk Road economic Belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road complement each other and co-exist harmoniously. In January 2014, when meeting with a delegation from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on the sidelines of the third round of the China-GCC strategic dialogue, Chinese president Xi Jinping said that China is willing to work together with the GCC to promote the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road. Moreover, the two silk roads will connect the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, blending the East Asian economic plate with the Central Asian and South Asian economic plates, boosting economic development in China’s surrounding areas. In December 2013, the Central Economic Working Conference decided to advance the construction of the Silk Road economic belt and the maritime Silk Road for the 21st century, suggesting that implementation of the two initiatives has become a new window for China to deepen its reform and opening and promote mutual benefit and win-win cooperation with its neighbors.

 

4. Perfecting the system to raise efficiency

China is in a stage of great development and great upgrade, and it is desperate for forceful guarantees from system and institutions. According to the communiqué issued on November 12, 2013 after the Third Plenum, a state security committee will be established and national security systems and strategies will be improved. The state security committee will integrate optimal resources and optimize the efficiency of decision-making to make sure that China will hold an advantageous position in the grand rivalries of the 21st century.

In October 2013, China held its first conference on neighborhood diplomacy since 1949, setting out strategic objectives, basic principles and an overall plan for regional diplomacy over the next five to ten years, opening up even greater prospects for regional cooperation. At the conference, Xi Jinping pointed out that “the basic principle for China’s neighborhood diplomacy is to commit ourselves to developing amicable relationships and partnerships with our neighbors, fostering an amicable, secure and prosperous neighborhood and pursuing the principles of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness.”

Xi stressed that great efforts need to be made to safeguard peace and stability in the region. The path of peaceful development is the Communist Party’s strategic choice, and it is a choice that is in line with the times and the fundamental interests of China. A major purpose of this diplomacy is to maintain peace and stability in the region. The establishment of the state security committee and the success of the conference on diplomacy with neighboring countries will inject more dynamism and provide a strong institutional guarantee for China’s neighborhood diplomacy.

In fact, neighborhood relations are never an isolated matter. In the globalized world, China should deal with its neighborhood relations strategically by making improvements to its planning and operational capabilities. The establishment of the state security committee is a major strategic move in accordance with the new changes in the international situation and the new demands on China’s peripheral diplomacy.

China pursues new security concepts featuring mutual trust, mutual benefits, equality and coordination and advocating cooperative security. In addition, it takes the initiative to participate in regional and sub-regional security cooperation and has deepened the cooperative mechanisms with related parties to enhance mutual trust. The security cooperation between China and other member states under the SCO framework has always been a pillar of the development of the organization. They have reaped substantial achievements in the joint combat against the so-called “three forces.”

That being said, security cooperation between China and its neighboring countries is progressing with the times to make up for security shortfalls. In contrast to economic cooperation, security cooperation between China and its neighbors is falling behind. In the future, China will increase military exchanges within its neighborhood to reinforce the quality of exchange. China’s neighborhood is prone to natural disasters, and the international community anticipates that the Chinese military will participate more than ever in disaster-relief and humanitarian assistance. This presents a great opportunity for the Chinese military to promote its image and play an active role in the region. It is also conducive to dispelling the suspicions of neighboring countries about the development of Chinese military force.

 

 

III. Dispel Disturbances and Pursue the Path of Peaceful Development

 

China’s current relations with its neighbors can be characterized as “stable on land and troublesome at sea.” China’s relations with Russia, Central Asian and South Asian countries are vibrant, and even in Southeast Asia, China maintains stable and friendly relations with most countries. With regard to disputes over territorial and oceanic rights, China advocates sheltering disputes and engaging in common development. China believes in addressing disputes peacefully through dialogue and opposing tensions and conflicts. In recent years however, China has been provoked by some countries’ actions on sovereignty and territorial issues.

For some time to come, the major factors affecting the stability of China’s neighborhood include the rebalancing of United States strategy, the right-wing tendencies in Japanese politics, the situation on the Korean peninsula, the South China Sea issue and the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Whether Chinese diplomatic strategy towards its neighborhood can be smoothly implemented depends on its effectiveness in responding to these emerging and potential conflicts.

 

1. Reshape the regional order in the Western Pacific

To conduct effective neighborhood diplomacy, China will have to face the presence of the United States. The United States has deployed troops in the Asia Pacific region, and it has military bases in Guam. As various forces converge in the Western Pacific and engage in fierce rivalries, the regional order will undergo significant changes. The “rebalancing” strategy implemented by the United States is the catalyst that will change the regional order. It is of utmost importance that China and the United States reach a new consensus on the regional order in the Western Pacific in the future. Nevertheless, the United States seems not to recognize the magnitude and urgency of this issue. It clings to the Cold War mentality, unable to make properly respond to changes in the West Pacific region.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping and United States President Barack Obama met at the Annenberg Estate, both sides agreed to build a new type of major power relations that feature win-win cooperation, conforming to the common interests of the two countries. Only by adhering to principled consensus and by accommodating each other’s concerns and interests can China and the United States maintain peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region.

 

2. Curbing right-wing, revisionist behavior

The revisionist words and deeds of right-wing forces in Japan aimed at changing the status quo in Asia and have subsequently become an unstable factor in the East Asian region. The so-called “positive pacificism” implemented by Shinzo Abe and his cabinet is aimed at lifting the constitutional restrictions on the right to collective self-defense so that Japan can increase the role of its military. To this end, Abe needs to maintain the tensions on the Diaoyu Islands and depict China as a “threat” to justify his goals. The Abe cabinet intentionally closed the door to settle the disputes over the Diaoyu Islands through negotiation.

Moreover, despite opposition from home and abroad, Abe blatantly paid a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, an act that has drawn strong protest and condemnation from China and the Republic of Korea, the dissatisfaction of Russia, the disappointment of the United States and the regret of Europe. The Abe cabinet is in a state of isolation from the international world.

China has always differentiated the few militants and right-wing factionalists from the general public of Japan, however there is an argument that China has misunderstood Japan. Since Shinzo Abe has a hovering support rate, the right-wing may not just be a few. Instead, the entire Japanese society is turning right. Some accuse China of taking advantage of the historical issue, saying that several decades have passed since WWII. They ask, why do the Japanese youth need to take responsibility for the mistakes committed by their ancestors? This can only explain the failure of Japanese education, which fails to pass down responsible conceptions of history. As a result, some people in Japan, ranging from the political figures to industrial leaders, make irresponsible remarks, deny aggressions and beautify wars, all in a vain attempt to avoid responsibility.

Recently, the new head of Japan’s NHK, Katsuto Momii, made improper remarks on the issue of “comfort women,” and Naoki Hyakuta, a member of the NHK board of governors, denied the Nanjing Massacre. They are attempting to downplay and deny the crimes of a militaristic Japan, a blatant challenge to international justice and the conscience of mankind. The Japanese side needs to adopt the attitude of being responsible for history and face-up to and reflect upon the severe crimes that Japanese committed in order to win the trust of their Asian neighbors and the international community.

Sino-Japanese relations are at their lowest point since the establishment of diplomatic relations. Japanese leaders’ populist remarks cannot help but strengthen the self-imposed isolation of Japan. Fu Ying, Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), said, “Japan’s historical education, as it now stands, is a failure. The Japanese leaders born after the war thus hold such non-conscience attitude toward history. As long as the Japanese government cannot genuinely admit to and face its history of aggression, it cannot sincerely reach a real reconciliation with the victimized people of neighboring countries. Japan will find it difficult to unload its historical burdens and cannot become a constructive member of Asia.”

The United States, who looks upon the US-Japanese alliance as the cornerstone its East Asian security strategy, has attempted to transfer part of its responsibility to contain China to Japan. However, the right-wing remarks and conduct of the LDP on the historic issue and the attempt to revise the Peace Constitution aroused protests and concerns from Japan’s neighboring countries. The United States is conscious that Japan does not trust the United States, so the strengthening of the right-wing force may not be favorable to the United States’ interests. Whether the United States will encourage or restrain Japan will be a yardstick to test how America will play its constructive role in the region. China should urge America to make the correct choice.

 

3. De-nuclearization and peace are inseparable.

China is neighbors the Korean Peninsula and holds significant interest in the Korean Peninsula. The nuclear environment in China’s neighborhood may be the worst among all major powers. There is a nation that is not recognized by the NPT and a de-facto nuclear state, which is capable of manufacturing nuclear weapons but does not yet possess nuclear weapons. Accordingly, nuclear development by any party in the Korean Peninsula will harm China’s objective to create a peaceful and stable neighboring environment. China will work together with the international community to prevent this from happening. At the beginning of 2013 when the situation in the Korean Peninsula was tense, Chinese President Xi Jinping, when addressing the opening plenary of the Bo’ao Forum, said that “No one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains.” During a phone conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi remarked that China opposes any provocative words and actions from any party in the region and will not allow troublemaking at its doorstep.

China has worked together with concerned parties to ease tensions in the Korean Peninsula, playing a critical role in preserving the peace and stability of the region. In 2014, China has been active in communicating with relative parties to raise a new initiative with an aim of pushing forward the re-opening of the Six-Party Talks as soon as possible.

When meeting with the visiting United States Secretary of State John Kerry, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China “has a consistent and clear stance to promote the denuclearization of the Peninsula, to maintain its peace and stability, and to solve the nuclear deadlock through peaceful dialogue and negotiation. China will never allow chaos or war on the Korean Peninsula. China is serious on this, as shown not only in our words but also in our actions. The top priority at the moment is to grasp the opportunity and resume talks as soon as possible.” In brief, denuclearization and peace in the Korean Peninsula are two sides of the same coin. They should be addressed with a package of solutions.

 

4. Preserving the peace and stability of the South China Sea

The situation in the South China Sea has remained stable on the whole. China has the capacity and confidence to preserve the peace of the South China Sea together with ASEAN nations. China has sufficient historic and legal evidence to claim sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters. The existing disputes are rooted in illegal infringement upon some of China’s islands in the South China Sea since the 1970s. The essence of the South China Sea issue is the controversy over the sovereignty of some islands and the demarcation of waters.

Though China believes firmly in its sovereignty over these territories, in also believes in putting aside the disputes and pursuing joint development to prompt practical cooperation with relevant countries. For a time, some Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines and Vietnam tried to consolidate their occupation of the islands in the South China Sea in an attempt to change the status quo of the South China Sea and provoke disputes. Given the fact that the disputes are not a matter between China and ASEAN, they should be settled peacefully and directly by the parties involved through friendly consultations and negotiations.

China’s Premier stressed, “China places high importance on the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and cares deeply about the safety of navigation there. The truth is that the territorial disputes in the South China Sea have not affected international shipping lanes. China will continue to actively advocate for and participate in regional maritime cooperation, including maritime security cooperation, and uphold peace and tranquility in this region.” The Chinese side maintains the stance that it should resolve the issue properly through dialogue and negotiation based on fully respecting the historical facts and international law. China and ASEAN countries have launched consultations on the COC under the framework of implementing the DOC, and reached agreements with Brunei and Vietnam to advance joint development and maritime cooperation, preserving the peace and stability of the South China Sea.

China and Vietnam have similar political systems and are land neighbors. The worsening of bilateral relations brings no benefit to either side. Since 2013, the two countries have maintained high-level exchanges. Premier Li Keqiang visited Vietnam in October 2013 and both sides agreed to conduct land, maritime and financial cooperation.

In January 2014, President Xi Jinping, who also serves as general secretary of the Communist Party of China, during a phone conversation with Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, put forward a six-point proposal for developing their relationship: maintain high-level exchanges; deepen exchanges on governance; increase coordination and cooperation; create mutually beneficial and win-win frameworks; consolidate friendship between the two peoples; and resolve disputes through bilateral negotiations and friendly consultation.

The six-point proposal should be the guiding principle to boost the development of Sino-Vietnamese relations, and China should keep vigilant against the interference and provocation of countries outside the region.

As a friendly neighbor of Afghanistan, China firmly supports the peaceful reconstruction process that the country is undergoing. In 2014, Afghanistan will hold a presidential election and the NATO troops will withdraw from Afghanistan. Whether Afghanistan can remain stable will be a test for the international community. This year China will host the fourth Foreign Ministers’ Conference of the Istanbul Process. China will continue to play a positive and constructive role in the reconstruction and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

China also takes part in the Iranian nuclear talks. On November 24, 2013, Iran and the six permanent Security Council members (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), known as the P5+1, reached a first-phase agreement in Geneva. China has displayed a responsible attitude in pushing forward the settlement of the Syrian issue through dialogue and supports efforts to destroy Syrian chemical weapons in exchange for peace. The “Yancheng,” a Chinese naval warship, has served as an escort for the maritime transportation of Syria’s chemical weapons together with warships of other countries including Russia. This demonstrates China’s responsibility in safeguarding international peace and security.

 

IV. Conclusion

 

In summary, 2014 will see China practice its neighborhood diplomacy. China will spare no efforts in building an external environment favorable for its peaceful development. This year, China will play host to two important international conferences, the Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting. The realization of the Chinese dream requires that China firmly pursue the path of peaceful development, and maintain a peaceful and stable international environment. China needs to develop the convergence of its interests with those of its neighborhood and the rest of the world to the largest extent possible. This will help effectively handle complicated challenges arising in the neighborhood in the future and prevent possible Black Swan incidents. The view that China will follow peaceful development at the expense of its core interests is a misjudgment of China’s will and its capability to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests.

  Source: China International Studies March/April 2014 26-60

 

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