‘China’s road of peaceful development is a brand-new one for mankind in pursuit of civilization and progress, the inevitable way for China to achieve modernization, and a serious choice and solemn promise made by the Chinese government and the Chinese people.’
Peaceful development is the inevitable way for China’s modernization. With these incisive and forceful words, China’s State Council Information Office opened China’s Peaceful Development Road (the white paper has been published on December 2005) and Beijing government inaugurated the new foreign policy strategy.
With Chinese economic miracle, quick and fast-paced industrial development and high annual growth rates of above 9%, Beijing has not only consolidated the strategic cooperation with its Asian neighbors, but also has increased its economic influence on the regional geopolitical chessboard.
The string of Chinese investments and trade agreements with its neighbors have fostered a relationship of economic interdependence with Beijing, which increases in the international community, especially for competitors like U.S. and Russia, suspicions and fear of an imminent ‘Chinese threat’ to dominate and control Asian region and its resources.
First, the Bush administration and now the Obama administration informally adopted a policy of containment of Beijing economic and political influence in Asia to counterbalance this “Chinese threat” and to regain the most important role in Far East. The official statements of U.S. State Secretary, Hillary Clinton, at the 17th ministerial meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum in July 2010, (‘the United States, like every other nation, has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea‘) and Obama’s recent announcement of the achievement of the broad outlines of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with eight Asian Countries are strong signals of this containment policy.
Beijing’s response to ‘Chinese threat’ perception
In response to ‘Chinese threat’ external ‘misperception’, Beijing government and a Chinese scholar devised a new perspective of thinking, which aims to build a new image of a reliable and credible China, as a responsible stakeholder in the international system.
The cornerstone of this new China’s foreign policy strategy is the adoption of the ‘peaceful development’ ideological doctrine, heping fazhan, for a ‘peaceful rise’, heping jueqi, in a harmonious and multipolar world governed by order and prosperity, where there is no room for a single hegemony. The rhetoric of government seeks to subvert the external perception, maybe a misperception, of the country as a ‘threat’ to the interests of major global powers. This concept, core of China’s new strategic doctrine, has been proposed first by the scholar Yan Xuetong in 1998 and used officially re-introduced by the Chairman of China Reform Forum, Zheng Bijian, during the Bo’ao Forum in 2003.
Since 2003, Beijing began on one side to concentrate the efforts on the dimension of public diplomacy, bound by the multilateral coordination, and also to pursue a peaceful rise, without seeking hegemony. Wen Jiabao stressed once again that China’s goal is not to obtain absolute control nor create a deadlock conflict with the United States or Russia, but rather to build good neighborly relations and strengthen the partnership with neighboring countries.
In fact, Beijing needs to strengthen collaborative and non-confrontational relationships, to neutralize the risk of an unexpected growth-braking. In the speeches of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao the ‘heping jueqi’ is described as the focal point for the development of the Country:
Peace, opening-up, cooperation, harmony and win-win are our policy, our idea, our principle and our pursuit. To take the road of peaceful development is to unify domestic development with opening to the outside world, linking the development of China with that of the rest of the world, and combining the fundamental interests of the Chinese people with the common interests of all peoples throughout the world. China persists in its pursuit of harmony and development internally while pursuing peace and development externally; the two aspects, closely linked and organically united, are an integrated whole, and will help to build a harmonious world of sustained peace and common prosperity.
China’s new diplomatic approach: periphery policy and good neighbor policy
With the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of China to international markets, a new type of political culture is born in Beijing. In the wake of Deng Xiaoping’s mission of modernization, China inaugurates its pragmatic strategic behavior: tao guang yang hui, you suo zuo wei, ‘keep a low profile and never take the lead’.
For its own interests, Beijing works to promote a multipolar community, duojihua, where both cooperative and friendly relations with neighbors and principles of national sovereignty and non-interference in internal state affairs, can preserve regional stability. The “good-neighbor” integrated regional policy is the China’s new diplomatic approach. Before the 1980s China was not able to create a good network of relations with its neighbor countries nor to make an integrated regional policy or to promote economic cooperation.
But with the open door policy and the end of international isolation, Chinese leaders offer a new perspective of development related to a new ideology: zhoubian zhengce, an integrated ‘periphery-policy’, known as the ‘good neighbor policy’, mulin zhengce. Establishing good relations with neighbors, China can convert its image as a responsible power willing to promote stability, security and regional cooperation, increasing its influence in world affairs, soft power and moral authority.
The key-points of this strategy seem to be: the multilateral diplomacy with the normalization of the relations with several Southeast and Pacific-Asian countries; the emphasis on the emergence of a ‘new Asianism’; the participation in Asian regional organizations (first of all the ASEAN + 3 and the SCO) and the activism within the most important international institutions.
During last ASEAN Summit, held recently in Indonesia, Premier Wen Jiabao has highlighted how China intends to strengthen good-neighbor policy in maintaining the status quo equilibrium in the region:
We are committed to a policy of building good-neighborly relations and partnership with our neighboring countries, and we abide by the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. The disputes over the South China Sea between the relevant countries in the region have existed for many years. They should be settled through friendly consultation and negotiation between the sovereign states directly concerned.
The desire to consolidate the diplomatic and economic relations with Old Europe and U.S. reflects Beijing’s goal to put itself forward as the great debt crisis solver and as guardian of equilibrium in a new peaceful international order. In the words of the ideologist Zheng Bijian:
China’s cultural tradition, featuring ‘unity in diversity’ and ‘priority to peace,’ also goes a long way toward facilitating China’s harmonious coexistence and sharing of prosperity with the Asia-Pacific region and the world at large.
China chooses the road to peaceful development to strengthen its soft power and its international influence, but this strategy serves not only to Beijing for its economic development or for its regional affairs, but also to increase its political and diplomatic weight.
Indeed, the construction of a peaceful world, orientated to maintaining the status quo relationship with Taiwan, the economic interdependence and the participation in Asian Regional Fora keep off the risks of possible military confrontations in the South China Sea and neutralize U.S. influence in the area.
Few days ago, President Hu Jintao alerted military personnel to ‘make extended preparations for warfare‘ in South China Sea. Hu Jintao’s statement has provoked strong reactions and more than one question: is China’s rise really peaceful? How can China’s rearmament and the increasing in military spending be consistent with Beijing’s good neighborly strategy? A war in South China Sea would be a war for the assertion of hegemony, but it is improbable that China intends to address a military dispute in this time of global crisis. Hu Jintao’s call seems only a demonstrative test of the military strength of an ambitious rising power.
We can thus say that if China’s rise was first a big problem for the interests of the West, now the real “China’s threat” is its peaceful rise, that allows Beijing to build new relations of good neighborliness, to exercise more political influence and to regain international credibility.
Suisheng Zhao, China-U.S. relations transformed: perspectives and strategic interactions, Routledge 2008.
C. Fred Bergsten,Charles Freeman,Nicholas R. Lardy,Derek J. Mitchell, China’s Rise: Challenges and Opportunities, Center for strategic and international studies 2008.
Sujian Guo, Challenges and Opportunities for China’s “Peaceful Rise”, in: http://bss.sfsu.edu/sguo/My%20articles/006%20Introduction.pdf.
Zheng Bijian, China’s Peaceful Rise: Speeches of Zheng Bijian 1997-2004, in: http://www.brookings.edu/fp/events/20050616bijianlunch.pdf.