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China’s Rise with a More Hardline Diplomacy?

[Editor’s Note: On December 30, 2009, the International Herald Leader, a Xinhua newspaper, published an article titled, “Diplomatic Strategy: China Can Assume More International Responsibility.” The article advocates, “China should not only seek a greater and independent international voice for its own interests, but undertake more international obligations so that the international community can share the fruits of its ‘rise.'”

After 1989, Deng Xiaoping gave 24 characters as a guideline for the CCP’s handling of international relations: 冷静观察, 站稳脚跟, 沉着应付, 韬光养晦, 善于守拙, 绝不当头, which translate as, “Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.” When Jiang Zemin took power after Deng died, he attached four more characters 有所作为, translated as “do something.”

In China, there are very few independent academic institutions or think tanks. The regime usually approves scholars’ views that are published in high profile official publications such as the International Herald Leader, so they should not be taken as mere individual insights.

The following are excerpts from the article.]

China’s Replacement of the U.S. Has Been Fast Forwarded to 2027, Thanks to the Financial Crisis

“Without the global financial crisis, China would not replace the U.S. as the world’s largest economy until 2050; but now, to achieve this goal, China only needs to wait until 2027. This was the latest prediction from the investment bank Goldman Sachs in early December of this year (2009). Almost on the same day, an analysis by the Global Language Monitor, a U.S. institute, observed that the ‘rise of China’ has become the top story of the decade.”

Tougher Official Diplomacy in Action

“The latest expectation was (expressed) at a United Nations meeting of the largest scale at the end of the year – the Copenhagen Climate Conference. Before the meeting, many foreign media attributed the fate of the Conference to the ‘key role of the China factor,’ forgetting that this is a contest and negotiation between a group of developed countries and a group of developing countries. China Central Television (CCTV) commentator Song Xiaojun told the International Herald Leader afterwards that he, after waiting for a year, finally saw the China diplomacy that ‘dazzled the place.’ This refers to the heated verbal exchange on the climate issue between China and the U.S. When the representatives of China were refused admission due to ‘technical problems,’ the Deputy Head of the Mission and the National Development and Reform Commission Head of the Climate Division, Su Wei, expressed his dissatisfaction in English, ‘I was not happy on the first day of the Conference, was very unhappy the second day, and am especially unhappy today.’ The three ‘unhappies,’ in the eyes of Song, confirm his point: China should conditionally break away from the West. … He said, ‘Since the rise of China is a fait accompli, then (China should just) stick to the path of rising. Why should (we) worry about the ‘China threat theory?’”

“Some media have quoted scholars’ comments that a series of proactive measures that China took before the second G20 financial summit reflect significant changes in China’s foreign policy with its enhanced comprehensive national strength. ‘Never claiming leadership’ is now turning into ‘doing something.’ Among the measures, last year, China’s hard-line fighting back against French President Sarkozy for going his own way to meet the Dalai Lama was seen as a typical example of ‘doing something’ diplomacy.”

“This year the newly appointed Chinese Ambassador to Germany, Wu Hongbo, really played tough. In a recent interview with German media, he had quite a diplomatic style. When, as the opening question, he was asked about his impression of Germany, Ambassador Wu said that his first impression of the country was not so good, as it launched two world wars. Then, Ambassador Wu said his impression of Germany later changed, as it did a good job reflecting upon World War II. This diplomatic discourse, neither cringing nor arrogant, not only points out the inadequacy, but also shows sincerity and appreciation.”

“Hide Our Capacities and Bide Our Time” or “Do Something?” – Some Scholars’ Views

Wang Yizhou, Deputy Director of the World Economy and Politics Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences:

“With its increasing economic power, China must strive for its voice. ‘We are not for a face to face confrontation, but must speak out our demands.’”

Zheng Yongnian, Professor and Director of the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore:

“Zheng Yongnian, Director of the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore, said frankly that the criterion for ‘doing something’ is to see whether the foreign policy is compatible with and also complements domestic economic development. ‘A typical example is the anti-dumping cases China encountered one after another this year.’ He added, ‘When products made in China go abroad, how can we better protect our overseas interests? While many people may disagree with waging a “trade war,” China should really be tougher on this issue.’ Some observers believe that China can also benefit other developing countries on some international issues by speaking for them, and allowing them to share the fruits of China’s rise.”

“Zheng Yongnian clearly suggested, ‘China may first be more aggressive in military diplomacy.’ ‘China is carrying out defense consultations with the U.S., Japan, and ASEAN with exceptional caution. You know, in the field of military security, the world needs China’s active participation.’”

“In addition, regarding the West’s ‘new colonialism’ compromising China’s interests in Africa, Zheng called on China to establish its own independent voice to explain its international behavior as soon as possible. ‘China is making the effort to learn from Western experience amid its rise. However, learning from the West will not make China another Western country. China must also learn lessons from the West’s failures. China’s diplomacy should bear the heritage of civilization. China’s diplomacy must be the expression of Chinese culture.’”

Yan Xuetong, Professor and Director of the Institute of International Studies, Tsinghua University:

“The policies of ‘hiding our capacities and biding our time,’ and ‘doing something’ were to respond to international isolation after 1989. They were successful in bringing our country out of isolation. Compared to 20 years ago, the international environment of our country has undergone fundamental changes. There is no lack of but rather too many foreign leaders visiting China now. Since ‘keep pace with the times’ is our guiding principle, then why shouldn’t we adjust our foreign policy according to the change in the international environment? To adjust the focus of ‘hiding our capacities and biding our time,’ and ‘doing something’ is merely an adjustment of degree, which is still not suitable for the current international environment. I think the principle of our foreign policy should be adjusted. It should be what’s proposed at the eleventh session of diplomatic envoys: ‘to improve China’s international political influence, economic competitiveness, cultural affinity, and political appeal.’ I summarize it as ‘to use comprehensive national strength to safeguard national interests,’ or simply ‘to use national power to safeguard national interests.’”

“We cannot provide leadership beyond our own ability, nor shall we bear responsibility beyond our capacity, but we need to share the corresponding increase in international responsibility according to the rise in our position and enhancement of our strength, so as to maximize China’s international power. … What is needed most by medium and small size countries from great powers is security. Whoever provides them with the assurance of security is their most reliable friend. China should gradually provide security for friendly countries, starting with neighboring countries. The security guarantees we provide for the international community must be limited to being within our military capability, preferably slightly less than our military capabilities. In order to offer the international community improved security, China needs to continuously enhance our own military capabilities.

“Becoming the world’s number one super power is the result of a state taking the initiative to do something. Very few superpower statuses will fall from the sky. … Some countries think that China’s strategy has a hidden political purpose, which was interpreted as retaliation. The ‘use of national power to safeguard national interests’ is in accordance with universal values and should easily garner international support.”

[1] Xinhua, December 30, 2009