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Globe Magazine: On Dealing with Neighboring Countries

[Editor’s Note: Globe Magazine, under the official Xinhua News Agency, published an article discussing how China should deal with its neighboring countries. The article recommended that China adopt new approaches in dealing with its neighbors. It argued that “goodwill that is one-sided (from China) may not bring about harmony with our neighbors,” and suggested that “sometimes certain altercations (with the neighbors) are appropriate and can foster the return of peace.” The following is a translation of the article.] [1]

On October 29, 2011, the Convention of the 23rd Session of the 11th Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed a decision on strengthening anti-terrorism measures. For the first time, it delineated a clear legal definition of terrorism. At a later date, four countries, China, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand, held a conference to discuss their cooperation in maintaining security along the Mekong River. They reached an agreement on joint efforts to counter terrorism and drug-related crimes and proceeded to establish a mechanism to enforce the law and maintain security in the Mekong River basin.

As non-traditional security threats in the areas surrounding China are becoming more and more complex, China has been using and should continue to adopt new ideas and explore new ways to deal with the challenges it faces.

Currently, with the changes in the domestic and international situation, problems in the areas surrounding China, including terrorism, transnational organized crime, and drugs, have become more and more severe.

On the one hand, the Western countries have increased their vigilance and their containment of China’s rise. One approach they have adopted is to use the conflicts and issues between China and its neighboring countries to alienate those countries from China. They create and intensify issues to consume China’s energy and deplete China’s resources and strategic deployment capability. They thus tie China’s hands with an invisible net of neighboring issues.

Indeed, China has sophisticated conflicts and problems with its neighboring countries, including Japan, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines. In addition to the traditional historical territory and territorial water issues, non-traditional issues such as water resources, environmental protection, trans-national organized crime, and terrorism have also become prominent in recent years. These areas of concern can evolve into big problems and trigger new conflicts. It is with this background that security cooperation in the Mekong River basin and the Sino-India water resource dispute surfaced.

It can be said that U.S. intervention has complicated these non-traditional issues that threaten national security. India’s conflict with China came about as a direct result of U.S. prodding. Current cooperation in the Mekong River sub-region obscures the Western countries’ fight for their interests. For those countries that have conflicts and controversies with China, U.S. backing has intensified their willingness to take risks. They regard China’s intention to seek regional harmony as a weakness that they can take advantage of or use to further their own interests. They are betting that China is not willing to sacrifice the overall stability of the situation (by fomenting conflict with its neighbors). This has led to non-traditional security threats in areas surrounding China becoming more salient.

On the other hand, globally, there is an increasingly tight link between terrorism and gang activities, and between terrorism and transnational organized crime and drugs. The former provides the social soil and development space for terrorism. It also provides convenient conditions for terrorists to take action. The latter supplies terrorism with financial support. This trend is also affecting the security issues emerging in the areas surrounding China. It is therefore necessary to seek new ways to solve these problems by comprehensively considering international and domestic situations.

It is well known that diplomacy with neighboring states is a priority and is the basis for China’s foreign diplomacy. China needs stable boundaries for its peaceful development and “going abroad” policy. This is why China must adopt a policy of adhering to friendship with neighboring countries and creating an amicable, secure, and prosperous neighborhood. Building a harmonious neighborhood is China’s objective, but harmony is not the only means to solve these problems. The most effective guarantee of harmony and the means to ensure it must be based on China’s national power. Especially when dealing with the surrounding non-traditional security threats, we must adopt a “carrot and stick” approach.

First, in our minds, we need to have a proper understanding of harmony vs. struggle. It is our goal to develop harmonious surroundings, but that does not mean we should rule out fighting or the appropriate use of force. China’s political and economic influence (on the world) is getting greater and greater, but goodwill that is one-sided (from China) may not bring about harmony (with our neighbors), nor can it be gained through the use of money or gifts. History has proven that only through “applying the carrot and stick judiciously” can harmony possibly be achieved with our neighbors. Sometimes, certain altercations (with the neighbors) are appropriate and can foster the return of peace. In summary, we must disabuse our neighboring countries of the incorrect impression that (China’s desire for) peace is a sign of weakness and that they can take advantage of China.

Second, it is time for China to take the initiative to lead the effort to respond to the challenge of non-traditional security threats in the area. With its rapid economic and social development, China has the resources and wherewithal to handle diplomacy with its neighboring countries. Using economic measures or financial aid are important approaches, but our current top priority is to safeguard China’s interests. As the largest country in Asia and as a responsible one, facing intense, complicated issues of terrorism and transnational crimes, China is supposed to take the lead in establishing a new mechanism similar to the one that was used to provide law enforcement and security cooperation in the Mekong River basin. China should dare to take the responsibility and not be afraid of criticism from other external powers. Leading neighboring countries to properly resolve issues in our region can ensure that China’s legitimate rights and overseas interests will not be compromised.

[1] Xinhua, “Globe: New Thoughts Are Needed to Respond to Non-Traditional Security Threats,” November 9, 2011.