ZHENG Yongnian, a professor at the National University of Singapore, recently argued in an opinion piece that China is facing enormous external pressure and a growing populism from within, and it should avoid being stranded in a global geopolitical struggle and shift people’s attention from geopolitics to economic cooperation by using the upcoming G20 summit in Hangzhou. He also believed that China should inform the international community that nationalism cannot be allowed to spiral out of control.
I can’t fully agree with Zheng. First of all, it is not that China does not want to avoid a geopolitical trap, but it cannot. Starting from Mao Zedong, China’s leadership have stuck to a peaceful diplomacy and avoiding geopolitical traps. They always stress the importance of adhering to the UN Charter and solving disputes by peaceful means rather than by force.
As many countries, particularly the US, do not apprehend China’s desire for a peaceful rise, and China does not sufficiently express it to the world, they have misunderstood China’s national strategies. But since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, China has made its diplomacy very clear that it pursues a mutually beneficial outcome through the Belt and Road initiative.
I agree that China should take the opportunity of the G20 to effectively eliminate the impact of geopolitical disputes. The G20 has already been endowed with such functions. But the key is that the US now stands behind China’s frictions with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Washington doesn’t want to make the G20 summit an effective and inclusive meeting as China proposes. Only when the US-led “anti-China circle” is broken, can the role of the G20 be highlighted.
In his book World Order, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger noted that “In Asia, it must combine a balance of power with a concept of partnership. A purely military definition of the balance will shade into confrontation. A purely psychological approach to partnership will raise fears of hegemony. Wise statesmanship must try to find that balance. For outside it, disaster beckons.”
The primary aim of China in the Asia Pacific is to prevent Washington from forming a NATO-like military alliance around China and try everything to eliminate the possibility of a military confrontation.
After the new US president assumes power, the focus of global geopolitics may shift from the Middle East to China’s periphery. As the US rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region intends to put China in an isolated situation, China needs to take the initiative and strike back to show our attitude.
China should stick to the Belt and Road initiative and in particular accelerate the development of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. It should also form a community of common interest with neighboring countries and eventually share common responsibilities. Besides, China should make itself clear to the US that China has become a major power in the Asia-Pacific region in terms of population, economy and military strength and the US should place China in the right position.
China is not stranded in a geopolitical trap. We are endeavoring to break the idea that the US has been feeding to Southeast Asian countries, which is China’s rise will inevitably affect their security and development.
Unlike the EU as a bloc, countries in the Asia Pacific have more different religions, cultures and economic levels. They view themselves as emerging countries and hope to have a say in the region’s future. Being aware of their concerns, China proposed the Belt and Road initiative and the Silk Road fund, and made the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Lancang-Mekong economic development initiative as the foundation of our cooperation with Asia, especially Southeast Asia, so as to share development achievements with our neighbors. This is more constructive than the US rebalance to the Asia Pacific.
China doesn’t want to see military alliances but peaceful partnerships in the region. If regional countries eye for military alliance with external powers, it will only lead to military clashes. China will continue to cooperate with South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam. It will minimize divergences through economic cooperation and make other countries realize that China’s rise will never be a menace.
Recently, the Chinese public, especially young people, expressed their anger and patriotism after the South China Sea arbitration. This should not be deemed nationalism or populism. The Chinese people have their right to express their love for the country. These voices also expand the government’s diplomatic space. The Chinese do not require more than they should, and the outsiders should not ask the Chinese government to muzzle public demand in issues concerning China’s national interests.
China deserves an equal and fair environment for development and to be part of global rule-making process. While we are propelled to get involved in frictions with our neighbors, we are justified to express our demands.
[The author is former vice minister of commerce and vice chairman of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges. [email protected]]