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Monday, September 7, 2009

Chinese diplomacy can't rest on its laurels

A highly useful perspective that cuts through the fog about Chinese diplomacy.

Quoteable Quote - "Sometimes China is shouldering responsibilities that surpasses its strength. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. In a way, it gives you soft power. Of course you have to pay for that. Soft power often needs a solid economic base." Gao Zhikai

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Chinese diplomacy can't rest on its laurels
Source - Global Times, 4 September 2009


Editor's Note:

China's diplomacy has chartered a twisting road in the past 60 years. As the country is poised to be a major power in the world, what lessons it has learned from the past six decades, and what's the future direction of its diplomacy? The following is an interview conducted by the Global Times (GT) with Hao Yufan (Hao), Professor of Political Science at the University of Macau, and Gao Zhikai (Gao), current affairs commentator.

GT: How do you see the gains and losses of Chinese diplomacy over the past 60 years in retrospect, especially the long-time issues that haven't been solved?

Hao: As for the shortcomings, in the first 30 years, that is from 1949 to 1979, China was relatively independent from the international system.

We emphasized being independent, partly due to the political environment back then, and sometimes we stood against two superpowers simultaneously. But that was dangerous in a way and we were isolated.

The 30 years of reform and opening-up has been a learning process for China. And we learned well during our interaction with the rest of the world. The downside is that we are still passive in our involvement in international affairs and international discourse. We are still learning.

For China and the rest of the world, China has transformed from a revolutionary, "outlaw" type of country into a responsible one, willing to maintain the status quo. That's the biggest achievement of the past 60 years.

But even today we don't have an overall strategy for our diplomacy. In the past we were on the defensive, busy handling situations, and didn't have a long term, systematic strategy that ensures the consistency of our foreign policies.

A country's diplomatic strategy should serve its ultimate goals. On certain level, we should consider: What are China's ultimate goals in the next 20 years?

Gao: China today is a major force for peace and stability in the world, and its diplomatic independence has positioned the country well to play a crucially important role in many regional and international issues in the world.

Furthermore, as its economy is already the third largest in the world, and its growth rate is much higher than the rest of the world, China is destined to have more important roles to play in the years to come.

On the other hand, China is also confronted with many daunting challenges in its diplomacy.

For example,how to make the rest of the world, especially the Western countries, understand China's growth better? How to prevent major divides between China and the West? How to make sure that China's relations with its neighboring countries are peaceful and mutually beneficial? How to make sure that many territorial disputes and controversies are well dealt with without flaring up into any armed conflicts? How to identify and play an increasingly more important role in the world that is commensurate to China's growing economic might? How to maintain China's domestic stability and development on the one hand and promote international harmony and peace on the other hand?

All these are major tasks that China needs to grapple with in its diplomatic theory and practice.

GT: How do you see the current diplomatic challenges China faces now?

Gao: There are many people and forces in the West who, for one reason or another, want to put China as an enemy or potential enemy of the world.

This is not only a major diplomatic challenge China needs to address, but is also intricately related to many important issues at home, including Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang.

China needs to be more effective and eloquent in communicating with the Western countries that we stand for peace, stability, harmony and development.

China needs to constantly improve its diplomatic theory and practice in line with the rapid development of its economy and the growing weight it carries in global trade and international finance.

If one is lagging behind the other, then China's diplomacy may either become less effective, or its potentials for world peace and stability and development may not be fully utilized.

We need wisdom and a sense of urgency in dealing with many tough issues we are confronted with.

Another weakness in China's diplomacy is that we stay on the defensive too much and for too long.

Any expectation that we may be able to sit through an issue, and many problems may solve by their own momentum may be false.

On major issues like Tibet, China needs to come up with greater initiative and greater wisdom in achieving a lasting solution for issues.

Throughout Chinese history, as soon as a dynasty prospered it started to lose the sense of urgency, and many people simply began to indulge in the good life.

Therefore, we need to make sure that the great economic miracles and the peace and prosperity we enjoy now at home do not blind us to the harsh realities at home and abroad, and do not deplete our dynamism, innovation and momentum for even greater achievements.

Hao: Europe, the US and Japan are taken aback by China's rapid development. Though they are adjusting their attitude toward China, in fact they don't want to see China grow too fast, but couldn't find a reason to persuade China to slow down.

What can they do? As far as they know, the only thing they can do is finding faults with China's political system.

Take the July 5 riots in Xinjiang for example. Some overseas scholars told me that such things happen in some so-called democratic countries in Asia quite often. But the Western elites will not point fingers at them because they find it inevitable that economic inequality causes racial or ethnic conflicts in many developing countries. But when it comes to China, they criticize China's political system or communism.

Meanwhile there's a certain degree of jealousy and prejudice, as they overemphasize the difference in political systems. I don't think they actually see China as an opponent, but are adjusting to China's rising status. Therefore it is not a fundamental conflict, and we need to think of a solution.

Gao: One thing we need to think about carefully is whether the US would ever allow China to peacefully rise to such an extent that its economy eventually surpasses the US economy? Is this something inevitable or irreversible? Or will some forces be deployed to make sure that it will not happen, at least not in a peaceful way?

How to make sure that the US and China will never have a major conflict with each other? How can we make sure that the US will not feel (or think it feels) threatened by the rapid peaceful rise of China? Can both China and the US come up with enough wisdom and vision so that we will not fall into the historical curse of conflict and come up instead with a new model of long-term cooperation rather than eventual conflict?

GT: For a long time we have abided by the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. Today China is asked to take more international responsibilities. Is it a contradiction?

Hao: China's rapid development has led to higher demands from the international community, and in turn, China needs to respond to the expectations and requirements of being one of the world's greatest countries.

China is the world's biggest developing country. That statement stayed unchallenged until recent years. The West doesn't want to give China a free ride.

What we have here is a gap between conception and reality. Perhaps China is not as powerful as the great powers in the world, but when the people, leaders and media worldwide see you as a superpower, they will hold you to that standard.

Sometimes China is shouldering responsibilities that surpasses its strength. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. In a way, it gives you soft power. Of course you have to pay for that. Soft power often needs a solid economic base.

Gao: I think we need to look at it from two sides. There's nothing wrong with peaceful coexistence or harmony. But it takes two to tango.

What if you want to seek harmony and peaceful coexistence, but your opponent wants to seek your destruction and derailment?

We also need to decide on which matters we need to be tough and principled, but on which other matters can we soften up as much as we can, and demonstrate all the flexibility that we can?

We also need to move from a moralistic foundation of diplomacy to a legalistic foundation of diplomacy. What does that mean?

For example, rather than jumping out of our seat in condemnation each time a senior Japanese government official visits the Yasukuni Shrine, which memorializes some war criminals, we could promulgate a law or regulation denying such officials visas to visit China.

In a sense, harmony should be based on the rule of law, both at home and in the international arena.

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