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China Continues with Steady Foreign Policy

By Eric Teo Chu Cheow

China has been successful in the past two to three weeks in the diplomatic stabilization of its ties, except with Japan, following Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's October 17 visit to the Yasukuni Shrine - his fifth visit since taking office - and the appointment two weeks later of a more conservative and hawkish cabinet than expected.

Indeed, Beijing has actively sought diplomatic stabilization with its major partners and projected an active posture in its diplomacy, as befits a large nation. This was particularly and symbolically heralded by the successful return of Shenzhou VI to Earth on October 17, which, though called an "immense success and pride for all Chinese people," was also stressed by Premier Wen Jiabao as a "peaceful development and contribution of China to the world," whilst promising not to accelerate a military race in space.

Of particular significance were two successful visits by American leaders to Beijing, ahead of President George W. Bush's visit to China this month during his tour to Asia to attend the APEC Summit in Busan, the Republic of Korea.

Treasury Secretary John Snow came to China to attend the G-20 Meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, the first time it was held in China. Snow, though goading China to "open up further" its RMB exchange regime, expressed some American satisfaction with what China had achieved in liberalizing or "un-pegging" the RMB from the US dollar and raising its convertibility to the dollar by 2.1 percent. Since then, Beijing has pegged the RMB to a basket of declared currencies, so as to reduce speculative pressure and improve financial transparency.

Then Donald Rumsfeld came calling in Beijing, the first such visit by a defence secretary to China since the downgrade of Sino-American military ties in early 2001.

Rumsfeld visited China's strategic missile fleet headquarters. China also assured Rumsfeld that it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. Rumsfeld also met President Hu Jintao and obtained assurances from him that improved military ties would play an important role in promoting the growth of the China-US relationship as a whole. This "political assurance" would go down tremendously well in Capitol Hill and with Washington's powerful media.

Diplomacy was clearly in the air this autumn in Sino-US military ties, as both Beijing and Washington contributed to reducing animosity after the postponed visit of President Hu to the United States in early September, owing to Hurricane Katrina.

Beijing has also actively sought to play up its cultural and "soft power" image in the United States by hosting a month-long cultural extravaganza on American soil in order to reach out to the American people.

It was also significant that Rumsfeld's landmark visit came hot on the heels of China's - as well as the Republic of Korea's and Democratic People's Republic of Korea's - condemnation of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to Yasukuni. The tour was also in the context of a progressive convergence of views between Seoul and Beijing and Rumsfeld's cancellation of his Tokyo leg, owing to political disagreements over US bases in Okinawa.

But even more significantly, Rumsfeld's visit just preceded Hu's announced goodwill visit to Pyongyang to meet DPRK leader Kim Jong Il in late October, just weeks ahead of the scheduled resumption of six-party talks in Beijing in November.

This visit has confirmed Pyongyang's continued active participation in the six-party talks, after the framework agreement that was reached in September with Chinese co-ordination during the last round. It was also Hu's first visit to Pyongyang after he took office in 2002 and the first by the head of China's Communist Party since Jiang Zemin's last visit in September 2001.

Beijing's active diplomacy has also been felt in Southeast Asia. After Pyongyang, Hu travelled to Hanoi, where he maintains the tradition of alternate exchanges of visits, whereby top Chinese and Vietnamese leaders visit each other officially in alternate years.

In Hanoi before Viet Nam's National Assembly, Hu made a landmark speech assuring Viet Nam and Southeast Asia that China's development would not constitute a threat to the region, but would instead affirm Beijing's regional vocation of stability and peace.

In the same week before Hu left for Pyongyang, he received Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as he visited China over a week. As a sign of Beijing's active outreach to the Southeast Asian neighbor, China extended this invitation to Lee 14 months after he became Singapore's Prime Minister in August 2004. Lee's Beijing visit thus clearly marked a return to sound Sino-Singaporean relations.

Beijing is set to play an increasingly important role on the regional stage, beginning with the annual APEC leaders' meeting, to be held in Busan in two weeks' time, as well as the East Asia Summit or "ASEAN+3" Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in early December, which will be attended by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. These regional platforms should provide Chinese leaders with the necessary forums for the diplomatic stabilization policy with its major partners and to consolidate further its active diplomacy within the region.

(China Daily November 8, 2005)


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