By Zhai Kun
At the 10+3 summit with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) on the one hand and China, Japan and South Korea on the other, Premier Wen Jiabao put forward the idea of "East Asia in harmony," which goes hand in hand with the ideas of "harmonious Asia," "harmonious Asia-Pacific" and "harmonious world" previously suggested by Chinese leaders.
The gravitas of "East Asia in harmony" lies in bringing about the East Asian commonwealth. Facilitating the coming of a "harmonious world" through regional cooperation appears very prominently in China's diplomacy.
China's regional cooperation strategy can be summed up as promoting regional economy and security, with peaceful development as the departure point.
China is also striving to get involved in trans-regional cooperation.
Through mechanisms such as Asian cooperation dialogs and the Boao Forum for Asia, the country is asserting itself as an Asian economic entity.
At the same time, China is forging a cooperative belt on its periphery by promoting regional cooperation in East Asia, strengthening the role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and establishing connections with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
The country is also trying to deepen economic interdependence with its neighbors.
On the security front, China is getting involved in crafting comprehensive regional security mechanisms. The country has become a member of five major security cooperation systems in Asia-Pacific and is the founder of a number of security mechanisms on its peripheries.
In the course of dialog and cooperation in the security field, China has initiated its "new security outlook", discarding the Cold War mentality.
All this has helped boost mutual trust in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Central Asia.
We can reach a number of conclusions that may help clear away misgivings about China's presence in various regional cooperation undertakings.
First, China's regional cooperation strategy should be treated as a whole.
Some foreign researchers and scholars keep asking: "Does China take an active role in regional cooperation out of economic or political considerations?" And "Does China attach more importance to 10+3, or the East Asia Summit, or Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation?"
The answer is: China's regional cooperation strategy is comprehensive by nature and every link is indispensable, though different mechanisms focus on different areas.
Also, the country's regional cooperation strategy is constantly tuned to adjust to changing situations.
For example, when cooperation in Asia-Pacific became a trend, China plunged in. When the Asian financial crisis hit, China, together with other East Asian countries, faced up squarely to the challenge.
It can be stated that the regional cooperation framework has now taken shape and China will fine-tune the framework's mechanisms in accordance with changes taking place in the regional cooperation terrain.
Second, China's regional cooperation strategy does not rebuff the US.
The US has gotten increasingly concerned over China's involvement in regional cooperation in East Asia since George W. Bush took office in 2001.
Last year, President Bush put forward the idea of forging an Asia-Pacific free trade zone, hoping for a new order in the area, with the US as the nucleus.
In fact, the areas covered by China's regional cooperation strategy, which is based in Asia and involves Eurasia and Asia-Pacific, largely overlap with spheres covered by the US' Eurasia geopolitical strategy as defined by Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book The Grand Chessboard.
Therefore, in the long term, China and the US will enjoy a larger space for cooperation.
Third, it is beyond China's power to synthesize all the regional cooperative mechanisms.
In recent years, new phenomena have showed up in the landscape of regional cooperation in Asia.
The organizations originally geared to economic cooperation, for instance, are expanding their business to cover security matters.
At the same time, the security orientated cooperative organizations are branching out into economics.
Also, the 10+3 mechanism, which was originally designed to bring about the East Asia commonwealth, is striving to make the cooperation all-embracing.
Does this mean that China will go all out to assure that cooperation in the separate fields of economics and security, which is at the core of the country's regional cooperation strategy, be merged? The answer is no.
This is because geographic, economic, political, cultural and ethnic diversity in Asia, multiplied by its extensive connections with other parts of the world, dictates that regional cooperation in Asia will be conducted through multiple channels, not one or two unified ones.
This is also because building a "world in harmony" needs the participation of all parties. It is not exclusively China's business.
(The author is a researcher at the China Research Institute for Modern International Relations Studies.)
(China Daily January 23, 2007)