China's diplomacy in 2012

By Shen Dingli
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, January 3, 2013
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 Korean Peninsula

New North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has assumed office for a year, and has been gradually establishing his leadership style. Although many of the late leader Kim Jong-il's core officials have stepped down, Pyongyang remains politically stable. The new Korean leader has made great efforts in building a new national image and cultivating a more people-oriented leadership style by increasing his level of media exposure. These efforts have achieved positive results in domestic and international circles. While there were no noticeable changes in North Korea's economic development over the past year, experts predict comprehensive economic reforms in the near future.

North Korea launched two new satellites in 2012, ruffling the feathers of the greater international community. The first launch was seen as a failure by the public and the government, but the second – and largely successful – launch raised the profile of the Korean missiles program. The UN Security Council, along with major international powers, have criticized the North Korean regime, and it is uncertain as to whether the United Nations or the U.S. will impose new sanctions against the country. Many issues need to be resolved before the "Six-Party Talks" can be reopened over the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.

China has followed a cautious and responsible policy on the realities of the rapidly changing environment on the Korean Peninsula. While encouraging North Korea to accelerate development across broad social and economic sectors, China hopes to create a strong environment for Pyongyang to connect to the greater outside world. Although China spoke out against the North Korea's desire to launch satellites over their technological similarity to long-range missiles, it pointed out that it has the right to pursue peaceful communications programs in the Earth's orbit. China has repeatedly stated that it believes peaceful dialogue between North Korea and the international community will be more constructive than sanctions.

Territorial disputes

There was a sharp rise in the scope of diplomatic disputes over national sovereignty in 2012. Neighboring Asia-Pacific countries are showing a rising level of interest over the South China Sea, creating unstable conditions throughout the region.

China's naval forces are at their strongest point in history, and dwarf their Asian rivals in terms of hardware and personnel expertise. In respect of the disputed Diaoyu Islands, which are claimed by China and Japan, military conflict can easily be avoided, including altercations with the United States. The Diaoyu Islands are not under U.S. jurisdiction, and the U.S. would only intervene in conflict under an "obligation" to provide assistance to Japan according to a treaty between Tokyo and Washington.

Chinese and Japanese naval forces are perfectly capable of avoiding any escalation of military conflict, and both parties have proven capable of practicing restraint. The greatest risk to regional stability comes from flying aircraft over the contested island chain.

On the issue of the South China Sea, both China and the U.S. promote freedom of navigation outside of China's exclusive economic waters, and a great level of policy overlap exists between the two countries. Even on the issue of the Huangyan Island, the United States is against military conflict, and has refused to take sides. The U.S. recognizes that the Huangyan Island does not belong to the Philippines, and that any military alliance between Manila and Washington does not include this island. China and the United States have a tacit agreement over this issue, and military conflict between the two countries over the area is impossible.

Public diplomacy

Public diplomacy can be described as work undertaken by a government to communicate with foreign audiences, and is aimed at educating and influencing public opinion. In China, this practice is called "people's diplomacy." Traditionally speaking, public diplomacy is more comprehensive than people's diplomacy, and for the first time in the CPC's history, the term was included in the CPC's work report to the Party's 18th National Congress. Reaching out and establishing communication channels with foreign publics are crucial if China wishes to successfully pursue its peaceful development strategy.

There were some standout moments in Chinese public diplomacy in 2012, most notably on the Diaoyu Islands issue. China's State Council Information Office published a white paper concerning the historical and cultural legacy of the Diaoyu Islands on September 25. The paper which was published in Chinese, English and Japanese renounced Japan's illegal ownership of the island.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping's visit to the U.S. in February also counts as a successful public diplomacy initiative. In addition to visiting high-level government officials, Xi paid a visit to Muscatin, Iowa, a city he visited in 1985, and met with the same family he stayed with over 25 years ago. Highlighting personal relationships between Chinese and American citizens is a strong communication medium, and will prove invaluable in future public diplomacy outreach programs.

Negative incidents involving Chinese nationals in foreign countries need to be handled with care. China is in the midst of rapid material and civil development, and the behaviour of Chinese citizens must be improved. This may take dozens of years. Although Chinese citizens have the right to go on strike while working in foreign markets, they must abide local law to protect their individual rights and interests.

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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