Opportunities in China's peripheral diplomacy

By Xiao An
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, January 9, 2014
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2014 is likely to be another unstable and volatile year, due to growing conflicts and contentions. There are challenges but also opportunities, as the cliché says.

No country can say it has fewer challenges in its national security, and all countries are carrying out active diplomacy to transform challenges into strategic benefits. The same is true for China.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (C) cuts cake with ASEAN leaders, celebrating the 10th anniversary of China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership on Oct 9, 2013. [Xinhua photo]

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (C) cuts cake with ASEAN leaders, celebrating the 10th anniversary of China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership on Oct 9, 2013. [Xinhua photo]

China's new leadership, since assuming power in 2013, have actively sought to increase diplomacy by tightening ties with all countries, according to the top-down designed blueprint.

More concrete measures to cement bilateral ties will be implemented in 2014, particularly in managing relationship with neighboring countries, in other words China's peripheral diplomacy.

North Korea

2014 will be a critical year for North Korea's internal stability and that of the Korean Peninsula. After establishing a "sole core leadership system," North Korea will have to decide whether it still wants to continue the old conformist policy and to make empty bluffs, or whether reform would be better.

But regardless of its mode of development, Pyongyang has always relied primarily on China to survive. It cannot abandon its bilateral strategic commitment with China, in line with China's reasonable interests.

North Korea is a mysterious and unpredictable country, and the basic conditions are not in place for other countries to interact positively with it.

In light of this situation, China should seek to improve its ties with North Korea, besides reducing Pyongyang's unpredictability. Such an effort will in turn ease the tension on the Korean Peninsula.

China's relationship with North Korea is improving, out of mutual necessity. The improvement is also an important stake for China in Kim Jong-un, as he tries to walk out of the present political dilemma.

A possible visit by Kim Jong-un to China would cement breakthroughs in the currently flawed bilateral relationship. But it would not be possible unless the two countries properly deal with their disagreements.

North Korea has demonstrated its resolution to return to the international community through reforming itself, including halting nuclear activities to return to the Six Party Talks, efforts Pyongyang has made that have helped to increase China's confidence in Kim.

But unfortunately, North Korea has drifted too far. Both the United States and South Korea are insisting that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear plans unconditionally before talks can resume, while Pyongyang still demands "peace" as a precondition.

Trying to mediate in and find a solution to the North Korean issue is a challenge for China's diplomacy.


China's year-long contention with Japan recently reached a peak following Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which is associated with World War II criminals. Abe's recklessness has "closed the door" for the two countries' leaders to resume contact. There will be little concrete improvement in bilateral ties until Abe leaves office.

China should seize the opportunity to underscore its strategic and diplomatic victory in this prolonged contention. It should also prepare for icebreaking activities with the new Japanese cabinet in the "post-Abe era."

While maintaining its pressure on the Japanese government, China should have a contingency plan in case Japan launches further provocations. As well as isolating Abe, China could consider degrading its diplomatic relationship with Japan when necessary, and increase the overall costs for Japan due to worsening relations with China.

China's military forces are effectively monitoring the recently established East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). PLA Navy vessels frequently travel through the Miyako Strait and the Soya Strait. The China Coast Guard is continuing with routine law enforcement in the Diaoyu Islands waters. Beijing's confident response will continue to increase the pressure on the Japanese government.

Economically, China has risen as an engine of Asian-Pacific growth. Japan can no longer expect business with China to thrive after bilateral political relations have gone cold, as in the past.

Abe has promised to revive the Japanese economy, although his reckless handling of regional diplomatic issues will inevitably damage Japan's manufacturing business overseas, along with its exports to China and South Korea.

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