China's new security concept under multilateral diplomacy

By Yan Xuetong
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, October 2, 2014
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Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University

At the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) held in May, Chinese President Xi Jinping first formally put forward his "Asian new security concept."

More details of Xi's ideas emerged during his meeting with Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov on Aug. 19, when he spoke of "sharing together in danger and in safety."

Great changes have taken place in China's geopolitical environment over the past few years, particularly in the South China Sea and East China Sea. Therefore, China has been adjusting its policies towards its neighbors while continuing to strengthen economic cooperation with them to promote bilateral and multilateral relations. But will the economic regionalization, a very important diplomatic approach of China, help to improve its security relationship with other countries? Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, shared his insights during an interview with the South Reviews magazine. The following are his main points:

Diplomatic adjustment

Many people think the changes in China's surrounding environment started from 2009 when the South China Sea suddenly became a focus of tension. In fact, they really began in 2008 when the Beijing Olympic Games was held. A new phenomenon appeared - the so-called "theory of Chinese responsibility." The Beijing Olympic Games was considered as an event on an unprecedented scale that even developed countries might not be able to afford, let alone developing countries. Thus, it was obvious China had become very powerful, and so was ready to assume responsibilities.

On Jan. 1, 2010, the China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Free Trade Area (FTA) was formally established in accordance with the Framework Agreement on China-ASEAN Comprehensive Economic Cooperation. ASEAN countries, however, worried that a zero tariff might bring in a flood of cheap Chinese goods and destroy their domestic enterprises. Meanwhile, the idea that China had become a superpower started to gain traction around the world. Yet, China still considered itself a developing country, not very different from other developing countries. It didn't really begin adjusting its diplomatic policy until 2013 when Foreign Minister Wang Yi put forward the theme of "Major-Country Diplomacy with Chinese Characteristics" in a speech delivered at the World Peace Forum.

Guided by previous diplomacy, China continued to implement a unilateral zero tariff policy. Then, the island disputes in East China and South China waters surfaced. Some East and Southeast Asian countries, it seemed, were using the issue to engineer frictions in the belief that China might make concessions to maintain its image as a major power.

The problem is that China's relations with its neighbors are heavily dependent on economic dealings that tend to be the weakest and most unstable in international relations. China's relations with Japan, without a doubt, are based on economic interests.

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