Challenges await China this decade

08:35, January 06, 2011      

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The key to a wise diplomatic strategy for China in the coming decade will be to balance its coexisting four international identities in the face of a decentralized, multi-polar world, experts say.

As illustrated in the official guidelines of "major powers are the key, surrounding areas are the first priority, developing countries are the foundation, and multilateral forums are the important stage", China's foreign policy has reflected several elements simultaneously.

This has led to today's contending perspectives on China's role, since Beijing is viewed as a major power, a regional power, an emerging power and a developing nation, said Sun Zhe, director of the Center for US-China Relations at Tsinghua University.

Thus, how to cope with these conflicting, yet complementary identities, Sun noted, remains a big challenge in the next decade.

Changing powers

Beijing has long resisted the label of being a "major power" given the widespread recognition of a unipolar post-Cold War structure.

But China has gained a markedly higher standing influence on the world stage over the past years.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said that China has fulfilled notable achievements in the past five years by holding the China-Africa Cooperation Forum Beijing Summit, Beijing Olympics, World Expo Shanghai and tackling world financial crisis and climate change.

"These five events have accelerated China's move to an obvious position on the international stage, and showed that China is an important force in maintaining world peace and promoting common development," Yang told reporters recently.

Today, the power shift from the West to emerging powers, like China and India, has reshaped the global geopolitical structure, said Jin Canrong, deputy director of the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing.

This also mandates a recalibration of Beijing's ties with the United States, Jin noted.

Meanwhile, he said, the dwindling prestige and influence of the US has caused setbacks in major security issues - namely nuclear issues in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran, in addition to the Middle East peace talks.

Declining US power, he added, presents two sides of a coin. "It may be an opportunity for China - but, more importantly, it brings huge responsibility that China cannot easily handle," Jin said.

"While the world is pinning much hope on China, the second largest economy, to take up the 'leadership' role in restoring the international order, China still lacks the ability to do so," said Zheng Yongnian, director of the East Asia Institute of the National University of Singapore.

Despite spats over China's currency policy and trade surpluses, economic reciprocity are what China and the US should delve into first, according to Zheng.

"They should move toward a more cooperative manner in economic affairs," Zheng said.

A practical option is to maximize Beijing's and Washington's shared interests, and pave the way for a win-win situation, according to Yuan Peng, an expert on US studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

"By exploring cooperation with the US in the (UN) Security Council reform, the regularization of G20, post-Copenhagen configuration and nuclear disarmament, China can enjoy its rights while assuming its proportionate responsibility," Yuan said.

When it comes to its presence as a "regional power", Beijing will continue to improve ties with neighboring countries in the coming years, experts say.

China should go to great lengths to dismiss concerns of its neighbors through independent diplomatic efforts, Jin said, adding that it helps to "reduce its excessive dependence on the US by developing other important relations".

This has been evident since the Foreign Ministry hosted its first public diplomacy forum in December under the theme of the "Asia-Pacific situation and China's Asia-Pacific policy", Jin noted.

At the same time, US relations are equally critical, due to Washington's high profile and important re-engagement in the region.

When US strategic focus has veered from antiterrorism back to traditional security concerns, China is mostly attentive as Washington has tightened its military alliances with Tokyo and Seoul amid tensions, and stirred the uneasiness among ASEAN nations about China, Zheng said.

By He Wei, China Daily
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