April 20, 2013
For almost two years now I have avoided dealing on my blog with China’s spats with Japan, its tensions with ASEAN partners or its apparent inability to reign in the excesses of its obstreperous North Korean protégé.
Although China is fast becoming an economic superpower, its foreign policy has remained far less successful than its economic performance. The seeming lack of interest among top Chinese leaders in framing a foreign policy to match their country’s economic might and long-term strategic objectives is disquieting. Their failure to deal with rather minor territorial disputes successfully could indeed jeopardise China’s economic agenda in the long run, as well as undermine stability and prosperity in Asia.
One of China’s leading objectives, for example, had been that of creating by 2015 a common Asian market, emulating the European Union. These days, however, tensions in the South China Sea between it, on the one hand, and Vietnam and the Philippines, on the other, are endangering its economic integration agenda with ASEAN. In fact, had the European Union’s integration model been studied more carefully by the Chinese, they would have noticed that in Europe the process started with France and Germany putting behind them their long-running territorial disputes and deciding to share resources essential to growth, like coal and iron.
The gap that has developed between China’s long-term integration objectives and its rather medieval attitudes in dealing with neighbours and their territorial claims has instead played into the hands of the US, not otherwise known for excellence in the field of diplomacy.
As cheque-book diplomacy or old-style kowtow policies are inappropriate for China’s current status even in our post-modern times, the new Chinese leadership should urgently seek to frame a foreign policy which closely matches their country’s long-term interests and its standing in Asia.Florian Pantazi