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Ding Gang: Public will shape govt’s diplomatic choices


By Ding Gang    Source: Global Times    Published: 2016-7-13


Growing public participation in government decision-making is a significant symbol of the rise of Asian countries. It is also a prominent feature of all emerging economies. The will of the people has become a necessary part of the process of government policymaking.

Therefore, compromised by different public opinions, a policy might eventually deviate from its original orientation. Sometimes, it might be suspended and blocked due to people`s opposition.

The will of the people is having an increasing impact on foreign policy. In South Korea, the deployment of US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system was prompted by public demand. In a public opinion poll conducted by Korea Research this February, about 70 percent of Koreans are in favor of the deployment of the weapon system, while less than 30 percent oppose it.

The research clearly shows that South Koreans have dramatically changed their attitude toward the nuclear issue on the peninsula. More importantly, South Koreans will in turn shift their attitude toward China, and urge the government to modify its China policy.

In a brief visit to South Korea 11 years ago, I talked to different people about their thought of Korean reunification. They seemed optimistic about the future - a cab driver even told me that the South and the North would reunify in a decade, more or less.

However, more than 10 years have passed, and the optimism has vanished. After North Korea`s continuous nuclear tests, the South Koreans are disappointed about the prospects of reunification. A friend from South Korea told me that the public has reversed their attitude toward the North, and this will matter greatly to South Korea`s relations with the US, China and Japan.

The Koreans` shift in mind is resulted from their popular dissatisfaction with China failing to keep the North within limits in nuclear issues. More Koreans now believe that the US is the sole guarantee for security in the Korean Peninsula.

After the decision to deploy THAAD was made, China has put the blame on the Park Geun-hye government. In fact, the Park government had many concerns to consider, and one of the prominent concerns was public opinion.

It is not only in the Korean Peninsula that the will of the people is gaining momentum in government making foreign policies, but also around many other hotspot issues such as the South China Sea dispute.

The will of the people is not always in line with their country`s long-term interests. The latest example is the Brexit referendum, whose negative effects will be long lasting.

Now, the governments of these rising Asian countries will find their administrations increasingly affected by the will of the people, and their decision-making process more delicate and difficult.

Too many compromises with the will of the people will make decisions short-sighted; while disregarding public opinion will jeopardize the legitimacy of the government. Both sides have never been intertwined so closely like today.

In major-power games, the will of the people matters a lot as well. The US has paid keen attention to manipulating public opinion while advancing its rebalance to the Asia-Pacific and reinforcing its alliances. In many circumstances, the US rigs other countries` public discourse without having to physically intervene.

China, a rising power that can exert its influence on regional and even global order, must keep a strict watch over the changes of public opinion in its neighboring countries, if it wants to secure its position in the future political and security structures in Asia, and to advance its "Belt and Road" initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The author is a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.

Key Words: public   policy-making   Asia  

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