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Shi Yinhong: Mild approach pays off for China in East Asia, Western Pacific

2018-01-17

By Shi Yinhong    Source: Global Times    Published: 2018-1-16


Strictly speaking, China`s strategy in East Asia and the Western Pacific is the most important part of the country`s overall strategic layout. Some evident improvements have been observed in China`s strategic posture in the region.


Compared with the beginning of 2013, the Chinese government has taken a much milder stance on the South China Sea issue. It has put more efforts into enhancing its relations with ASEAN members, especially Vietnam and the Philippines, and has been endeavoring to strengthen ties with Malaysia in the economy and trade.


In addition, China has seen fewer naval operations in the East China Sea. This may be attributed to the shift in the Japanese government`s attitude toward China`s Belt and Road initiative. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has publicly expressed his support for the infrastructural initiative. Japan has been actively creating favorable conditions for top-level exchanges between the two countries, according to media reports. The two governments have been striving to improve Beijing-Tokyo bilateral ties, and nothing unexpected that may impede the process has happened so far since May.


There may be some twists and turns in future Sino-Japanese ties, but the two countries` determination to improve relations is the firmest ever.


Regarding Sino-Singaporean relations, the two countries saw the worst ties since the Lee Kuan Yew era as a result of the Lee Hsien Loong administration`s provocative remarks and acts on the South China Sea issue. But the bilateral relationship drastically warmed up last year amid lower tensions in the South China Sea.


China has taken a milder stance on a number of affairs especially around the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in October. Prior to this major political event, China and India, following communications and consultations, agreed to an expeditious disengagement of troops in Doklam where their soldiers had been locked in a face-off for over two months. This prevented potential military clashes between the two countries and meanwhile highlighted China`s softened diplomatic stance on global affairs.


Following the 19th CPC National Congress, Beijing and Seoul agreed to move beyond the standoff over the development of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. Pressured by Washington and threatened by Pyongyang`s nuclear programs, the South Korean government decided to install the THAAD missile defense system.


The decision jeopardized Beijing`s strategic interests and thus evoked great indignation from the Chinese people. The Chinese government has voiced its strong opposition and meanwhile the Chinese public started to spontaneously boycott South Korean goods in an attempt to halt THAAD installment. But South Korea insisted on the deployment of the anti-missile system.


Despite the two countries` shared wish to move beyond the THAAD quagmire and improve bilateral ties, China still firmly opposes THAAD. Military experts should have more discussions so as to gradually reduce and eventually eliminate the system`s negative effects on China.


South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha claimed earlier that the country will not consider any additional THAAD deployment or participate in US-led missile defense networks, adding that "security cooperation between South Korea, the United States and Japan operates within the framework of effectively countering and deterring North Korea`s nuclear and missile threats: It will not develop into a military alliance." These remarks may be interpreted as South Korea`s concessions to China. But in fact it is China that is making concessions to South Korea, which conforms to China`s long-term interests.


After the 19th CPC National Congress, China will be more active participating in international politics, economics and global governance, and will play a leading role in certain fields. For instance, China will work with the European Union as a main contributor to the issue of climate change. It will also play a pivotal role in Asia`s infrastructure construction.


Moreover, China will strive to gain more economic and diplomatic advantages, and strengthen its strategic presence and influence in Asia and beyond. The country will endeavor to build up its strategic and economic advantages in the maritime space stretching from China`s coast to the first island chain.


The author is director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University of China.

Key Words: China   global governance   Belt   Shi Yinhong  

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