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Fang Changping: China’s Peripheral Security Environment and Peripheral Strategies


On October 26th, RDCY Seminar Series 130 was held in Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China (RDCY). Fang Changping, deputy dean and PhD tutor of School of International Studies at Renmin University of China, was invited to deliver a speech entitled China’s Peripheral Security Environment And Peripheral Strategies.

China’s holistic external environment: no fundamental change in the theme of the era with peace and development

As the discussion on the international environment in the report of the 19th National Congress of the CPC says, the world is undergoing major developments, transformation, and adjustment, but peace and development remain the call of our day. The trends of global multi-polarity, economic globalization, IT application, and cultural diversity are surging forward; changes in the global governance system and the international order are speeding up; countries are becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent; relative international forces are becoming more balanced; and peace and development remain irreversible trends. And yet, we face growing uncertainties and destabilizing factors. Global economic growth lacks energy; the gap between rich and poor continues to widen; hot-spot issues arise often in some regions; and unconventional security threats like terrorism, cyber-insecurity, major infectious diseases, and climate change continue to spread. Human beings face many common challenges. In line with the overall discussion of the report, I think there are several new characteristics in China’s international environment.

First, world politics has entered a "new phase". Firstly, the international order liberalism which has been popular since World War II, especially since the end of the Cold War, is currently on the edge of collapse. Secondly, the mergence of populism and nationalism poses a severe challenge to the existing political order. Thirdly, the strongman politics resurges. Fourth, global politics awakens and identity politics returns.

Second, there are "new changes" in the world economy. The first is the intensification of economic and trade conflicts; the second is the imbalance of economic development, not only between developed and developing countries, but also between developing countries; the third is the imbalance of income distribution; and the last is the imbalance between the world economy and finance.

Third, there is “new situation” in geographical competition. The first is the intensification of geographical competition between big powers; the second is the emergence of the agents’ “competition and conflicts”; the third is the appearance of the Cold War thinking.

Fourth, the rise and fall of big powers presents a "new pattern". The first is the decline of the United States. From the indicator of GDP, China is indeed close to the United States. However, there is big gap between China and the United States on the military strength and the influence on the culture and education, as well as the influence on the international system and the ability to shape the international agenda. The second is the decline of the Russia. Although Russia's economy is indeed in a difficult period, Russia's military industry and scientific and technological strength are still powerful. In addition, Russia is a nuclear power. From historic perspective, Russia has mature strategic tools which China doesn’t possess. And the willpower and determination that Russia demonstrates to defend its core national interests is doubtless. The third is about the EU. Although the EU has encountered some problems such as integration crisis, debt crisis, refugee problem, terrorism and etc, the EU is still a highly developed organization. Europe has been a very creative region since modern times. Many concepts of the international community we use are created in Europe. In short, our assessment of the rise and fall of big powers should be as objective as possible. Never should we base our rise and rejuvenation on the prejudgment of the decline of others.

China’s peripheral security environment

Recognition of peripheral countries

There are 14 land-based neighboring countries and 6 maritime neighbors around China, as well as non-neighboring countries with vital influences and regional international organizations and regional cooperation mechanisms. The 14 land-based neighboring countries include: North Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. The six maritime neighboring countries include: South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia. Non-neighboring countries that have important influence on China's peripheral security include: the United States, Australia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Uzbekistan, etc. There are also regional international organizations and regional cooperation mechanisms with important influences, such as Shanghai Cooperation Organization, ASEAN, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, East Asia Summit, 10+3 Summit, 10+1 Summit, China-Japan-Korea Summit, CICA, TPP, etc.

Recognition of peripheral relations

To recognize the peripheral relations, the first are three pairs of bilateral relations, including Sino-US relations which is structural, the relationship between China and the middle powers such as Japan, India and Australia, and the relationship between China and small countries. The second are multilateral relations, the relationship between China and some regional organizations.

Recognition of peripheral problems

First, the comparison of peripheral powers and China's strategic pressure. With the rise of China, the economic strength of China and the United States is close, and the United States is worried about being squeezed out of China’s periphery. Therefore, the US strengthens its strategic containment against China to squeeze China's strategic space. China’s big peripheral countries, such as India, Japan, Australia, etc., are worried about their dominance of the region will be ended. Thus, they strengthen strategic interaction with the United States to contain China. The neighboring small countries are worried that China could be a hegemony, especially in countries that has territorial disputes with China. Therefore, China needs to do some work of increasing trust and dispelling doubts. At present, these three different types of countries have reached a consensus on the issue of preventing China.

Second, the constraint of the dual separation pattern of economy and security. It’s acknowledged that China is now the largest trading partners to most neighboring countries. But China’s economic influence has not transformed into security power. The dual separation of economy and security is mainly due to the fact that neighboring countries rely on the United States for security, and depend on China for economy in order to seek their independence.

Third, the security mechanism and the economic mechanism are not balanced. There is no security mechanism covering the entire region along China’s periphery.

Fourth, regional hot-spot issues are becoming more complex. The main hot issues around China include: the DPRK nuclear issue, the Sino-Japanese Diaoyu Islands dispute, the South China Sea issue, the Sino-Indian border dispute, the India-Pakistan conflict, Afghanistan reconstruction, regional terrorism, separatism and extremism. The reason why the peripheral hotspots are difficult to solve is that the complexity of the problems themselves.

Fifth, the current situation in China's peripheral environment demonstrates the latest trend. China's relations with major neighboring countries are developing or improving; hot issues around China are cooling down. However, the uncertainty of American Asia-Pacific policy and Sino-US relations causes uncertainty in the process of improving China's peripheral environment.

China’s peripheral strategic choice

On the base of summarizing China’s peripheral diplomatic experiences after the 18th National Congress of the CPC and the precondition of diplomacy of friendship, sincerity, reciprocity and inclusiveness, we can promote China’s future diplomacy strategies in six regards.

1、Objectively recognizing the function of the US and sufficiently realizing the independence in peripheral relations.

Firstly, the US is unlikely to fully decide China’s peripheral diplomatic environment. Secondly, even the United States' allies have their own national interests and will not easily tie their foreign policies to the United States’. Finally, for the small and medium-sized countries around China, in the context of China’s improving economic and regional influence, It is not beneficial for these countries to completely stand by the United States or China.

2、Do a good job in China's diplomacy with small neighboring countries and strive to improve the diplomatic layout of the surrounding areas.

Since the beginning of the new century, the Chinese government has attached great importance to the surrounding diplomatic work, especially the diplomatic concept of pro-honesty since the 18th National Congress, and the diplomatic principles that we have always emphasized that all countries, large and small, are equal. But how to connect these ideas and principles with the practice of dealing with small countries around China, we still need to do a lot of meticulous work.

3、Strive to deal with the relationship with the middle powers and respect their regional influence.

With the rise of China, the strength of China and the United States is close, and the gap between China and the region's middle powers is widening, which have led to a sense of uncertainty and even crisis in the maintenance of the influence of the middle powers in the region, to a certain degree. Therefore, China must balance the relationship between China and the middle powers and these third-party countries influenced by middle powers. China’s diplomacy has traditionally no idea of being hegemony. Today, there is no such thing as the expansion of sphere of influence for China.

4、Pay attention to the combination of being overall and differential of the peripheral diplomacy, and distinguish the important of the different sub-regions.

Based on the complexity of China's peripheral environment and the differences in issues in different regions, we propose a peripheral foreign policy or strategy on the one hand, and we are accustomed to proposing strategies for different regional situations and security issues on the other hand. How to make the peripheral diplomacy in different directions become an organic and coordinated integrity, we need to have a systematic way of thinking, especially distinguish the priorities of different sub-regions, and reconstruct the system of peripheral diplomacy from the fields of sovereignty, security and development, etc, and maintain balance in different regions, balance of land and sea, and balance of issues to ensure long-term stability and development in the peripheral areas.

5、Coordinate the two overall situations of maintaining stability and safeguarding legal rights, and attach importance to the unity of the relationship between crisis management and development.

Hot issues are likely to cause the rise of nationalism and the interference in rational policy-making of countries. Therefore, our understanding is that the surrounding hot issues, especially the hot issues involving territorial disputes, are extremely important, but China has a much more important holistic strategic environment and strategic tasks than these issues, and should put these issues into the overall situation of the strategy to examine and dispose.

6、Seize the core issues of the peripheral strategy, and maintain and promote the stability and development of the peripheral relations.

For the current and future period, China's peripheral strategy needs to pay attention to the following core issues:

First, maintain and enhance China's core position in the geopolitical strategy of Northeast Asia.

Second, significantly enhance the ability of shaping Southeast Asia.

Third, promote the relations between China and India, China and Japan.

Fourth, strive to maintain the strategic stability of Sino-US relations and minimize the negative impact of the deterioration of Sino-US relations on China's peripheral environment.


To investigate China's peripheral environment, we must have a systematic thinking. In the vertical dimension, we must see that the issues of China's peripheral environment have its own logic of historical evolution. In the horizontal dimension, China's peripheral environment has both the structural constraints of the extra-territorial powers, especially the United States, and the strategic ambitions and interests of the surrounding countries, as well as regional restructuring and strategic adjustments caused by changes of China's own strength. In the complicated peripheral environment, we must examine the shaping of the peripheral environment under the strategy of Chinese great national rejuvenation. Therefore, we fully recognize the complexity and arduousness of China's rise and maintain strategic strength and patience sufficiently .

Key Words: peripheral   security   strategy   Fang Changping  

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