|#1852||1779||December 31, 2017||By Praggya Surana|
Keeping a Low Profile to Striving for Achievement
Since the 1990s, China’s overarching foreign policy principle was taoguang yanghui, yousuo zuowei - ‘keeping a low profile and achieving something’ (KLP).[i] Coined by Deng Xiaoping, it was actively adopted by Hu Jintao as well. As a rising power, China was keen not to upset the international order or draw the ire of United States. However, its rising economic clout meant that this policy alone was unsuccessful in China being treated as a competitor. This formulation has never been used by Xi Jinping. Reflecting the increasingly aggressive attitude of China globally, he has relied on fenfa youwei - ‘striving for achievement’ (SFA) to achieve the ‘Chinese dream’ at a global stage, and particularly in China’s own neighbourhood.[ii] This ties in with Chinese ambitions of first becoming a regional power and eventually a global power by 2050. After Xi assumed the position of the President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in March 2013, there appeared three important documents illustrating the SFA strategy comprehensively in that year. These are Wang Yi’s speech at the Second World Peace Forum in July, Yang Jiechi’s article in Qiushi (Seeking Truth) in August and Xi’s own speech on diplomacy toward surrounding countries in October.
China’s Peaceful Narrative
In light of SFA, one possible way to interpret Chinese ambition is to believe the Chinese narrative that it aims to be a peaceful, anti-hegemonistic power. It has initiated a number of multilateral groupings to promote cooperative, collective growth. Promoting harmony between Russia, India and China, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated, “The 19th party Congress highlighted the guidelines and policies that China's diplomacy is to advance in the new era, stressing that China will realize national rejuvenation by peaceful development and blaze a trail to a great nation which is different from that of traditional powers. China is ready to conform to the progressive trend of the times and the aspiration of the international community and makes joint efforts with various countries to jointly push forward the building of a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness and justice and win-win cooperation as well as the building of a clean and beautiful community with a shared future for mankind that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, common prosperity, and openness and inclusiveness.”[iii] A similar instance is the Chinese attempt to advance the Lankang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) as a model of South-South cooperation.[iv] However, furthering economic interdependence and tempering the global backlash for constructing ecologically damaging dams are key causes for setting up the LMC. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the People’s Republic of China noted, “(all) ministers hoped that the LMC can dovetail with China’s “Belt and Road” initiative and complement and promote other sub-regional cooperation mechanisms so as to make unique contributions to improving people’s welfare in the region.”[v] A closer analysis reveals that the “practical cooperation” envisaged for the LMC does not entail any legally binding agreement for water sharing but involves using it as a vehicle for Chinese investments in the region. China has offered concessional loans of US $ 1.54 billion and credit lines of up to US $ 10 billion to fund infrastructure and improve connectivity in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.[vi] This directly benefits Western Development Strategy, with US $ 5 billion earmarked for increasing industrial production capacity in Yunnan and promoting trade with the five Southeast Asian countries.[vii] Despite its peaceful claims, China is challenging the current international order, shaping it to be more amenable for Chinese economic and strategic interests. It has created multilateral banks such as the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank and the BRICS Bank to challenge the Western dominance at the World Bank. India is a founding member of the BRICS Bank and the AIIB. India should cooperate with China when such cooperation serves its own interests, staying wary of the peaceful narrative being promoted by China.
The Sovereignty Exception
This peaceful narrative is torn to shreds when analyzed in conjunction with the centrality of “safeguarding national sovereignty in China’s periphery” as part of the SFA strategy. Significantly, China has relied on the sovereignty principle to justify any actions that violate the rule based order it claims to adhere to. Even though the SFA strategy was only fully articulated in 2013, 2010 marked a turning point for Chinese foreign policy. In 2010, China’s GDP surpassed Japan’s to rank only behind the United States.[viii] 2010 also witnessed rising tensions between China, Japan and Vietnam. China started taking a more aggressive stand regarding the Senkaku islands. Even though differences regarding the South China Sea Code of Conduct, matters came to a head in 2012 when China refused to participate in negotiations and pressurized ASEAN Chair, Cambodia, resulting in ASEAN’s failure to issue a Joint Communiqué.[ix] On November 23, 2013, the Chinese Ministry of Defense declared the establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over East China Sea, with considerable overlaps with existing ADIZs of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.[x] It also took an uncharacteristically hostile stance against the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Yasukuni Shrine, signaling an end to diplomatic dialogue.[xi] In 2015, it justified island building in the South China Sea as a “legitimate and justified activity”[xii] to promote its nine-dash line which is in violation of the UNCLOS. 2015 also witnessed Chinese military modernization and restructuring, the biggest reshuffle in over two decades. As part of “protecting national sovereignty”, Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan remain important to China’s narrative of a nation emerging from historic oppression.
China has entered into an openly aggressive phase in foreign policy, and with its economic and military rise, it has progressively become bolder. India must not get taken in by the narrative of the peaceful rise of an anti-hegemonistic power that China is endorsing. Chinese testing of waters in Doklam indicates its increasing boldness. Any accommodating moves it has made are limited in nature and only serve Chinese national interests. India should only maintain a cooperative stance as long as it serves Indian interests. India must note the importance China places on Tibet and Xinjiang as part of its “core interests”. Its actions in the past few years reflect China’s hard stance on the issues it considers central to its global identity and India must remain alert to potential conflicts in disputed regions. India must continue its positive efforts, such as promoting the rule of law in South China Sea to truly maintain the international order.
[i] Xuetong Yan, ‘From Keeping a Low Profile to Striving for Achievement’, The Chinese Journal of International Politics, Volume 7, Issue 2, 153–184, 1 June 2014.
[iii] Wang Yi, ‘China, Russia and India Should Bring More Certainties and Positive Energy to the World’, 12 December 2017, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1519388.shtml.
[iv] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, Joint Press Communiqué of the Third Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) Foreign Ministers' Meeting, 16 December 2017, Available at http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1520022.shtml.
[v] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, ‘The 2nd Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Foreign Ministers' Meeting Convenes’, 27 December 2016, Available at http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1427021.shtml.
[vi] ‘China Focus: Leaders of Lancang-Mekong countries convene, China plans loans for infrastructure’, 23 March 2016, Xinhua, Available at http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-03/23/c_135216798.htm.
[viii] Camilla T. N. Sørensen, ‘The Significance of Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” for Chinese Foreign Policy: From “Tao Guang Yang Hui” to “Fen Fa You Wei”’, Journal of China and International Relations, Volume 3, No. 1, 53, 2015.
[ix] Carlyle A. Thayer, ‘ASEAN’S Code of Conduct in the South China Sea: A Litmus Test for Community-Building?’, Volume 10, Issue 34, Number 4, The Asia Pacific Journal, 19 August 2012.
[x] Michael Green, Kathleen Hicks et al, ‘Counter-Coercion Series: East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone’, Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, 13 June 2017, Available at https://amti.csis.org/counter-co-east-china-sea-adiz/.
[xi] ‘FM: Abe Shut Door on Dialogue with China’, 7 January 2014, Xinhua, Available at http://news.xinhuanet.com/
[xii] Masayuki Masuda, ‘Why has Chinese foreign policy become more assertive?’, 20 February 2016, East Asia Forum, Available at http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2016/02/20/why-has-chinese-foreign-policy-become-more-assertive/.