Country Report: China (June 2015)

In Heping yu Fazhan, no. 2, 2015, Li Hongcai and Yang Guanghai took a broad view of security in Asia, citing Xi Jinping’s May 21, 2014 statement on the contours of such thinking. Xi had called on Asian countries to discard traditional thinking and forge new types of security relations. Recognizing that security in the region now is facing some difficulties, the authors expound on Xi’s themes to resolve them. They argue that realist international relations theory falls short in dealing with mutual reliance and cooperation and is increasingly inadequate to address the new security questions of our time. They identify territorial disputes, lingering historical issues, insufficient trust, US and Japanese antagonism toward China with their containment policies only intensifying, and the suspicions of neighboring small and middle-sized countries toward China leading them to use the US rebalance to contain China. They also package non-traditional security challenges in the usual three-part formula of terrorism, separatism, and extremism, arguing that some states are approaching these matters with traditional security thinking—not increasing cooperation on issues of traditional security and exacerbating tensions on territorial sovereignty disputes. As an example, the authors cited Japan’s approach to the Diaoyu islands, nationalizing the land and insisting on the “three noes,” not only leading to a freeze in bilateral high-level ties but also dealing a severe blow to economic cooperation. Also noted are Southeast Asian states that involve outside powers and build up their militaries rather than seeking a joint resolution with China, spoiling the cooperative win-win atmosphere. Instead, the two authors propose new security thinking that would overcome these troubles. In short, viewing China through traditional realist eyes is deemed partly responsible for failure to welcome China’s rise as positive; so change the international relations theory rather than China’s behavior, is implied.

Stressing that peace and development are the guiding principles, the article points not to US alliances, but to multilateral groupings such as the ARF and SCO as the key to their implementation. It looks back not to China’s revolutionary violations of the national sovereignty of states but only to the bad effects of imperialism and the US-Soviet Cold War divide for Asia and the treasure of China’s tradition of “harmony.”

The contrast of harmony as China’s virtuous past and future and various evils from the West is an echo of the narrative of traditional communism, which left no shades of grey. Chinese traditional values are beneficial to other states, in contrast to the “universal values” that are ignored or dismissed as meaningless in relations in Asia under Western influence. The two authors argue that the United States and other Western countries intend to distort the Asian view of security, while some American specialists discredit Asian ideas with evil intentions, such as claiming that China is trying to exclude the United States from Asia or is trying to become Asia’s leader. In this way, they weaken Asian identity. This writing, as many others, denies realist thought by insisting that a rising power should be judged based on its thinking and history, and it denies liberal thought by rejecting Western values and institutions. It approves of a form of constructivist thought, pointing to historical reasons for the uncontrolled nationalism in countries such as the Philippines and Vietnam, blaming this for their stance on maritime territorial disputes and excessive fear of China’s rise and ignoring it as a source of China’s conduct, while instead praising China’s role through a constructivist logic. While it sees the possibility of economic ties and security ties diverging, the article advocates proceeding from economic to security cooperation as a strategy. In this, China uses economic dependence not for a liberal community, as liberal theory assumes, but for security dominance. “One belt, one road” is presented in this context. Yet, there is also a sense of urgency about moving quickly to forge a multilateral security community with no mention of the US role.

An article by Sun Zhe in gongshiwang at on February 22, 2015 seemed to question totally bleak views of Sino-US relations, which had become common and were advocating a more aggressive approach. The goal appears to be to explain that the United States is not deeply in decline and China is not about to overtake it soon; thus China still needs to strive for better relations. In 2010, China’s literature on relations with other countries grew bolder in supporting more assertive Chinese behavior and more emphasis on the United States as a declining power. Then late in the year—after the showdown over North Korean aggression at Yeonpyeongdo—, Dai Bingguo sent a signal that this was the wrong approach, and in the first half of 2011 articles began to argue that the US decline had been much exaggerated and China still had serious problems that would mean it could not catch up during the coming decade or longer. Wang Jisi was one voice in this counterattack on the hardliners, seizing the opportunity after it had been difficult to speak out during the high tide of nationalist frenzy. The overall theme was should China stick to Deng Xiaoping’s call to “lay low” for an extended time or had the time come to ditch this outdated notion. The tide briefly swung back toward a quieter posture, and the debate proceeded at the rarified level of how to measure the relative power of the two global giants. When Xi Jinping met Obama in November 2014, the door was opened somewhat for a similar challenge to the assertive group, which again had gathered steam. Attacks in 2011 on the challengers no doubt are being repeated in 2015, but the case made by Sun should help us to clarify one side of this clash of opinions on foreign policy.

Sun makes the following points. 1) The United States remains the most important country for China. The breakthrough with it in 1971-1972 opened the door to other breakthroughs for China. Those who now think that China is strong enough to think that it does not need a good relationship with it are making a mistake. 2) As opposed to those who argue that China will overtake the United States in the next years economically and no longer needs to value this relationship, Sun argues that it is a long way from equaling the United States in what matters most in both hard power and soft power. 3) In contrast to those who are positing a third strategic opportunity soon after the 9/11 and 2007 global crisis openings, suggesting that when GDP (based on PPP) surpasses the US total, that opening may arise, Sun cites five indicators that belie this conclusion: per capita GDP, currency use around the world, overall military capacity, capacity to provide public goods to international society, and capacity to set international norms and the international agenda. 4) Sun confronts those who see the United States as a status quo power on the decline with a request for proof of its decline, suggesting that there are many angles for viewing possible dimensions of its decline and countering with evidence to the contrary, including past insistence that it was declining as in the late 1970s only to find it was on the rebound as in the 1990s. Sun notes that its soft power declined under “little Bush” and then recovered under Obama. Its friends are not abandoning it. 5) Sun is asked about the debate on whether China can dare to fight with the United States or needs to seek harmonious ties with it and hold its tongue. He rejects this simplistic dichotomy, explaining that relations are extensive, and China is able to establish deeply cooperative ties.

6) Told that Sino-US relations are fiercely competitive in many aspects, Sun says that there are many limited clashes and reviews some of them. He asserts that China should fight over these, standing up for its national interests, as in the Korean and Vietnam wars. China and the United States understand each other well and expect differences to arise, but they can also talk about them and resolve them, e.g., in the IMF voting rights case, Washington should be roundly criticized and opposed. Yet, these should not be overdrawn as a conflict of political systems or ideologies. China is not dealing with the old stereotype of Americans; often it faces Americans of Chinese decent. Its past history with the United States is not so bad; it was not the main aggressor in any war. Chinese and Americans have a mixed view of the other. 7) Obama wants China to be more of a leader on international problems such as climate change—to assume more responsibility—, and China should study how to be a leader and do so, including studying how the United States rose after the United Kingdom had been the world leader. While the “China Dream” inspires Chinese, it is too remote for others, and China should consider how to inspire the world, as Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt did with their plans. 8) In response to the view that 2010 was a turning point toward troubled Sino-US relations and that now they are on a downward spiral due to Obama tilting toward Japan and the trouble over the South China Sea among other conflicts, Sun says that these are all limited conflicts, but the danger exists that they could be worse. After all, quite a few Americans think that China’s overconfidence and continuously expansionist behavior raises the danger of war, and other leading Americans think that Chinese have no reason to see US policy as not conciliatory. If it were trying to contain China, how could it trade to such an extent and accept so many Chinese students?

9) The sources of US concern about China are: a rapidly rising military budget; expression of strong national sentiments by some Chinese military officers; expression of such sentiments in many venues, including seeing Japan as a wartime aggressor and not as a postwar peaceful state. Yet, overall US academics are cautiously optimistic about bilateral relations and see them as going forward. 10) Asked if the United States now is changing toward China because it sees China as challenging US hegemony and cannot accept an equal relationship, Sun said it is hedging, not containing China. In fact, China does the same to other states—one hand hard, the other soft. 11) Last, Sun agrees for a long time to come US views of China and bilateral differences will make equal relations difficult. There are limits to how far a “new type of major power relations” will proceed, especially due to different political traditions and cultural traditions. Yet, there already is a minimal level of trust. More cooperation is possible and needed. The overall thrust is to counter those in China who find little hope in bilateral ties and press for a more assertive posture. Sun concludes with a reference to the Xi-Obama meeting at APEC and calls on Chinese to be cautiously optimistic so that China’s debate and behavior will not lead to negative results.

In Dongbeiya luntan, no. 2, Bi Yingda offered guidance on deepening the Sino-ROK strategic partnership as part of China’s “Neighbor Supporting Strategy” and in response to the US strategic containment. This guidance ranges from economic ties to a triangular approach shaping unification of the peninsula. Bi recognizes the huge success of Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul on July 3-4, 2014, while focusing on challenges that remain, especially those resulting from US efforts in security related to China and North Korea and in economics to block East Asian economic integration with Republicans controlling Congress taking an even more hardline posture. In light of US efforts to damage China’s security environment in neighboring areas, the Korean Peninsula has special significance, readers are told. Yet, the Sino-US power gap is still quite large and the US regional system is being extended; so, as Xi explained on November 8, 2013, China’s efforts to forge a community must take diverse forms. He seems to focus on countries at the crossroads. South Korea is one. While it is a US ally, it has very close economic ties with China and common interests in peninsular peace, leading some Chinese academics to view its crossroads status as making it a model for an effective Chinese policy, as seen in the Park and Xi visits to each other’s state. While Seoul cannot openly oppose the US “rebalance,” to the extent US policies are deepening regional contradictions and worsening the situation on the peninsula, Seoul’s policies can play a special role in ameliorating the strategic tensions. With the Korean nuclear issue now at an impasse and little chance of positive US moves, pressuring Seoul could be counterproductive but cooperating more with it may help to restart the Six-Party Talks. Beijing and Seoul cannot let up their pressure on Abe on history, making Japan pay a price for far right extremism—a key to cooperation.

Bi adds that Xi’s July visit won high praise from the South Korean public, but that in the political and security sphere relations have not developed in line with economic ties and, due to the interference of outside elements, could deteriorate. Bi mentions that it could even interfere with the development of economic ties. Moreover, it is important for the overall situation on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia. In this context, Bi praises the North-South agreements reached by progressive leaders of South Korea, including the October 4, 2007 statement. Cooperation in pursuit of denuclearization is couched in calls for improving North-South relations and of maintaining peace and security in the Northeast Asian region. Criticizing the North’s nuclear weapons, Bi blames them for the US pretext for developing its anti-missile system and for strengthening its military alliances. Bi also refers to the common aim of Beijing and Seoul in getting both Washington and Pyongyang to return to the Joint Statement of September 19, 2005. Bi warns that Washington is increasing insecurity in the region and Japan is becoming a joint security threat to China and South Korea. It is these challenges identified in Beijing that Seoul is being asked to acknowledge, as it sustains a suitable balance in relations between Beijing and Washington.

Bi’s article praises the new FTA, but it raises concern about a widening trade gap in favor of South Korea, as trade may exceed USD 300 billion in 2015 and South Korea is losing its competitive edge in various areas. China is seeking more exports and also investments in South Korea. The two states differ on restarting the Six-Party Talks with Seoul agreeing to conditions sought by Washington. Their ties are troubled by the US push for military trilateralism and by Seoul losing balance in ties to Beijing and Washington, taking the road of anti-China policies. One recommendation is to join together China’s Silk Road Economic Belt and South Korea’s Eurasian Initiative. A final theme is to find ways to reduce public emotionalism toward each other. The overall thrust is to recognize that zero-sum relations exist and to choose China, not the United States and Japan, or suffer the consequences, notably tied to North Korea.

In Dongbeiya luntan, no. 3, the Sino-Japanese-South Korean triangle was explored by Liu Jiangyong, who recalled three wars (Tang, Ming, and late Qing periods) of China and Japan involving Korea. Recalling various anniversaries in 2015 (the one hundred twentieth of the 1895 unequal treaty and the one hundred fifth of the 1910 annexation among them), Liu focuses on the impact of Abe’s politics on bilateral relations. He dismisses the idea that Japan is seeking to become a “normal country”, arguing that Abe seeks to escape from the postwar system and the international order to become a powerful state. Focusing on unequal development—China rising, Japan falling, and South Korea stabilizing—, Liu warns that Sino-ROK trade could surpass Sino-Japanese trade soon. After all, Japanese FDI is falling and trade was slipping in 2014, while China and South Korea have a new FTA. Liu also contrasts deepening political trust between Beijing and Seoul with loss of trust between Tokyo and both of them. This has economic ramifications, as Abe shows no interest in an FTA with China or the AIIB, in contrast to Park. Stressing the common calamities from Japanese aggression in the other two states and lingering territorial disputes rooted in history, Liu says that recent progress toward trilateral meetings could be set back without a summit if Abe mishandles the seventieth anniversary statement. Liu adds that the success of Japan’s relations with China and South Korea when Fukuda and Hatoyama were in office and restraining the rightward drift proves that the problems in relations are caused by Japan. The US factor matters too, but it is Japan rejecting a “new type of major power relations” and South Korea supporting this that makes for the main contrast. Still, Liu finds Washington trying to arouse distrust in Sino-South Korean and also Russo-South Korean relations, which THAAD deployment would do. In 2014, Liu says, Washington strove to put the brakes on Sino-ROK relations, but later in the year it recognized that the real problem is ISIS and, despite pressing China on the South China Sea, concentrated less energy on China, which also helped Japan start to try to improve relations with China and South Korea, Liu concludes. Yet, Liu stresses that the differences between Japan and its neighbors are not conflicts over power, but clashes over views of the postwar international order. Acceptance of the Potsdam and Cairo agreements is the basis of peace in Asia, and it seems as if Abe’s objective is to bring down this East Asian order, replacing it with the results of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. This is seen as dangerous by its neighbors for its impact on the status of Taiwan and other disputed islands. Lumping South Korean and Japanese historical views together and linking them to questions of postwar order and today’s security gives the appearance that this triangle is fundamentally split into two versus one. It also seems to suggest that constitutional restraints have been the only thing keeping Japan from renewing military aggression against both China and South Korea with the US role uncertain. Thus, China and South Korea now face a common challenge, not just in historical language but also in a security threat to the regional order.

In Guoji zhengzhi yanjiu, no. 1, Wu Huanzhong traced the evolution of Japan’s postwar security policies from maintaining autonomous security to normalizing defense to becoming a great military power. The guiding thought has changed a lot, Wu finds, emphasizing the emergence of great power consciousness in the late 70s and 80s as a member of the West and a player in the Cold War to counter the Soviet threat. In the 90s, Wu signals out another stage when Japan reached the pinnacle of its economic power and three-way leadership of the world order with the United States and European Union. By the late 90s, its focus centered on neighboring areas and perceived latent threats from North Korea and China. In the 2000s, Japan’s objectives were to become a great power and to “normalize” its role in security. It needed to point to a “China threat” as the core of its shift towards neighborhood security. Comparing the features of Japan’s security policy to other great powers, Wu finds: 1) although it seeks to make the US alliance more equal, it relies on US leadership to the point that more than any other country it is under US influence; 2) domestic political factors play an enormous role in security policy, including the Constitution, pacifist thought, and the personal character of the prime minister; 3) internal concerns over security play very little role compared to international and regional ones; 4) the subjective and contradictory nature of policies is apparent, such that threat perceptions are heavily subjective or follow US thinking; and 5) in the 2010s, the China factor has become the center of security thinking, and no other great power is so consumed with the “China threat.” Wu showcases the extreme nature of Sino-Japanese clashes in security thinking, but he omits mention of how the Chinese side views Japan.

A May 23 article in Guandian Zhongguo reviewed Modi’s visit to China both for what he said and what he did not say, paying special attention to what Modi said in the less official atmosphere of Tsinghua University. Wang Peng found five main themes in Modi’s presentation: 1) reviewing the history of Sino-Indian exchanges and their present foundation; 2) displaying India’s economic success and great potential, while praising China’s achievements; 3) calling for joint efforts in the face of both extremism and terrorism; 4) considering obstacles for cooperation as a multipolar Asia is rising; and 5) concluding with evidence of his sincerity and appreciation. It was the fifth theme that led to amplification: the territorial question, strategic communications and mutual trust, daily management of bilateral relations (including visas and border crossings), and China’s support for India becoming a permanent member of the Security Council. Without pointing to Tibet, Modi appealed for facing together unstable elements from neighboring countries, which could threaten security and slow economic development, but he only mentioned religious extremism and violent terrorism, omitting China’s theme of ethnic separatism, noted Wang. He adds that in seeking to use soft means, including economic relations and cultural exchanges, to alter India’s strategic and high politics “hard” behavior, China should be sober. Modi is also reported to have said that only if rising India and China join hands can the Asian dream be realized, but there is no sign that this met with approbation. There was doubt about Modi’s attitude toward the “One Belt, One Road” initiative and attention directed at the fact that China only has observer status in SAARC (the South Asian association). Wang contrasts superpower China with India, the largest developing country. He expresses pessimism about a solution to their territorial dispute, considering the area in question too large. He also takes seriously India’s increasingly close ties to the United States and notes Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Pakistan, strengthening ties. Wang goes so far as to cast doubt on China’s lingering policy of rejecting alliances, pointing to Pakistan and Russia as cases where ties may be too limited. Concluding that India needs China for Security Council reform, border demarcation, and resolution of relations with Pakistan, Wang warns against all of these since India would lose interest in meeting China’s interests. He leans towards tough bargaining ahead, while expressing a dubious reaction to the visit’s results.

Mao Siwei, who served as ambassador to India and Pakistan, also wrote about the Modi visit in Fenghuang bobao on May 20, describing a year of his multidirectional foreign policy with the United States first and China also having an important place. Mao views Chinese investment in India as the top theme with efforts to reduce the split between the two countries next. The first aim of Modi is to follow China’s path of inviting foreign capital for industrial growth and export, and Mao argues that only China and Japan have the capital needed. Modi also seeks to narrow the trade gap of USD 56 billion in Chinese exports versus only USD 11 billion in Indian exports. Mao warns, however, that failure to resolve the visa issue linked to their territorial dispute may interfere with investment. Mao mentions the dispute over water allocation and the issue of a Sino-Pakistan economic corridor confronting the Indo-Pakistan border dispute. While Mao noted Modi’s comment that China’s support for India’s entry into the Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group would give a big boost to ties, he made it clear that China, while not negative, could not yet satisfy India. Moreover, Mao found Modi’s answers about “One Belt, One Road” evasive. This commentary is a sign that the Modi visit ended inconclusively with critical issues yet to be resolved.

In Guandian Zhongguo on May 10, Zhao Kejin discussed the impact the special Sino-Russian relationship for of “One Belt, One Road” for the “One Belt, One Road” plan. Zhao notes that a debate has been swirling over Sino-Russian relations despite the fact that for two decades leaders have drawn relations ever closer to the point that China has no closer ties to a great power, and there is talk of a special relationship similar to the US-Great Britain one. With the May 8 summit and agreement on links between the “One Belt, One Road” plan and the Eurasian Economic Community, ties have reached an unprecedented level. Xi and Putin reached historical understanding about their common view of the legacy of WWII and the need to sustain the fight against fascism. They agreed that development is based on diversity not a universal model. And on international relations they supported a new type of relations with a new spirit for a more just order. Together they are committed to go forward with linkages between their separate regional development plans and with coordination in regional and international organizations. Each is facing pressure, and Zhao calls for working together in response. Zhao refers to Russia as essential for “One Belt, One Road” to succeed. Following the track of Xi’s May itinerary, Zhao sees this plan as extending from east to west through Kazakhstan, Russia, and Belarus. What he does not note is that Russia has long been opposed to economic integration of this sort, in which China would have a great advantage. Indeed, this appears to be a dream come true for an economic and financial behemoth taking advantage of the increasingly isolated Russia and its loosening hold over Central Asia and elsewhere, as Russia drops its barriers and subsumes a weaker Eurasian Economic Community into the more expansive, better funded, infrastructure driven, China-led regionalism.

Wang Dehua on May 12 in Huanqiu shibao explained that Russia is not isolated. With the seventieth anniversary a test of who is Russia’s true friend, China is there. It will not forget what the Soviet Union did for China in the war against Japan. Together China and Russia are looking back to history for lessons for today. Pointing to the political poison of Western style democracy and “color revolutions,” Wang argues that the danger is the United States, not Russia. Wang notes that it is Washington that blocks the transfer of advanced technology, not Moscow, adding that Washington supports independent Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan, and Hong Kong splittism, not Moscow. It should be clear who is China’s friend, Wang concludes, lumping together China and Russia as the targets of the West. This turns what is perceived as a national identity threat into a national security danger and implies that a polarized world now exists.

Ren Xiao in Shanghai Sixiangjie of September 2014 wrote that similarities Chinese writers are finding (one hundred twentieth anniversary of the Sino-Japanese War, Abe resembles Ito Hirobumi; or today’s Japan is similar to Japan’s militarism in the 1930s) are actually misleading. Citing fundamental differences between contemporary and historical periods, Ren asks what is the purpose of stirring up humiliation today over China’s defeat 120 years ago. There is no discounting the historical realities: defeat, humiliation, reparations, loss of territory, subjection of Taiwan to a half century of colonialization, lingering psychological wounds still felt by the Taiwanese people, etc. Ren draws the lesson that China must stand at the forefront in the development of human history. History needs to be remembered not for retribution. China proved its greatness after WWII by not demanding reparations from Japan, Ren adds, whereas Japan shows instead its narrowness by denying its guilt for the Nanjing Massacre and other behavior as it recalls its victimization due to the atomic bombs. China’s humiliation in 1894 caused it to awaken to seek a renaissance, which is continuing. Under these conditions, he concludes, it has reason to set aside humiliation and be generous, which will serve to boost its influence in the world.