Country Report: China (August 2014)

An article by Sun Ru in Zhongguo zhoubian distributed in its August 2014 posting took a close look at the US-Japan-South Korea triangle as it was strengthened by the three-way summit in March. It explained that the United States occupies the leading position in this triangle and has succeeded in temporarily getting the other two states to recommit to the triangular framework and support its rebalancing to Asia. Yet, the United States also has objectives versus North Korea and toward China, which have divisive implications for the triangle. In order to maintain its leadership role in the region it is adding to its military presence, including missile defense. No mention is made of China’s growing military role in the region, as if US moves are somehow unrelated to this and driven by an obsession with hegemonism. As for Japan, Abe is seen as slighting South Korea as he concentrated on Southeast Asia, even willfully antagonizing the South. But under US pressure and out of concern shared with the United States that bad South Korea-Japan relations could lead the South to tilt toward China, he stepped back in March. Nonetheless, Abe’s decisions not to make the correct choice on history and to arouse territorial tensions with South Korea are seen as limiting how far the triangle can go. One gets the impression that Abe has been a god-send for China, proving to be the most unpopular foreign leader for South Koreans and to have reminded them of history to the degree they are naturally suspicious of Japan’s interest in collective self-defense. The author concludes that it is hard to see a genuine triangle emerging. Although the United States has departed from its past posture of not getting entangled in Japan-South Korean disputes, its effort with Japan to enlist South Korea in containing China and in developing anti-missile capabilities conflict with the intentions of South Korea to avoid choosing between China and the United States—to serve its national interest through balanced development of the two bilateral relations. Analysis of the triangle leads to the conclusion that South Korea is in a difficult situation.

China’s reasoning toward South Korea is clearly articulated in articles, such as Cui Ge’s analysis in issue No. 3 of Yazhou zongheng. The article explains what is the cause of the North Korean crisis, what is the solution, and how South Korea should position itself in dealing with regional security. The cause, we are told, is in no way China’s responsibility and has nothing to do with the North Korean rejection in 2008 of the Joint Agreement, which is not even mentioned in this article. Instead, despite its brief mention that North Korea is guilty along with the United States of undermining regional stability, nearly the entire discussion of responsibility centers on the United States with South Korea seen as an accomplice. The logic is as follows: with the end of the Cold War, the equilibrium in Northeast Asia was lost, while the United States not only did not recognize North Korea, it pressured the North, causing insecurity. It did so because it is ideological, still driven by views steeped in hegemonic thinking, and it keeps planning on pressuring the North to change its system with Japan. (This is not about humanitarian concern for the welfare of the North Koreans, but system change as in the Cold War anti-communist obsession.) North Korea, thus, pursues nuclear weapons only to secure international assistance and goes to extremes due to failure to receive it. There is no hint that China is more than a bystander, sage in its advice—mainly directed at the United States—to stop pressuring North Korea and to agree to a new regional power balance reassuring to Pyongyang—and to Beijing. These are not new arguments and are not the only views expressed in China, but over the past two decades these are the prevailing arguments, presented in the 2010s with greater one-sidedness in line with clearer conclusions as to what must be done by South Korea.

The solution to the North Korean crisis, the future of the peninsula, and also the regional instability and tension that Chinese observe is set forth in Cui Ge’s article published in advance of Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul. Given that the United States is the principal source of the problem and that China has consistently stood for the obvious solution, the path forward is to rally behind China’s approach. Praise is given to Roh Moo-hyun’s October 2007 visit to Pyongyang, as consistent with China’s solution. The stages going forward are much as in 2005 (a joint statement in which North Korea declares its commitment to denuclearization in return for various promises through the Six-Party Talks moderated by China), 2007 (a joint agreement that includes increased assistance to North Korea to help it with economic reform), and a subsequent framework of regional security not just on the Korean Peninsula but for Northeast Asia, which would restore equilibrium, and create the conditions for unification. This implies a strong, economically revitalized North Korea, a weakened US-South Korean alliance no longer of much need since there would be little overt sign of a threat, and international cooperation in support of a more economically open North Korea, which would serve to boost the economies of South Korea and China. In this reasoning, China’s stance is close to that of North Korea except for denuclearizing it—along with the peninsula—and, implicitly, shares its view of the onus of 2008 failure.

The Cui Ge article praises Park Geun-hye’s June 2013 visit to China and her trustpolitik as opening the door for bilateral actions for peace and stability in the region, serving to constrain the behavior of North Korea and the United States. This rejected Lee Myung-bak’s hardline policy, narrowing somewhat the gap between Beijing and Seoul on how to deal with the peninsula. Yet, the article makes clear that Park has much more to do. She must more closely cooperate with China in a peaceful resolution, intensify economic ties and reconciliation with North Korea so that it no longer has a crisis feeling, and realize that straddling the divide between Washington and Beijing cannot be sustained. Park must recognize that South Korea is at a crossroads in the face of two opposed outlooks on regional security. She should understand that the interests of China and South Korea are not contradictory—unlike those of the United States and Japan with China—, keeping her eye on the big picture. Thus, she should give support to China’s approach to North Korea.

A Xinhuanet article on July 3 analyzed Xi’s visit to Seoul, pointing to its considerable significance as the culmination of 22 years of bilateral relations. Qu Xing points to five dimensions, implying for each that South Korea has satisfied China’s conditions. First, it has not interfered in China’s internal affairs despite sharp differences between the two social systems. Second, it has pursued China relentlessly, through numerous summits and high-level meetings. Third, where there have been differences, South Korea has handled them well, striving to narrow them and often succeeding, i.e. shifting in China’s direction and respecting its point of view. Fourth, the author argues that economic relations, which have led to 274 billion dollars in trade in 2013, are the foundation of political ties, indicating, perhaps, that China thinks that making a country heavily dependent is the means to make sure that political ties improve in ways desired by China. Finally, social closeness draws praise with comments about as many as 8.22 million person visits in 2013 and that each country is first for the other in the rate of student exchanges. But such indicators leave aside problems in levels of trust found in various opinion polls. Looking ahead, there is an unmistakable call for closer economic ties (an FTA and further tilt toward trade with China far exceeding combined trade with the United States and Japan), and increased cooperation on denuclearization and regional peace and security. China is expecting new steps by South Korea in its direction, raising expectations that will be difficult to meet and opening the way, one may surmise, for new pressure after markers were laid down. Qu Xing is director of the China Institute of International Studies and a member of the Public Diplomacy Advisory Committee of the Foreign Ministry, adding weight to this.

Wu Huaizhong in Waijiao pinglun, No. 3 examines Japan’s public relations battle against China related to their territorial dispute. Describing the struggle over territory as a long haul, involving comprehensive national power and national will, Wu then characterizes Japan’s strategy as comprehensive, both on the security side and on the non-security side including psychological and propaganda methods of no small impact. In this information age of globalization and great powers not going to war with each other, Wu asserts that states need to use low-intensity methods to win in the minds of public opinion, as there will be no short-term resolution of the territorial dispute. Unlike the Sino-Japanese stand-off of September 2010, when Japan did not have a strategy for mobilizing international public opinion, it felt that it was on the defensive in September 2012 and counterattacked vigorously—intensifying its response into 2014. Wu passes over China’s active public relations push to make it seem that Japan’s purchase of property to preempt Ishihara’s plan to buy the land and to violate the “three no’s,” provoking a crisis, was intentional nationalization that severely disrupted the status quo. He makes no effort to compare the merits of the case each side is making on who is defending the status quo and who has been disrupting regional stability, but Wu does acknowledge that Japan is having some success and China needs to learn from its methods and find new responses. Wu details Japan’s actions in the international media (which is dominated by the West), on the Internet (which is mainly in English), and with the US government and Congress (which welcome Japan’s reinforcement of the “rebalancing to Asia” message and its embrace of “shared values”). While explaining the results as a consequence of both energetic efforts and Western domination of the media, Wu fails to consider Chinese actions and claims that complicate its case, as in arousing suspicions with its maritime aggressiveness in the South China Sea, which leads others to draw parallels. No comparisons are made with the public relations battle between Japan and South Korea, although Wu briefly notes that the Japanese struggle is with both countries without explaining the difference between them.

In Waijiao pinglun No. 3, we also find Qiu Jing’s discussion of the values-based foreign policy of Abe. Qiu challenges Abe’s claim to be separating history consciousness from diplomacy. As other Chinese sources, Qiu is dismissive of Japanese claims to be basing diplomacy on values. Noting Japan’s advocacy of democracy, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law, Qiu rejects the notion of a “principled foreign policy,” insisting that more than in the West, where values can matter, national interests prevail, e.g., a contrast is drawn between the EU’s approach to Zimbabwe and Japan’s softer one. The driving force for Japan, Qiu alleges, whether in cultural diplomacy of the 1980s-1990s or the values advocated by Abe—beyond what he introduced in his first stint as prime minister, which Fukuda dropped after he took office—has been to strengthen relations with states that are seen as enabling Japan to “return to international society” and to become an active force, while avoiding self-reflection on its dark historical record. Values are utilized in an instrumental manner for strategic ties and to improve Japan’s image. Qiu carries the argument further, arguing that values mask the objective of containing China, hide the absence of fundamental change since Japan’s defeat in 1945, and are contradictory with both an appeal to the Constitution as their basis and a determination to reinterpret it. As Japan stresses its overlapping values with Australia, India, and ASEAN and South Korea, Abe’s intention to contain China is paramount, while the general response has not been favorable in countries that see through its hypocrisy. Behind Japan’s claims lies a crisis of consciousness to be resolved only by a correct understanding of its historical record.

In issue No. 2 of Guoji zhengzhi yanjiu Wang Xinsheng looks ahead to the next decade in Sino-Japanese relations after four decades distinct from each other: one of friendship and cooperation after normalization, the next of friction and cooperation, a third of opposition and cooperation, and most recently of confrontation and cooperation. While in economic ties there has been continuous cooperation, in political, security, historical, territorial, and other relations the full transition to confrontation is observable. Wang finds it likely that there will be conflict and cooperation with Japan in the next decade, posing, to a very big degree, a challenge to new changes in China. As China has grown stronger, it naturally abandoned “taoguang yanghui” for “yousuo zuowei,” putting pressure on Japan over islands and its maritime air and sea space and resulting in the Japanese perceiving China as a threat. This accompanied the outcome that as globalization advanced, Japan’s development model proved unresponsive to the urgency of changes needed in culture and national character, but Abe, following in the thinking of grandfather Kishi Nobusuke, is more intent on militarization without garnering popular support for this. He is using contradictions and conflicts with China to change the path of national development, but this is retrograde and not the solution to Japan’s real problems. Moreover, Abe’s obsession with overturning three historical assurances by Miyazawa in 1982 to keep the contents of textbooks from arousing neighbors, Kono in 1993 on “comfort women,” and Muroyama in 1995 with his anniversary statement has accompanied a break from the postwar Constitution to military expansionism, which could lead to the outbreak of war. The history of Europe before World War I shows that such an event cannot be stopped by close economic ties. Looking forward, Abe’s natural brother Kishi Nobuo is being watched closely as parliamentary senior vice-minister for foreign affairs and a leader of the Taiwan clique; and arms sales are being pressed as a means to economic recovery by a rising military industrial lobby. Yet, Wang acknowledges restraining forces from the doubtful prospects of Abenomics, leading to a dead-end of zero growth in 2015 and ominous demographic realities. Moreover, he emphasizes the impact of Japan’s new nationalism on economic cooperation and trade with its neighbors, noting that Sino-Japanese trade has fallen for two straight years, only partially for economic reasons. In the conclusion, Wang points to the US factor, having changed from serving as the “cork in the bottle” limiting Japan to gradually relaxing restrictions in the security dimension, but still nervous about Japan’s handling of historical issues and not willing to give up its longstanding control.

In Yazhou zongheng No. 3, we also find an article on Russo-Indian arms cooperation, to the point that 70 percent of Indian arms purchases came from Russia, it observes, and India had surpassed China as the largest purchaser from Russia. Although Russia has fallen behind other exporters of arms as India has diversified its buying and India has been in disputes with Russia over prices, delivery dates, quality, and service, the fact that India is now steadfastly pursuing its great power dream as it seeks to raise its voice in international circles means that the demand for Russian weapons will grow, the authors suggest. They explain that the United States is not as generous as Russia to India, Indians are familiar with Russian weapons, long-term agreements remain in force, and India and Russia share geopolitical interests over Pakistan and Afghanistan Islamic extremists. While Russia is calling for triangular cooperation, Indians focus on bilateral ties without China. Huo Wenle and Zhang Shulan suggest instead a four-way combination, inclusive of Pakistan.

Another article centered on India written by Li Yingming followed in the same journal. It was even more forthright in challenging the notion that India and the United States would draw closer together and proposing that India join forces with China. From the viewpoint of China’s geopolitical needs, Li writes that the core of its strategy now is to break out of US containment, and that within the scope of peripheral diplomacy, India has the greatest promise. More than bilateral relations, geopolitical significance must be attached to these ties. The argument goes as follows. The United States established an unjust global order in the 1990s in the East and the West, determined to prevent states from uniting against its hegemony. As China rose in the East as a geopolitical competitor, Washington saw it as a serious threat and increasingly pressured it. While there are areas of Sino-US cooperation in the world, the aims of the two are fundamentally opposed; there is no way to reduce the contradictions of a rising power being contained by the US pivot and being restricted in the space for its development. To break out of the clamps of the US alliances, China needs a strategy: avoiding serious confrontation with its neighbors, avoiding at this stage conflict with the United States, and using dissatisfaction with US leadership and in the developing world aspirations for the redistribution of international power to start to forge a new international order. China is having geopolitical success in Central Asia and is gaining ground in South Asia, but it must be sensitive to India. Since at this stage it is not realistic to split US-South Korea and US-Japan alliances in Northeast Asia, where China puts highest priority, India should be the foremost target, argues Li. Its suspicions should be allayed so that it views China as an opportunity as shared interests prevail. Although India has a democratic system, which Washington is eager to use for its pivot, stirring confrontation with China, India has too much national pride to be impressed by Western style values. In the Indian Ocean, it also sees the US navy as a competitor for leadership. China’s focus on the Indian Ocean is for economic interests, not security, and its goal of breaking through containment by the United States resembles India’s. Both states are striving to establish a more just international system for developing countries, of which they are the largest. Finally, Li points to common interests in Central Asia—in energy, anti-terrorism and anti-separatism, and opposition to Russian aspirations to restore its influence in Central Asia as well as to pressure from the United States—and even in South Asia. While the border dispute is recognized as their greatest bilateral divergence, Li points to huge increases in trade that could lead to cooperation in South Asian regional economic integration. Li even suggests that China could play the role of bridge with Pakistan. Given the danger of India joining in its “look East” policy with Vietnam and others in ways harmful to China’s interests, Li argues that China must lead in cooperating to get India to not interfere in the South China Sea. China and India could also join in responding to the challenge of the US-led TPP with a different economic regionalism. At the end, Li warns of divergent views with India, but holds out hope that China and India can approach relations through the lens of the big picture, which would be the best choice for China in countering the containment strategy that is now driving its strategic thinking.