Country Report: China (October 2015)

Li Jiacheng and Li Ang in the August Taipingyang Xuebao analyzed security relations between Japan and India. Viewing the two countries having a shared dream of being great powers, they cite increasingly converging interests: political, economic, and strategic. Responding to maritime security problems with China, the two states made a leap forward in relations when Abe was the guest in late January 2014, which has only intensified since, according to the authors. They add that this has a great influence on the Indo-Pacific region and neighborhood security environment of China. Driving Indo-Japanese relations and public opinion in the two countries are the rising Chinese military power, the strengthening of China’s diplomacy, and the intensifying control by China’s leader over China’s military. The authors note that China’s navy has broken through the first island chain and charge that the two hope to forge an Indo-Pacific maritime alliance to contain China. As the geopolitical situation in the region grows more unfavorable for Japan, it feels insecure and fears a China-led Asia-Pacific order, turning to India to overcome its constitutional limits. In turn, India has refused to join China’s “Maritime Silk Road,” fearing that China can penetrate its neighboring area as it watches its neighbors thirst for integration with China’s economy and perceives a “string of pearls” strategy. In the background each considers history resentments a factor for suspicions about future China relations.

The two Li’s also point to US prodding of Indo-Japanese security ties in the face of China’s challenge to US maritime hegemony. Washington opposes closer Indo-Chinese relations, Chinese control of the Indian economy, and Sino-Russian-Indian triangularity. It seeks Indo-Japanese support for its hegemony in the Indo-Pacific through a new order, part of its rebalance to Asia. India and Japan stand at the two wings of Asia and can use the opportunity to be global great powers. This serves too to resolve questions of inequality in Japan-US relations, contributing to an “Asian NATO” including Australia. In order to realize its dream of becoming a political and military great power, Japan is accelerating its return from being a “member of the West” to an Asia-Pacific state, drawing on its ties with India. In turn, India seeks to be the center of Asia and hegemon of the Indian Ocean, considering South Asia its sphere of influence from the Cold War era. Since that time, readers are told, its great power ambitions and consciousness have continuously grown, as it seeks outside support and uses Japan’s strategic ambitions. Since China does not recognize India’s hegemonic aims, India is resentful of China becoming a strategic rival in South Asia. Combined with the border dispute and the Pakistan issue, this is leading to growing distrust. Noting that in 2006 Japan began values diplomacy, the article indicates that shared democratic values are a factor, contributing to high levels of Indian public trust in Japan. It also notes economic complementarity with Southeast Asia included.
Explaining that China and India have already entered a competition to control the Indian Ocean—the trade lifeline for them and Japan—, the article observes that the exercises of the aircraft carrier Liaoning in the South China Sea put more than a little pressure on Japan and India, which has fueled India’s “Act East” strategy and Japan’s “March West” actions as each is supporting so-called South China Sea “freedom of navigation,” putting pressure on China’s strategy.

The concluding section of the article considers China’s options in response. Given India’s lingering tradition of autonomous foreign policy, increasing mutual interests of China and India, and Japan’s shortfall in meeting India’s great security aims and India’s shortfall in meeting Japan’s great economic aims, there are barriers to this relationship, but adding Australia and Southeast Asian states, it can be the axis of wider security integration, which poses a challenge to China. The article proposes seven responses: 1) strengthen Sino-Indian commonalities, e.g., as developing great powers and ancient cultures; 2) avoid trouble over sensitive issues such as the territorial dispute and find more ways to cooperate, including military study abroad: 3) establish border management and other preventive measures to avoid possible conflicts; 4) reduce Indian alarm through regional cooperation mechanism on security and economics, getting all to join in the “Maritime Silk Road”; 5) support India’s entry into the Security Council and its abandonment of the effort to join as part of the “group of four,” splitting India and Japan in this way; 6) consider mixing Japan’s support for southern Tibet as Indian territory with China’s support for the Northern Territories as Russian territory, intensifying Sino-Russian cooperation and making use of special Indo-Russian relations; and 7) assist Pakistan and through transportation lines to the Indian Ocean forge economic corridors, which can be part of the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) and can serve in containing India.

Prospects for “One Belt, One Road” were reassessed in Guoji guancha, No. 4 by Zhou Fangyin, pointing to various international and domestic challenges. He traces this concept to early 2015, pointing to stages from September 2013 as its two parts were announced. Over the course of more than one year, over 50 states have expressed their support in various ways, most eye-catching of which was the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) backed by 57 states, including most of the economically developed ones. Although there is no direct connection, AIIB will play an important supporting role. Examples given of early projects are Sino-Russian energy and railroad construction and Sino-Pakistani energy and road construction. Arguing that OBOR to date has exceeded expectations due to vigorous diplomacy and the fact that it corresponds to vast, latent demands for development. For meeting these needs Zhou argues that China has comparative advantages in capital, technology, experience, and labor; yet, he warns that it may be premature for international society, serving as part of China’s new type of major power relations. It is very broad geographically, very comprehensive in its contents, and it is not being advanced in an ideal international environment, Zhou observes, while saying openly analyzing and debating it is something positive, not negative.

Compared to China’s internal Jingjinji northern belt and the Yangtze River southern economic belt, OBOR adds the complexity of touching on 60-plus countries. Despite support from international society, it is doubtful that much capital will be provided. China alone will have to pay for most of the construction. Many countries have in mind to wait for someone else to supply the capital. As OBOR goes forward and faces reversals, opportunism does not bode well for it. Security factors can interfere with economic and exchange plans. Vast differences among the participating states and contradictions between them pose difficulties. China has territorial and traditional security disputes with some. Political instability and economic and social upheavals may lie ahead in some. There are countries that are investment risks, while strategic thinking in some and in certain great powers is problematic. Thus, international society needs to see quick results and recognize China’s sincerity, capacity, and determination. Yet, there needs to be a high level of concern about the early stage projects to make sure that conditions are ripe and they become models. China should not rush. Zhou also urges balance between governments, firms and civil groups, while warning that many states may not realize their expectations. Not entering with the goal of helping Asian states achieve joint development, they are seeking a quick return and can quickly change their attitude in three to five years. They may also be influenced by interference from some great powers, of which the United States, Russia, and India are mentioned. While OBOR may reshape the international system, changes in the latter may also influence OBOR. Zhou is concerned about raising expectations too high and responding to states who take a “deng, kao, yao” wait-and-see attitude depending on China and making demands rather than doing things themselves. Zhao also calls for efforts to assuage suspicions raised through the negative impact of international propaganda, avoiding politicization since this has to be a collective effort. Zhao further calls for high-level research on separate countries, convincing them that China understands their individual situations, and comparative studies.

Zhao is concerned that factors internal to China will interfere with the OBOR plans. What are the strategic aims? What kinds of resources will be used? How will they be delivered? China is a developing country, Zhao warns, with resource scarcities. There is a danger of shortsightedness and focusing on superficial matters rather than essential ones. Some provinces are caught in “Silk Road” fever, organizing many conferences and studies, but there is a danger of superficiality. Some are placing already existing activities under this rubric. Rather than recognizing that this is a multi-decade endeavor now only at the initial stage, which demands much civilian initiative and not heavy reliance on government, some are in a rush without the requisite psychological preparation for the international challenges ahead. A narrow understanding of what lies ahead can arouse a negative response from parts of international society, Zhao adds, warning against an attitude of only presenting the positive and ignoring the negative.

Han Zhaoying and Tian Guangqiang in Xiandai Guoji Guanxi examined Japan’s ODA to Myanmar. They argue that there are deep strategic calculations behind Japan’s decision to boost assistance after Myanmar began political reforms. First, it strives to promote democratic values, seizing the opportunity of this country’s shift in that direction. Second, it matches the US diplomatic shift to Myanmar and seeks to limit China’s role there. A third objective is to assist Japanese companies to enter what is still not a fully open market. Since Myanmar is situated at the juncture of South and Southeast Asia, it has great strategic significance, including for Japan. Evaluating the result of Japan’s efforts, the authors note many high-level meetings, major Japanese companies entering Myanmar, and a rapid increase in investment, albeit on a scale smaller than some other states. Yet, they point to limitations in Japan achieving its goals, including increasing its strategic influence in ASEAN: weakness in Japan’s domestic economy; restraints from US diplomacy; uncertainty about political reform in Myanmar caught between military and civilian forces; and the impact of its and ASEAN’s balanced diplomacy among great powers. Thus, despite increases in Japan lacks the means to do what it wants; due to a lack of independence in its diplomatic policies, Japan is greatly limited by US-Myanmar relations; and political reforms in Myanmar are unpredictable—heavily dependent on ethnic contradictions, religious clashes, political fighting, and economic backwardness. Especially salient in Japan’s policies is the objective of limiting China, which takes advantage of ASEAN pursuit of a balance among great powers, the authors insist, but they conclude that ASEAN states and China have increasingly close economic ties, and they do not want to talk about Japan balancing China. Even as Myanmar strives to avoid excessive dependence on one great power, Japan will find it difficult to realize its ambitions.

In Huaiwainet of August 27, an article credits Park’s forthcoming visit to China for being a sign of an independent foreign policy. It attributes great significance to her decision to attend, noting a Japanese report that the United States asked that she not do so although adding that Washington later rushed to deny having done so. It added that South Korea felt pressure and held an internal discussion about the so-called balance between the United States and China, and then an emergency arose between North and South Korea, sharpening the geopolitical, psychological situation swirling around the question of Park’s visit to China. Essentially, China’s memorial event is to make sure that people do not forget history, not to arouse new revenge. The people of the Korean Peninsula through the colonial period stood side by side with the Chinese station; so it is only natural that Park, as the representative of South Korea, should be present. With Abe rushing to reverse historical verdicts and seeking passage of new security laws, insisting in his statement that there would be no further apologies to China and South Korea, and not having the face to come to Beijing, he dared the leaders of the two countries to join together in a new anti-Japan united front. The United States in order to realize its hegemonic interests, is distancing itself from historical truth and actively pressing Japan to follow the path of a military great power, planning for a triangular military union, and urging Seoul to forgive Japan over history. On history, Seoul’s response is about historical truth, on security it is about following US Cold War thinking, and on alliance relations it is about supporting US hegemonism—all matters of superior-subordinate relations. In these circumstances, Park’s visit is to demonstrate that South Korea is truly an independent country. The article concludes that Sino-South Korean relations have room to develop further if the South shows more independence on regional affairs.

On August 27 in Dagongbao, Lu Shaohua described the recent dangerous crisis on the Korean Peninsula and the opportunity that its resolution provides for dialogue. Saying that both sides need dialogue and cannot afford a long-term, deficient security environment, the article refuses to blame one side or the other while calling for comprehensive negotiations. While uncertain about the impact of the August 25 agreement, Lu regrets the comments each side made about it as not constructive for dialogue and raises suspicions that Washington will play a positive role in that effort. Lu first blames US-ROK military exercises and then North Korea’s nuclear program, but Lu stressed outside interference in pointing to the cause of trouble.

In the Chinese edition of iNewsweek, Yan Xuetong on September 30 explained that exchanges and economic ties prevent a cold war from occurring, but he posits a state of cooperation without mutual trust, posing WWII US-Soviet and British-Soviet relations as a precedent. He introduces the terms “preventive cooperation” and “negative cooperation” as ways to prevent conflict. Whereas the Cold War occurred when the United States and Soviet Union lacked economic ties and exchanges of people, such relations, the indivisibility of Sino-US ties mean that a cold war would be mutually harmful. Yan does not think that China’s views of the United States have changed a lot, but in 2013, at the neighboring states diplomacy conference, the priority of these countries was raised to that of the United States, and at the speech for the 2014 foreign affairs working conference diplomacy toward the neighboring states was prioritized above that to great powers. Yan notes that when China wanted to concentrate on development it had to depend on the United States, but now that China wants to achieve national rejuvenation, it must turn to neighbors. A quantitative, but not qualitative, change has also occurred in the United States since about 2010, when it realized it could not limit China’s rise and to remain the center of the world it would have to maintain the leading position in East Asia; therefore, Obama launched the “rebalance.” The US goal is to retain the international system, in which it leads, and China is seeking multipolarity. Since Washington only regards China as a challenger, it does not see multipolarity on the horizon. China thinks that it can keep narrowing the gap in hard and soft power, while the United States expects to keep its lead. Yan contrasts China’s call for a “new type of major power relations” and Obama’s rebalance, as if they are mutually exclusive. He does not see this changing, but he sees room for developing cooperation in areas such as climate change. Change in the direction of China’s policy has little chance before 2023, but a new president could greatly accelerate the US “rebalance to Asia,” he suggests. As for Obama, he sought all-around cooperation with China to 2010, but then shifted to economic cooperation and strategic containment as his policy. Yan concludes that the Chinese people should recognize that despite a relatively low per capita GDP, China is the world’s second power and due to its influence the whole world seems to be pressing it. China has to have the capability to respond. This reasoning clashes with those who have sought a more modest profile, given China’s need to develop further and its problems. Instead, it regards China as a target, not for what China does, but for its rising power, and insists that the only response is an assertive posture. The Xi-Obama summit seems to have reinforced this reasoning.

Cai Penghong in Guoji wenti yanjiu, No. 4, discussed recent Sino-ASEAN maritime cooperation, focusing on various challenges and possible solutions. Cai observed that Xi Jinping has appealed to the states of Southeast Asia to work together on building a maritime silk road. The article divides China’s relations with ASEAN into stages: 1990-2001, which led to the conclusion of a Code of Conduct in 2002; 2002-2011, when numerous FTAs were signed, including a China-ASEAN agreement that is the world’s largest FTA between developing countries; and 2012 to the present, as China established the Silk Road Fund. Yet, Cai minimizes the Code of Conduct, attributing closer cooperation to other arrangements, as if this one mattered little. Almost as an afterthought, the article turns near its end from an idealized account of ever-expanding cooperation to challenges and responses. Cai points to sensitive matters such as territorial disputes and the intervention of outside powers, which lead to political and even military challenges, e.g., the Philippine decision to draw the United States and Japan militarily into its dispute, leading to a “trust deficit” that extends to some other ASEAN states. Cai also mentions that, despite enthusiasm for China’s sincerity and friendship, there has been insufficient effort to break through barriers to maritime cooperation. Cai warns that if there is not a timely corrective to this, it is very possible that this could lead to the problem of fragmentation. In this way, Cai appears to be warning that China will go around ASEAN to work with some of its states, causing ASEAN to lose cohesion. Cai also rails against one-sided actions, which are undesirable, as only one side is acting positively while the other may be acting negatively. Together, China and ASEAN should overcome the barriers to cooperation, Cai concludes, with a list of recommendations. First, in the spirit of a mutual Silk Road, do not allow the South China Sea problem to influence the big picture of friendly cooperation and strategically advancing trust. Proceeding with the twenty-first century Maritime Silk Road is the test Cai identifies for ASEAN. Second, the next 5-year plan (2016-2020) should put a new course of maritime cooperation in the forefront. Third, put a stop to unilateral actions, and stick to the course of ASEAN working together with China. The article ends by reminding readers of how much investment money is at stake through the Silk Road Fund and the AIIB, linked to long-term, stable investment protection and to the great endeavor of maritime peace and stability. There are no hints of Chinese willingness to seek mutually acceptable compromises to maritime challenges. In this article, there are veiled threats of how much ASEAN has to lose—fragmentation, loss of funding, and uncertainty about peace and stability–by not setting aside ASEAN’s challenges to China, the real nature of which is left essentially unexplained.

When Political Standing Committee member Liu Yunshan attended North Korea’s celebratory military parade on October 10, media coverage shed new light on how China’s policy toward North Korea is unfolding. On October 12, Dagongwang political commentator and former diplomat Yan Jing said this was widely recognized to help alleviate the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Xi Jinping sent a telegram and a letter through Liu, congratulating the North Korean party on its seventieth anniversary. This was the highest-level delegation to Pyongyang since the Eighteenth Party Congress in 2012, and Li Yuanchao made a separate congratulatory visit to the Beijing embassy of North Korea. According to the article, China pointed to long-standing close ties between the leaderships of the two countries, congratulated North Korea for its economic development and new achievements in improving the people’s livelihood under Kim Jong-un, and expressed China’s willingness—through joint efforts—to improve relations. In turn, Kim Jong-un called relations with China a precious legacy from his predecessors and expressed willingness to continue high-level exchanges, while also welcoming China’s rejuvenation under Xi Jinping in pursuit of the “China Dream.” Yet, the article points to different points of view on the situation on the peninsula and the resumption of the Six-Party Talks. The Chinese side expressed support for stability on the peninsula, the goal of denuclearization, and dialogue as the path to resolving problems, but the article notes that North Korea refrained from supporting denuclearization or the resumption of the Six-Party Talks. It notes that Kim talked of preparing for a decisive war to the death with the United States. While acknowledging some changes in policies, methods, and even the spirit of the people, the article acknowledges that the North’s system and leading thought will not change in the short run. It concludes, however, that Liu Yunshan’s visit helps in showing China’s intention to improve ties and in moving relations a step forward.

The same source on the same day carried an article by Mu Chunshan, insisting that this October 10 gathering was a party-to-party exchange, not a state-to-state one in contrast to two years earlier when Li Yuanchao had gone. In turn, on the side of North Korea were people with party, not government, posts. Only in the evening youth fireworks demonstration did the high political leaders appear. Insisting that this was the nature of the occasion, the article adds the South Korean commentary that China had planned to send Li Yuanchao but the North rejected him. It also disputes South Korean claims that on September 3 the North Korean representative was banished to the corner as a sign of poor relations, stressing that his rank, not any political factor, was the reason, and dismissing the infantile notion of China drawing close to Seoul and distancing itself from Pyongyang. If Kim Jong-un or Kim Yong-nam had attended, seating would have been close to Xi, readers are told. The article lists the members of the Chinese delegation, citing their connections to North Korea in diplomacy and the military, and indicates that party-to-party ties serve to boost state relations, listing as well some of those who met with the delegation.

A substantial part of Mu’s article discusses contradictions in the relationship. Given changes in China’s national interests and in the overall international situation, Mu is clear that China wants to normalize ties but not to the level of a “blood alliance.” Mu calls this a mutual relationship, not with one side active and the other passive and observes that China increasingly is approaching the Korean Peninsula from the angle of security, reaffirming the three maintenances: of stability, denuclearization, and resolution through dialogue leading to the Six-Party Talks. North Korea’s media did not cover China’s position, concealing differences between the two sides that are revealed in the article. It concludes that should there be a missile or nuclear test, the state of Sino-North Korean relations could suddenly worsen. The message appears to be that North Korea has shown sufficient restraint to justify improved relations and for China to clarify that South Korean interpretations of China’s policy are not correct, but that, even as the ice has been broken with more contacts to come, there is still Chinese pressure and warnings that it will intensify if certain tests take place.

Huanqiuwang on October 12 directed its editorial wrath at those who bad-mouth North Korea, as if they were from South Korean, US, or Japanese societies. Despite its acknowledgment of differences between Beijing and Pyongyang on the nuclear issue and on reform and openness, the editorial rationalizes that the North faces more difficulties than China due to international sanctions and the continuation of the Cold War in Northeast Asia. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the world state had very different implications for China and North Korea, readers are reminded, even arguing that US-ROK continuous military exercises have forced the North to concentrate on security in total disregard for the many efforts to reduce tensions in order to turn its attention away from military bluster and provocations. Rather than discuss the horrendous human rights situation in the North, the editorial blames the outside world for viewing it as a ”monster.” Instead of Internet criticisms, Chinese, readers are told, should be sympathetic, avoiding the danger of the outside world misreading the situation. While rejecting the North’s nuclear steps, Chinese should treat the North as a friend, respecting it, not only from the government, but from the people. The editorial insists that the Chinese government’s friendly relations with North Korea do receive broad public support. It concludes that China can live with the differences, excluding only the nuclear issue, while intimating that others are mostly to blame and Chinese thinking should be tolerant, not critical of the North.

On October 12, Xinhuawang asked what Putin has in mind in sending troops to Syria, opening a new battlefront in US-Russian relations and preventively moving against the spread of disorder to the 95 percent of Muslims in Russia who are Sunni. Some see in Putin’s moves, the article reports, imperial ambitions that extend beyond the Ukraine to the Middle East, but it disagrees, citing Putin’s words about supporting a legal regime and seeking conditions for a political compromise settlement. Besides, he is calling for united opposition to the Islamic State. The problem is Western reporting, readers are told, when Putin is seeking to reopen dialogue with the West. He really wants to resolve the Ukraine question and remove the sanctions, given the economic difficulties Russia faces with potential for political instability. The article adds that Putin may be playing the Iran or Syria card for Western concessions in Ukraine. It concludes that the next step is for the West to counter, “playing its card.” There is no sense that China has a stake or is working with Russia, but its rejection of Western negative commentaries about Putin undergirds this analysis.

Another article on the same subject on the same day by Sun Chao also focuses on the criticism of Russia in the West, as if it is not attacking the Islamic State and its action has made the Syrian crisis more dangerous. The article stresses that Putin is there to save a friend and to strengthen Russia’s position in the Middle East, while reacting to double crises (economic and Ukraine). By entering Syria, he is actually changing the diplomatic environment for Russia, advancing talks with the West. The article charges that the aim of the West even more than attacking the Islamic State is to overthrow Assad, but Russia’s interference has worsened its prospects. The stress is on Russia using Syria as an opening for changing its relations with the West, but not from weakness, and the article warns that the United States will be reluctant to give Russia this opening in the Middle East, and Putin’s military interference must lead to quick results or it could prove to be a big risk. Despite this reservation, the primary theme in Chinese coverage appears to be Russo-US relations and Putin’s impact in interfering with Obama’s goal of topping the Assad regime. Such denial of US plans and, perhaps, what China would call a “color revolution,” cannot be disappointing.