Beijing’s ‘China first’ policyBy Asia Sentinel Jun 30, 2010 8:18PM UTC
Prodded to take global leadership, China focuses on its own national interests, writes Asia Sentinel’s David Shambaugh
China joined other members of the G-20 in Toronto this week, surely a sign that Beijing has taken its seat among the new rule makers of the international system. But what kind of rules does Beijing seek to make and what kind of international posture is China striking around the world?
Following the majestic Olympic Games of 2008, many hoped that China’s symbolic success would breed a new confidence and cooperativeness on the world stage. But this did not emerge fully as, during 2009, many observers discerned a number of troubling indications that suggested a more assertive and less cooperative China. During spring 2010, however, there was a thaw in China’s icy posture towards the West. Most recently, at the G-20 summit in Toronto, Beijing played up its “South-South” solidarity with developing countries.
Where is China’s diplomacy headed? The reason behind the fluctuation in its diplomacy lies in the fact that China itself is deeply conflicted about its international identity and the roles it should play in the world. As one leading Chinese scholar told the recent Stockholm China Forum, “China is still wrestling with what kind of world order it wants.”
In the absence of such a global vision and grand strategy, Beijing pursues a more narrowly self-interested foreign policy with a few priorities. The first has China scouring the globe and striking deals with governments and private companies for energy supplies and raw materials to fuel its continuing economic expansion.
The second element has been a continuing emphasis on maintaining a peaceful neighborhood around China’s periphery in Asia so as not to jeopardize economic growth at any costs. This preoccupation has led Beijing to expend efforts to patch up relations with New Delhi in recent months, while trying to ameliorate ties with Japan and, to a lesser extent, South Korea.
Nowhere is the “stability at all costs” strategy more apparent than vis-à-vis North Korea, particularly as exposed by Beijing’s weak reaction to the North Korean sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan. Beijing seems ready to tolerate any and every provocation from Pyongyang.