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China gets proactive diplomatically

P.S. Suryanarayana

Peace, development, and cooperation on a global scale are the focus of China's policy.

AS ASIA's sole permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China has not only raised its profile but also pledged to "put forward concrete proposals" for overall reforms in the U.N.

Announcing Chinese President Hu Jintao's participation in the U.N.'s 60th-anniversary-related summit in New York between September 14 and 16, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing has identified four aspects of Beijing's focus. These relate to: (1) purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter as also the means to "safeguard the U.N.'s authority;" (2) millennium development goals; (3) "positive and sound reform" to build up the U.N.'s capacity to face threats and challenges; and (4) multilateralism for the "harmonious development of international relations."

Outlining China's push for a proactive role "in the new era," under the diplomatic "banner of peace, development and cooperation," Mr. Li emphasised that "the Cold War mentality, unilateralism and the worship of military might will lead us nowhere."

Unilateralism is a code for the current "project" of the U.S. for "a global imperium," as even a conservative-turned-realist American expert on international relations such as Andrew Bacevich has recognised. The other references by Mr. Li apply to what these scholars have seen as "the progressive militarisation of U.S. foreign policy" in the current post-Cold War period.

Significant against this backdrop is Mr. Li's depiction of China as "a force for world peace and common development [of all countries]." He drew attention to "the golden rule" that Confucius had laid for "state-to-state relations" over 2,000 years ago. Engraved on the walls of the U.N. headquarters, the adage of Confucius reads: "Do not do unto others what you would not want done unto you."

Overarching guidelines

Beneath the overarching guidelines to meet the current trends towards "multi-polarisation" in world politics and "globalisation" in the economic domain, China cites its ties with the U.S., Russia, the European Union, and Japan, on parallel tracks, as being particularly important.

As noted by Mr. Li, Beijing's relationship with Washington has generally stayed on a "stable" course despite "differences," while "the strategic partnership of cooperation between China and Russia continues to deepen" as they promote "multilateralism and greater democracy" in the global arena. "The overall strategic partnership between China and Europe has become richer in substance," while the "complex political relations" between Beijing and Tokyo will need to be addressed in the more-recent context, Mr. Li said.

Asia-Pacific diplomats view the latest shadowboxing between China and Japan over Tokyo's bid for a permanent Security Council seat as a matter of substantive rift, although the two countries have not made this a defining issue in their equation. Part of the reason is seen to be the perception that the end-game over the issue of new permanent members, including India's effort in association with Japan, is not likely any time soon.

On a different plane, the decisive manner in which China and the EU have virtually sorted out their dispute over Chinese textile exports to Europe has proved Mr. Li's point, made earlier, about the richness of substance in the engagement. The accord, in a sense, enhances mutual confidence, although the latest smiles may not entirely wipe out the memories of a tortuous dialogue over the EU's sale of arms to China.

More specifically, in this context, the latest joint military exercise by China and Russia, involving all the three services, is seen in East Asia as an event that has taken their equation to a new zone. While there is speculation that China and Russia might be joined by India in a trilateral military exercise, the Chinese Foreign Office spokesman has said that he has no information about any such possibility.

However, the speculation itself is significant. The India-China engagement remains intense, as exemplified by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil's latest visit to Beijing. And, this eclipses India's apparent anxiety about the final say of the Chinese leaders over its bid for a high-stake role in the U.N. The dynamics of the three-way engagement involving India and China as also Russia are often seen to be related to their political quest for a multi-polar world as an antidote to the U.S. as a hyper-power. However, some Western specialists on China such as Jean-Pierre Cabestan tend to argue that Beijing would actually prefer "an asymmetrical multi-polarity." The reasoning is that China wants to emerge as the sole U.S.-peer, although a multiplicity of powers will help checkmate Washington.

China's counter-point is implicit in Mr. Li's citing of the inter-state dictum by Confucius. China maintains its "peaceful development," a refinement of the earlier policy of "peaceful ascendance," will itself be a stabilising factor in world politics. It is in this context, and also in response to Washington's recent criticisms of China's "military build-up," that Beijing has now issued a comprehensive white paper on its "endeavours for arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation."

China's centrality is emphasised in the white paper as follows: "China needs a long-lasting and stable international environment of peace for [its] development, which, in turn, will promote world peace and progress."

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