China sets a new foreign policy agenda to enhance its clout
The contours of China's foreign policy under the new leadership became clear with the conclusion of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) held in March 2013. The conference approved senior government appointments responsible for the execution of the new agenda.
These personnel appointments viewed along with the first speeches of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, reveal that China will persist with its foreign policy objective of trying to establish dominance in the Asia-Pacific, while insulating and preserving its relationship with the US and strengthening ties with Russia.
China's foreign policy is set to become more vigorous as Beijing tries to counter what it feels are US-led efforts to contain its rise. Its relations with the US will, however, remain its "most important bilateral relationship" and Beijing will try to insulate it from damage. It will at the same time seek to safeguard its interests especially in the Asia-Pacific. The People's Liberation Army will be used to reinforce Chinese diplomacy. China will not yield on its maritime territorial claims in the region, which it perceives not only as a territorial issue but the recognition of which by world powers would mean acknowledgement of China's pre-eminent position in the region.
The promotion of erstwhile foreign minister, 62-year-old Yang Jiechi, as state councillor is important. He replaces Dai Bingguo who has been China's pointsman for negotiations with important countries like the US and Russia and is China's special representative for border talks with India. Jiechi is an expert on American affairs, a fluent English speaker and a graduate of the London School of Economics.
His effort to keep Sino-US relations in good repair will be supported on the ground by the new Chinese ambassador to USA, Cui Tiankai, who has been ambassador to Japan and is a postgraduate from the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.
China's minister of state security (MOSS), Geng Huicheng, is also an America expert.
The new foreign minister, Wang Yi, is a fluent Japanese speaker and former ambassador to Japan and head of China's Taiwan affairs office. A consummate diplomat and skilled negotiator, he conducted secret talks with current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which helped break the impasse in Sino-Japanese ties in 2001-2006 and facilitated Shinzo Abe's visit to Beijing in October 2006. Wang Yi's appointment is intended to reduce tensions with Japan and nudge Tokyo towards possibly accepting China's claims. The appointments reflect the importance Beijing attaches to its relations with the US and this region, especially in the present context.
China has simultaneously moved to ensure its influence is not undermined by the US in countries where it has strategic investments. It has appointed well-connected 71-year-old Wang Yifan, a former vice foreign minister in-charge of Asian affairs, as special envoy for Myanmar. New ambassadors have been appointed to Myanmar and Nepal, the latter tasked especially to curb and control the activities of Tibetans in Nepal and India. Beijing's concern is that at some stage the US may use the Tibetans to destabilise China.
It has also attempted to prevent a sudden chill in India-China relations which could push India closer to the US, and in the past many months anti-India rhetoric by Chinese officials, analysts and state-controlled media has been suspended. China has also for the first time posted an ambassador of the rank of vice minister to India.
This agenda reflects the policies and programmes of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang who are determined to preserve the CCP's legitimacy and supremacy and ensure 'China's rise'.
The writer is a Member of the National Security Advisory Board. Views expressed are personal.
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