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Tuesday, 22 November 2016 15:42
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Major factors influencing China’s national security and international strategic choices in coming years

(LLCT) - As China continues to develop and international realities change, China’s foreign policy in the near future will gradually turn into a “pivotal power” consisting of three pillars: diplomatic relations between a “new style power” and the United States to create a new framework for cooperation between the world’s most powerful countries, as opposed to traditional relations between powers (characterized by either an alliance or opposition); regional diplomacy in the form of bilateral or multilateral cooperation; and multilateral diplomacy where China participates in the planning of regional and global mechanisms and organizations and even establishes new mechanisms for cooperation with China as the pivot.

1. Major factors influencing China’s national security

The U.S. global strategic importance

Given its current strength and level of development, the U.S. position as a superpower is unlikely to change over the next ten years. Therefore, the security strategies of the U.S., which is considered to be an important technical supplier, economic partner and market of China, will remain one of the most important factors influencing China’s general security.

Supposing the U.S. economy continues to grow at 2.5%(1), and the economies of several major developing countries like Russia, India, Brazil, and China continue at 6-8%, Europe at 2%, and Japan at about 1% per year, the U.S. relative significance to important economic entities and its absolute power will be diminished to a certain extent by 2020. However, because it is very unlikely that other political entities will achieve comprehensive capabilities, the U.S. role as a global leader will remain unchanged for at least the coming decade. By 2025, when China, Russia and India become more powerful economic competitors and able to challenge the U.S. position as the sole superpower, “the unipolar world” may come to an end after 25 years of existence and a multipolar, multicenter world in every sense of the phrase may replace it.

The U.S. general strategy is very important for the coming years. Most political observers believe that the U.S. currently employs a dual strategy of conservative leadership with constructive multilateralism, which will not change with the next U.S. president. Although this strategy may seem to ease the worries of China, it is, in fact, tough for the country. The U.S. is unlikely to launch preemptive strikes, act perversely or aggressively, or disregard other countries’ sovereignty. Instead, it will act as a smarter, more efficient country, wary of upsetting the world’s balance. U.S. foreign policy will be characterized, first and foremost, by concerns about its own interests.

Although the Sino - U.S relationship will continue to expand because of the deep interdependence between the two largest economies in the world, there will be no real positive change for some core issues in the bilateral relationship. The U.S. (and Japan, to some extent) will not accept Taiwan as one of China’s critical interests. Therefore, the possibility exists of a conflict arising between the U.S. and Japan on one side, and China on the other concerning the Taiwan issue, creating an unpredictable environment in this regard. Before the Taiwan issue is resolved, strategic mutual understandings among China, the U.S. and Japan will be shallow at best; mutual understanding in the entire Asia - Pacific region will be beyond the reach of both parties. Previous efforts of reconciliation and current economic ties will not be sufficient to strengthen the relations between these countries.

Concerning U.S. position, in case a decline happens to the country in the future, it will be because of other countries losing their faith in its economic and financial system, not because of warring against with another country or non-national force(2). As a result, many of its actions will be limited and its position will weaken globally, although other superpowers will not necessarily fill the power vacuum. As a matter of course, due to the extreme interdependence between world economies, it is unlikely that the rest of the world would separate from the U.S. or that a considerable amount of capital would flow out of the country. Nevertheless, the emergence of any adverse factors in the U.S. would shake the world market, and it is necessary to prepare for this scenario.

Russia’s long-term international strategy        

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia experienced ten years of recession and did not stabilize until Putin came into power. Over the last 15 years, the Russian economy has seen continuous, stable growth at a relatively high rate. Under Putin’s administration, Russia employed a strategy to stabilize the international climate from the perspective of a superpower and focused on resolving its internal problems and achieving rapid domestic development. Since Putin’s term of leadership, with Medvedev in between, Russia has paid greater attention to cultivating an image of a growing superpower. However, it does not currently seek to become a globally dominating force in the short term, but rather aims to become a powerful regional presence with profound influence. As such, Russia has improved relations with its neighboring countries proactively and has sought cooperation in other places. Therefore, the Sino-Russian relationship has experienced many opportunities to progress, though at the moment it remains limited in bilateral and global terms.

In regard to its long-standing relations with, and its special interests in, Central Asian and Eastern European countries, Russia will continue to invest considerable effort in the maintenance of those relations and pursuing its interests in those regions. If Russia is successful in sustaining economic development and increasing the country’s capabilities, its influence on neighboring regions will not decrease. In fact, its influence on the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), where China also has vested interests, will be sustained and increase. Notably, if Russia manages to maintain its influence on the current CIS, it may develop some overlap with China’s objectives and ambitions, specifically with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

From another perspective, Russia has developed a policy to absolutely refrain from confronting the U.S. as long as its major interests are not threatened. This allowed Russia to concentrate more resources on economic investment for a long while, until the Ukrainian issue arose in 2014. After Crimea was annexed to Russia, a multi-dimensional war broke out between Russia on one side and the West - led by the U.S. - on the other. The Russian - American relationship will remain complicated in the foreseeable future, which is good for China as it aims to foster strategic relations with Russia. Russia and China, then, must depend on each other in this prolonged game with the Western world.

India’s strategies

On the surface, India is faced with a number of issues that are similar to China’s: separatism, the process of political stabilization, the need for high economic growth to create sufficient jobs, the enhancement of infrastructure to overcome economic limitations (from large-scale industrialization to applying information technologies), and the settlement of issues emerging from its rise in power (e.g. nationalism, responsibility and global position, relations with neighboring countries). Unlike China, India’s challenges primarily originate from domestic issues, especially problems of ethnic and religious natures. On the economic front, the reforms in India have garnered public awareness. Therefore, in the near future, India is unlikely to confront major economic dips or sluggishness. Its growing economic capacity has led to a model of India’s foreign strategies in which it plans to ultimately catch up with and surpass China. To accomplish this considerable task, India will focus on ridding its status as a South Asian power and will aim to become a regional power and global force. However, to transcend the limits of the South Asian continent, India must take into consideration three primary issues: (1) India’s history as a poor country, (2) the constraints and balance of countries both within and outside of the region, and (3) the conflict between India and Pakistan. These issues cannot be solved over the next 10 to 15 years. Specifically, despite its ambitions as a global power, India does not seem ready to make specific concessions with Pakistan in order to reach a compromise.

India’s relatively independent security, diplomatic (and cultural) traditions, and its pursuit of international power indicate that the country will not accept being only a small partner of the U.S. or Russia for long. At the same time, India is aware that once China becomes more powerful, an international strategy that absolutely opposes China will not be very beneficial to India. To a large extent, India’s security strategies in the future will seek balance and promote strategic partnerships with the U.S. and Russia while maintaining at least a lukewarm relationship with China, cooperating primarily on the economic front. However, India is also prepared for conflicts with China, particularly over territorial disputes. At the moment, while the American - Indian relationship is mostly outstanding, the Sino-Indian relationship is relatively unpredictable. The increasingly dramatic outbreak of nationalism in India may spread to China and cause tension between the two, making it difficult for China to ensure security along its long Western border.

Japan: an unpredictable factor

Of China’s neighboring countries, Japan will be the most unpredictable in the near future. Japan still has enormous capabilities, both potential and currently realized. Its unshakeable strength comes from its scientific and technological advancements, its effective business practices, and its world- leading multinational companies.

However, Japan is faced with a number of urgent issues, among them political reform and an aging population that will have an adverse effect on Japan’s labor-intensive industries. Also, its competitiveness in advanced technology will be weakened with human resource shortages. If Japan does not solve the problems it has faced over the last 15 years in the coming decade or so, the country’s recession will become a more pronounced reality. It should be noted, though, that Japan would not become a poor country in any short amount of time, even if it fails to resolve these issues.

Over the last 15 years, Japan has experienced many government leaderships and prime ministers. On average, each Japanese prime minister has held power for only 1.5 years. On January 9th 2007, Japan officially re-established the Ministry of Defense on the basis of the Defense Agency, which existed after the Second World War. Japan will take its trends of economic development into consideration to formulate its foreign strategies. However, if Japan’s recession is prolonged as in Britain, its choices will become very limited. What is certain is that Japan, with its strategic interests, will become closer to the U.S. just as Britain has become close with the U.S.. However, Britain is surrounded by a relatively friendly Europe while Japan faces a rising China with ambitions of becoming a superpower, and there exist serious disagreements between Japan and China involving historical issues and current developments. The distrust between them is likely to linger. At the moment, in terms of security, Japan is not likely to grow as an independent power. Rather, like Britain, it will rely largely on the U.S. military power.

Considering Japan’s objective of becoming an international power in its own right, the country will be faced with three main choices: (1) continue its alliance with the U.S., (2) become closer with China and further from the U.S., and (3) form an East Asian community with China and other East Asian countries that does not exclude the participation of the U.S.

Of these choices, the first and third appear to be most suitable for Japan’s interests. What is certain is that profound disagreements between Japan and China will offer extensive bilateral cooperation a slim chance at lasting success and that the danger of conflicts between the two countries will continue to exist.

Developments on the Korean peninsula

A great deal of the security concerns in East Asia, both at present and in the future, involve the developments on the Korean peninsula and the reorganization of relations between powers caused by these developments.

It is absolutely reasonable to believe the two Korean nations are aware that the future of the Korean people depends on a process of reconciliation, meeting the people’s aspirations for a peaceful, unified country. Many have optimistically discussed the potential directions of a unified Korean peninsula and have listed three possibilities: (1) The Korean peninsula, once unified, will maintain its military alliance with the U.S., (2) it will fall out of orbit with the U.S. but will not come under the influence of other countries such as China, or (3) it will become a point of cooperation between the four major powers of the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

However, there appears little possibility of unification on the Korean peninsula in the next 10 to 15 years. Factors influencing unification efforts include: (1) The Korean peninsula currently is, in fact, a point of strategic competition between the U.S. and China. The U.S. wishes to re-establish unification on the Korean peninsula and use the economic strength of the Republic of Korea as an economic advantage. It aims to use the peninsula as a tool for containing China in terms of security and economy. On its part, China formally supports unification but, in fact, favors the current situation because unification would cause the rise of yet another adjacent power. The division and complicated developments on the peninsula are “magnets”, attracting East Asia’s attention and security concerns, and an important “invisible fence” protecting China’s security on its northeastern coast. (2) The nuclear issue of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is extremely difficult to solve because of the DPRK’s tough policies and China’s strong support. The nuclear issue is the first “outer cover” in achieving unification of the peninsula, but removing this cover is no easy task. The possibility of the United States using its “iron fist” to solve the nuclear issue of the DPRK and its state regime also raises a number of complications. (3) Given the DPRK’s preparations, which seem to be made for a new generation of leadership, the country is not yet ready for discussions of unification. Although it may be a common wish of Korean people, the two governments may not necessarily hold similar ambitions. Both sides are calculating negotiations to preserve their interests. Further, efforts to reach compromises between the U.S. and China on the future trajectory of the Korean peninsula, which will help facilitate reconciliation on the peninsula itself, continue to have prevailing issues.

The future of cooperation in East Asia                        

Over the next 10-15 years, cooperation in East Asia will see significant progress. A fundamental framework for regional cooperation will be expanded upon and improved. The building of mechanisms will intensify. However, while it adheres to the interests of local powers, cooperative efforts are very complicated. While a long-term goal of international cooperation is the creation of a regional organization with a high level of unity, and such an organization is important for East Asia and the rest of the world, only minor progress may be achieved in cooperative economics, politics and security in the near future. A major breakthrough can hardly be expected. China plays an extremely important role in promoting the cooperation of East Asia and its participation and encouragement in the process is crucial to making real progress. However, as long as relations between China and Japan - the backbone of cooperative efforts in East Asia - are mired, the entirety of East Asia cannot be unified and an East Asian community or union like the European Union is impossible.

2. China’s international strategic choice   

As China continues to develop and international realities change, China’s foreign policy in the near future will gradually turn into a “pivotal power” consisting of three pillars: diplomatic relations between a “new style power” and the United States to create a new framework for cooperation between the world’s most powerful countries, as opposed to traditional relations between powers (characterized by either an alliance or opposition); regional diplomacy in the form of bilateral or multilateral cooperation; and multilateral diplomacy where China participates in the planning of regional and global mechanisms and organizations and even establishes new mechanisms for cooperation with China as the pivot (for example, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP - which is currently being negotiated). In this way, China can prescribe the rules of trade and agreements and abolish old cooperative structures. To this end, China will implement the following international strategies:

Firstly, China will seek balanced and cooperative diplomacy. Although multi-lateralism in the international community has diminished individual countries’ ability to influence global affairs, it is undeniable that the world’s security and stability primarily depends on the power politics of major forces. If the relations between major powers are strained, it is difficult to maintain peace in the international community. Thus, with certain mutual recognitions or even strategic agreements and displays of respect for each other’s interests, global peace and stability will be likely to maintain.

China is part of the Asia - Pacific, where the interests of many competing powers co-exist. All too often, issues are difficult to resolve when only the two largest countries cooperate, namely the U.S. and China. Therefore, global powers must establish a mechanism for securing regional security. In the future, China must pay greater attention to promote cooperation between powers on international issues, especially regional ones. This does not necessarily mean that all involved powers should take a common stance on particular issues. Rather, they should try their best to promote cooperation amongst themselves. If China does not adjust the current trajectory of its international actions, the country may find it difficult to receive sincerity or trust from other countries. Instead, it will be met with fear or containment.

The fact that the tripartite relationship among China, the U.S., and Japan is more decisive to the Asia - Pacific than the Sino - American relationship should be emphasized. If the Sino - American relationship is viewed from the perspective of the tripartite relations, or even from the entire Asia - Pacific region, China may find it easier to introduce more reasonable policies in dealing with the U.S. Otherwise, if the Sino - American relationship is given top priority, China may observe its security environment and policies without a systematic vision. Therefore, China should abandon the view that the U.S. is at the center of its foreign policy and security concerns. As the Taiwan issue remains unresolved, China must keep a close eye on every move of the U.S. However, this does not mean that the Sino - American relationship should critically affect China’s general foreign and security policies. In fact, if China’s speculations are grounded, the position of the U.S. in China’s general foreign policy will certainly be adjusted appropriately and not prioritized at the expense of other issues.

Secondly, China will pursue both bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. Bilateral efforts of security cooperation will continue to be a pillar of China’s security policy. However, the more deeply China is engaged in multilateral mechanisms and organizations, the more important such mechanisms and organizations are to its security and diplomacy. China will consider cooperation with the rest of East Asia and “10+3” (where that cooperation will be extended in the future) as primary channels with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) one of its most important mechanisms and organizations. The “10+3” plays a role in Chinese and Japanese relations as the best forum in which the two countries may overcome their historical issues and reach a broader common awareness. There are many similarities and differences in the ways that Japan and China view East Asia’s future. Bringing China and Japan together, two countries that play decisive roles in the future of East Asia, and developing the solidarity of East Asia, is extremely important to both China itself and the security of the entire region.

The SCO covers major countries and regions to the north of China. If Mongolia, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan join the SCO, this organization will encompass the eastern part of the Eurasian continent, the entire Central Asia, and even some of South Asia. Therefore, the importance of the SCO to the security and economic development of the Northern and Northwestern regions of China will be even greater in the future. However, the SCO faces a number of indefinite factors, including the existence of other regional organizations and especially the relationship with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Because all SCO members (except China) belong to the CIS, if economic cooperation within the CIS achieves considerable success in the next 10-15 years, the need for closer economic ties between the SCO members will significantly decline even though economic exchanges between them may intensify. Much of the vitality of the SCO is decided by its ability to develop into a ground of economic cooperation, bringing about specific benefits to its member countries. At the same time, other mechanisms for multilateral cooperation such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), APEC and China’s Boao Forum for Asia will also play important roles in the country’s multilateral diplomacy.

Thirdly, China will increase its influence on international principles and opinion. China’s increased national strength translates into influence, requiring the country to establish cooperative mechanisms and ease other countries’ fears. In this process, China certainly needs to seek influence oninternational principles, although it cannot afford to do so in a hasty fashion. Over the next 20-30 years, China can develop slowly into a comprehensive power. Its influence on global principles will be displayed, first and foremost, by its global influence as a large economic entity on the international stage, especially in East Asia. Over the next 5-10 years, China and East Asian countries can have a certain amount of general influence on international developments, which can allow the region to cope successfully with an unexpected economic or financial crisis. If China and Japan strengthen their bilateral cooperation, they will promote regional economic unification and free trade, creating a natural amount of pull on global economics and financial systems by East Asian countries and China itself.

China’s influence on international opinion is, in fact, part of its influence on international principles. China will make an effort to cooperate with other developing countries and establish regional communication groups, including those that can broadcast the voices of developing countries internationally. This does not only originate from the need to gradually reduce the costs of implementing China’s policies and promoting a more proactive international front, but also from the need for inclusion on the international communications market.

 This is similar to China, which has in many ways lost the world’s trust because of its lack of transparency in terms of information on issues of the military or defense. China’s chauvinist behavior towards its neighboring countries concerning territorial disputes, and poor quality of its goods will drive global consumers to high-quality products of the U.S., Europe and Japan. China has also tried every method of obtaining access to natural resources across many regions of the world.

Dr. Tran Tho Quang

Institute of International Relations


Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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