Academic journal article China Perspectives

China's Regional Strategy and Challenges in East Asia

Academic journal article China Perspectives

China's Regional Strategy and Challenges in East Asia

Article excerpt

In 1993, when the ASEAN Regional Forum was about to be established, China was hesitant to join the multilateral regional organisation. There was a concern that China might become a target or come under pressure within the organisation. China ultimately participated after deciding that It would be better off Influencing the forum from within than staying outside. In the early 1990s, China became Involved ln sub-regional economic co-op- eration projects such as the Turnen River Development Programme and the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) Co-operation Programme; but Its par- ticipation has markedly Increased only In the last decade. By 2001, when the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation was formed, Chinese leaders were fully convinced that multilateral regional organisations were significant mechanisms for China to articulate Its Interests, strengthen Its Influence, cultivate Its soft power, and promote multipolarity. In less than a decade, China was transformed from a passive, defensive participant to an active organiser with a well-defined agenda and strategy.

Meanwhile, China has been gradually moving away from the low-profile foreign policy line suggested by Deng Xiaoping In the wake of the Tianan- men Incident!1) towards the role of a "responsible stakeholder" In the Inter- national community!2) while pursuing the status and Influence of a major power. Deng Xiaoping's advocacy of peace and development Is nevertheless still emphasised by the Chinese leadership today.!3) china needs a peaceful International environment In order to concentrate on Its economic devel- opment, and this In turn requires good relations with Its nelghbours.To this end, China wants to minimise the "China threat" perception among Its neighbours.!4) Active participation In regional organisations obviously helps to realise these objectives as minimum goals.

The Asia-Pacific financial crisis In 1997-1998 offered an Important oppor- tunity for China.The failure of the World Bank and the International Mone- tary Fund to help facilitated the establishment of the ASEAN Plus Three (APT) mechanism.China's refusal to devalue the RMB also Impressed ASEAN coun- tries, which saw China as a responsible major power that respected their ln- terests.The APT mechanism and later the East Asia Summit demonstrate that enthusiastic participation ln regional economic co-operation by major powers within the region contributes to a strengthening of regional Identification.!5) East Asia certainly feels pressure from the expansion of the European Union (EU) and the proposed establishment of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. In November 2007, ASEAN leaders signed the ASEAN Charter, which was de- clared to be In force In December the following year following completion of the ratification process by Its members.!6)

China's regional strategy In East Asia Is probably still taking shape; and this strategy Is being pursued In an attempt to ensure that China will still be perceived as a "status quo power." China has been eager to convince the International community that It has no Intention of being a "revisionist power" In the era of economic reforms and opening to the outside world.!7) Its economic achievements demonstrate that It has benefitted from the ex- isting International economic order, and Its rising International status and Influence have greatly reduced Its Incentive to challenge the existing Inter- national political order, despite concerns that the Western world still wants to "contain" China.

On the other hand, the world Is becoming Increasingly sceptical of China's peaceful rise. Since 2010, China has become considerably more assertive In territorial disputes with Japan over the Diaoyutai (Senkaku) Islands as well as with Vietnam, the Philippines, etc., over the Spratlys. There have been many minor Incidents and frequent confrontational naval manoeuvres and exercises. Meanwhile China's development of modern weaponry, Including the Imminent launch of two aircraft carriers, has also spurred military mod- ernisation on the part of China's neighbours. …

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