Academic journal article The Journal of East Asian Affairs

China's Policy toward the Korean Peninsula : The Return to a Policy of Two Koreas *

Academic journal article The Journal of East Asian Affairs

China's Policy toward the Korean Peninsula : The Return to a Policy of Two Koreas *

Article excerpt


As a newly rising state, China is now seeking new foreign policy and international prestige to go with its status. There is also a need for modification of the existing strategy of "keeping a low profile and biding time (Taoguang Yanghui)". China, which in its weak days had been subject to diplomatic limitations and restraints by great powers, has secured its national interests with strategic opportunities acquired through great power diplomacy and by engaging in exchanges with neighboring or developing states. Constant changes in international order and in the surrounding environment, and the trend toward international multipolarization, the significance of periphery diplomacy in China has increased to a level similar to that of great power diplomacy. Particularly since China needs the support of its neighboring countries, the importance of periphery diplomacy is constantly on the rise.1

China's periphery diplomacy reveals its future direction to a large extent. As China's rise is now a fait accompli, the entire world is keenly observing which course it will take. Since traditionally rise and fall of empires has inevitably involved wars and conflicts, there is great concern within the international community as to whether China's rise would trigger another such historical tragedy or threaten the international stability. Whether China rises to a great power through "warfare" or breaks out of the old spell and become a "New Type of Great Power (xinxing daguo guanxi)", depends largely on how China treats its neighboring states.2

Though China's periphery diplomacy has been filled with instabilities and conflicts, it seeks to regain stability and control the risks. To begin with, the growth of instability and sharpening tensions has led to a higher risk of conflict outbreak in China's surrounding environment and to continuing interstate conflicts. China finds itself in a difficult place in its surrounding regions; while faced with North Korea's nuclear problem, Japan's normalization, problems in the East China Sea, Taiwan, the South China Sea and Sino-Indian border dispute, U.S.'s new "Indo-Pacific Strategy" is intensifying the conflict between Beijing and Washington.3 Furthermore, there have been frictions with neighboring states, despite the massive investments made under the "Belt & Road" initiative.

Against the backdrop of complexities in the international situation, the periphery diplomacy of China is taking caution against the four following risks. First, the Thucydides' Trap.4 The rise of China does not necessarily mean a challenge to the status quo super power. China will rise peacefully and take the steps to establish itself as a New Type of Great Power. This process requires a long-term cooperation and coordination with the status quo power. Second, security risks. The surrounding environment of China is currently in a highly volatile state, confronted by incessant political and economic upheavals. The situation is much graver compared to previous security threats. Third, risks of "color revolution".5 Many neighboring states have already experienced color revolutions, the effects of which will likely reach China. The Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong has also sent a warning signal to Beijing. Lastly, the middle-income trap. As a middle-income state itself, there is potential for intensification of internal problems.6

Under the new interest paradigm and reciprocal paradigm, China's periphery diplomacy points to three directions: expansion of national interest, establishment of a national image and construction of order. Increased exchanges with the neighboring states have also led to more frequent discords in areas of economy, politics and security. "Expansion of interest" is the duty taken on by China, which involves securing the interests and rights of each state under such new circumstances. After that comes the establishment of image. For China, a newly rising state, its image portrayed worldwide is a matter of great significance and the most basic component of Chinese diplomacy. …

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