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Friday, April 24, 2015, 09:19

The four circles of the great dragon

By Francisco Jose Leandro

China is a remarkable emerging international power. Primarily an astute practitioner of diplomacy: on the one hand it pursues the continuity of its clearly identified goals, and on the other hand enforces an assertive, but non-belligerent pragmatism which it is constantly adapting.

Since 1974 China’s foreign policy has acknowledged two features which are based on the four circles of its vital national interests.

The first is full acceptance of late leader Deng Xiaoping’s guidance — delivered during a special April 1974 session of the United Nations General Assembly — recognizing that “political independence and economic independence are inseparable”.

The second is the undeniable complexity of its geographic context, described by Song Xinning as the “…most complicated environment in the world. It has 29 neighbors and about 22,000 km of land borders with 15 countries and 18,000 km of coastline”. Furthermore, five documents stand as Chinese Foreign Policy contemporary landmarks: The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in the Promotion of Peace and Development (1954), the New Security Concept – position paper (2002), China’s Peaceful Rise and the Good Neighbor Policy (2003), the White Paper on Peaceful Development (2011), and the Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces (2013).

China is modernizing at an exponential pace, developing its defense systems, namely in terms of its ICBM capabilities, force projection capabilities, air and maritime assets, and anti-access/aerial denial technologies, in line with its comprehensive vision either as a leading regional player or as part of the global balance of power. China considers the South China Sea as part of its core interests, and the possibility to extend its operational capabilities as far east as the Second Island Chain, is an effective way to counterbalance US naval dominance in the Pacific.

With all this in mind our understanding, in the context of security and defense, of Chinese foreign policy is based on four concentric circles at the heart of its national interests. The inner circle focuses on foreign relations, which impact on interests inside its political borders. Namely:

•Economic growth (such as the WTO and other ad hoc bilateral relations)

•Border disputes (Vietnam, India and Pakistan)

•The fight against terrorism and illegal narcotics (smuggled in from the “Golden Triangle”)

•The struggle against nationalism, domestic corruption and environmental pollution.

The foreign policies within the scope of this inner circle envisage leveraging development in order to curb social imbalances, seeking internal stability, promoting social peace, a smooth transformation and succeeding in implementing Deng’s vision of “One Country, Two Systems” in regard to Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan.

The second concentric circle is defined by China’s land and maritime borders, where foreign relations have an impact on the following critical areas:

•The exercise of sovereign rights over the South China Sea, East China Sea

•The lines of communication in the Yellow Sea — the geographic area of the Korean Peninsula heading towards the Korean Strait and the Eastern wing of the Second Island Chain

•The relationship with Japan.

Foreign policy within the scope of this circle is directed at domestic stability, through the control of strategic land and maritime areas in close proximity, particularly in terms of sea lines of communication and territorial waters. Likewise, this circle links decisive points to support the objectives of the outer circle.

Chinese regional interests define the third concentric circle, where foreign affairs have an impact on the relationship between China and the 10 ASEAN states as a whole. Foreign policy within the scope of this circle is aimed at regional stability through the establishment of cooperation mechanisms.

In addition, initiatives such as the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) are also part of this. Similarly, this dimension facilitates the presence of China in the rebalance of the world’s new critical area, in terms of economic dynamism and competition over international interests.

The outer concentric circle encompasses five key external relationships: the Russian Federation, South Africa, Brazil, European Union and the United States.

The relationship with Russia has assumed growing importance in terms of trade, energy, the fight against terrorism, and security, taking into account that both countries are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and that Eurasian Economic Union seems to be developing at the moment. South Africa and Brazil are extremely important to China within the context of BRICS and the G20, and represent key players in the context of South Atlantic interests, in particular with regards to the Gulf of Guinea.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is the latest development with this focus. It should additionally be emphasized that Chinese foreign policy has adopted a responsible attitude to international measures regarding nuclear proliferation, and in relation to the new shipping route via the North Pole. The rationale behind this circle is primarily that of a strong foreign policy, capable of returning China to its rightful place in the world.

The author is an assistant professor at University of Saint Joseph, Macao.

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