Amid Western uncertainties, China mustn’t spread too thin

By Shi Yinhong Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/26 18:58:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Over the years, China has both promoted a strategic economy and strategic military. But this may eventually run the risk of creating strategic overdraft.

Strategic military refers to China's accelerating pace of building up its military might, emerging competition with the US, continuous Beijing-Tokyo confrontation and a tough stance on the South China Sea and East China Sea issues.

These have to some extent disturbed Beijing's soft power, created more complexities in China's peripheral diplomatic environment, increased the risks of sliding into conflicts against Tokyo and Washington, and even provided an excuse for the US rebalancing of its Asia-Pacific strategy and Japan's efforts in the lifting of the ban on its collective self-defense.

In the meantime, China has been putting increased importance on its strategic economy with the One Belt and One Road initiative, playing a leading role in establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, proposing to build a free trade area of Asia-Pacific region and advancing its high-speed railway projects.

However, given the slowdown of the Chinese economy, Beijing runs the risk of overreaching and reducing its surplus budget. On that score, the next focus of Chinese policy should be to maintain economic growth, accelerate structural adjustments and deepen reforms. In other words, we should first develop our own strength and capability.

It does not mean that China should slacken its efforts in diplomatic affairs. Instead, it should be more cautious.

For instance, in terms of the South China Sea and East China Sea issues, Beijing must be sure to maintain stability in the region while safeguarding its rights. Whatever China's next move is, further deterioration of Sino-US ties should always be prevented. 

The entire world is now witnessing sluggish and chaotic trends in politics, culture, strategy and economics. A series of phenomena in the US and Europe, be it the rise of the US presidential candidate Donald Trump or Brexit, reflect an emerging disorganization in the Western world. This could be a strategic opportunity for China.

The problem is, however, if the focal points of Chinese diplomatic policies are too scattered, or if Beijing fails to calculate the possible risks in the One Belt and One Road initiative and the negative global response toward China's increasing military power, we might not be able to make use of the opportunities brought by the decline and disorganization in the West.

For example, the Manila-Washington relationship is shaky following a series of recent interactions, including US condemnation over the Philippines' violation of human rights and the country's plans to suspend joint drills and patrols with US military.

At this point, China should hold off on its reclamation of Huangyan Island, otherwise it might miss a chance for effective and amicable negotiations with the Philippines.

China has embarked into new territory in the span of a few years. But it won't see results from these efforts any time soon. Therefore, it is time to slow down its pace. A long and drawn-out confrontation between Beijing and Tokyo will not benefit China.

Sino-South Korean ties also dramatically worsened after Seoul green lighted the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system. But China cannot completely sacrifice its relations with either Pyongyang or Seoul.

That said, China must determine what is of greater importance, as well as work harder to keep a strategic balance.

The author is director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University of China.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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