Anti-China moves in neighboring countries need more diplomatic attention

By Lin Minwang Source: Global Times Published: 2020/11/10 13:33:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The result of the 2020 US presidential election seems to have been settled: Joe Biden is the president-elect.

According to previous China-related remarks made by Biden and his campaign team members, the US may make considerable adjustments to its China policy. This does not mean optimism for the two's tensions to subside could prevail. 

China needs to summarize the results of the diplomatic struggles it had with US President Donald Trump's administration over the past few years. It needs to change its thinking and adjust its diplomacy in due course, so as to rebuild a stable and good surrounding environment.

The basic purpose of the Trump administration's China policy is to "kick China out" of the US-led international political and economic system. The US under Trump believes that China has grown and expanded through so-called liberal system. The US believes that China has been the biggest beneficiary of the free-market economy. Therefore, the US is trying to rope in more countries to contain China. 

Politically, it has been seeking to isolate China, hyping that China's so-called "state capitalism" and domestic and foreign affairs constitute a global threat. 

Economically, it has sought to decouple with China by reshaping the international industrial chain, and creating a new economic network. 

On the technology front, it has suppressed Chinese high-tech enterprises, and vigorously promoted the decoupling of high-tech technology from China. In terms of cultural exchanges, it has deliberately "built walls" and set restrictions with the excuse of national security.

Undoubtedly, US' extreme practices have been resolutely countered by China. At the same time, China has kept countermeasures within a proper and appropriate range. It has carefully avoided a complete breakdown of bilateral relations, and left room for China-US ties to get back on the right track. However, an obvious fact is: The "anti-China" trend led and pushed by the US has been polarized (and even extremely radicalized) by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has triggered a lot of political turbulence around China.

The strategy of China's peripheral diplomacy has always been to, "capture the ringleader first in order to capture all the followers." By stabilizing China-US relations, it can achieve stable relations with neighboring countries. Such a foreign policy has enabled China to enjoy a stable surrounding environment for a long time. However, when the Trump administration deliberately started to "pick on" and "nitpick" China, the effectiveness of the strategy of "seeking cooperation through competition" declined quickly. 

Tit-for-tat measures will not be able to stop US suppression in a short period of time. On the contrary, the US has added fuel to fire on a series of China-related issues, such as Taiwan question, affairs regarding Hong Kong, and Xinjiang. Similarly, because the goal of "capturing the ringleader first in order to capture all the followers" has not been fully achieved, under the US' leadership and demonstration, regional countries such as Australia, India and Japan have followed suit on issues regarding US strategy of containing China.

Now, China may consider changing its mind-set: consider taking harsher countermeasures in response to the radical "anti-China" forces that follow the US. The US is strong enough to be "willfully" taking measures against China. But if countries such as India or Australia dare to play the "anti-China" game like the US, China should hit back with stronger countermeasures without hesitation. 

We once mistakenly believed that anti-China attitudes and actions of certain surrounding countries were forced by the US. In fact, countries like India, Japan and Australia took actions against the so-called China threat even earlier and stronger than the US. Whereas taking the lead with anti-China stances is against their strategic interests due to the power gap with China, their best choice now might be to hide behind the US and follow Washington's steps to gang up against China.

Therefore, it can be seen that in the past few years, China's neighboring powers have explicitly or implicitly promoted the escalation of the China-US confrontation. After Japan's former prime minister Shinzo Abe resigned, he publicly admitted that he tried his best to persuade Trump to focus on the Indo-Pacific Strategy. 

After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, some inside India's strategic circle suggested India should take advantage of China-US conflicts. India first proposed the Quad (an informal security grouping of the US, Japan, India and Australia) ministerial meeting, and took the initiative in launching the India-Japan-Australia resilient supply chain concept in the Indo-Pacific region. 

The Trump administration's diplomacy toward China, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, has severely deteriorated China's strategic environment. If the "anti-China" trend in the past was just a single spark, the new one could become a bonfire if surrounding countries gang up against Beijing. This requires China to invest more efforts and energy right away. Biden coming into power no doubt offers China an opportunity to consider adjusting its diplomatic strategy.

The author is research fellow with the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University.

blog comments powered by Disqus