Peripheral diplomacy needed before Chinese firms can aim globally

Source:Global Times Published: 2015-2-10 23:03:01

Beijing's discussion on China's relationship with surrounding countries has entered a new phase. In academia, professors have long been concerned about the surrounding countries ever since the founding of People's Republic of China. But the concept of "periphery countries" has not been defined as a principle until recent years.

In the early 1990s, China faced Western economic sanctions led by the US. To break its international isolation, China sought friends in Southeast Asia. At the turn of the 21st century, after China entered the World Trade Organization, China's peripheral diplomacy was in focus again. In September 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping first put forward the strategic concept of building "One Belt and One Road," referring to the Silk Road economic belt and the 21st century maritime Silk Road. The "One Belt" will link China with Europe through Central and Western Asia, and the "One Road" will connect China with Southeast Asian countries, Africa and Europe.

The initiatives herald a significant shift of Beijing's handling of relations with its neighbors. In this context, it's important to define the peripheral countries in a very clear way.

"Periphery countries" are not a geographical concept, but a geopolitical one with three layers. The first-tier periphery countries are those that share land or sea borders with China. The second-tier category are those that share land or sea borders with the first-tier ones. And then there are those nations that have great influence on China's periphery. There are also some special cases such as NATO and the EU.

Last year witnessed a significant shift in China's policy. Before 2014, China was mainly talking about "a new type of major power relationship." Now it's more about periphery policies.

The "One Belt and One Road," which leverages China's historical connections, is intended to promote further opening-up and common development with countries along the lines. To finance the initiatives, China announced in November that it would set up $40 billion to establish a Silk Road fund to boost connectivity across Asia.

It's a strategic result of both international and domestic issues. The escalating confrontations between China and its neighbors in the South China Sea and East China Sea are worrisome. Domestically, China invested massively on its western development strategy to close the gap between the coastal region and western areas. But the development needs to be further pushed forward by connecting with neighboring countries.

There are doubts among the international community about the real intentions of China's economic diplomacy: Is China trying to restore its dominance in Asia? In fact, China does not pursue dominance, but aims to achieve a "win-win" situation with partners, and further integrate itself with the world economy.

China considers that going global requires going regional first. Economic development is the foremost goal for countries along the proposed corridors of the Silk Road economic belt and the 21st century maritime Silk Road. China believes that with greater trade, a better relationship follows.

China aims to use the international rules to cooperate with neighboring countries. And it is a cooperative process without any political strings. However, cooperation can be difficult if there is a lack of trust. China will face tremendous security, economic and political challenges.

When it comes to establishing a new order on the oceans in the 21st century, China has already felt great pressure from the US and Japan. The old regional powers want to preserve the status quo and are not willing to see China play a larger role. 

The article was compiled by Global Times London correspondent Sun Wei based on a recent speech by Piao Jianyi, senior research fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences at the China Development Forum held by the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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