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#4377, 7 April 2014

East Asia Compass

China’s New Neighbourhood Strategy: Korean and Japnese Reactions
Sandip Kumar Mishra
Assistant Professor, University of Delhi and Visiting Fellow, IPCS

It is interesting to track inter-state relations and equations in East Asia in the context of China’s policy of building a ‘Community of Common Destiny’ (CCD). China, after its first official announcement of the concept in 2007 to describe its special relations with Taiwan, has further expanded its use to describe its relations with Central Asian and ASEAN countries and its neighbourhood. Chinese President Xi Jinping has re-emphasised the concept to introduce a new Chinese contribution to inter-state relations in the region, along the lines of other catchphrases like China Dream, new type of great power relations, and peaceful neighbourhood. Xi Jinping’s emphasis on the concept could also be seen as a counter-balancing measure to US’ ‘return to Asia’ or ‘Asian pivot’.

The trajectory of China’s behaviour in Southeast and East Asian politics in the recent past does not suggest the spirit of the CDCD and might be therefore perceived as another Chinese effort to camouflage its aggressive strategic intents in the region. It seems that China uses the softest terms and language when it wants to pursue the most aggressive political and military intent. The CCD, rather than soothing neighbouring countries, creates a sense of suspicion in their minds. China is perceived as ambidextrous in its policy to create power dominance in regional politics and increase bilateral economic ties with the countries of the region. This basic contradiction in Chinese foreign policy makes all its catchphrases, including the CCD, meaningless, or at least doubtful about their real intentions and implications.

Having said that, it would not be constructive to write-off the CCD as just a catchphrase and devoid of any serious meaning and intent. The current phase of inter-state relations in Asia and beyond could be characterised by huge networks of transnational interactions, and it is possible to move beyond archaic notions of the balance of power, anarchy, great power rivalry, power transition etc, which are basically products of 19th and 20th century European experiences. It does not mean that inter-state relations have transformed in the current era. It only means that the relations have become much more varied, complex and overlapping, and it is possible to inculcate common cooperative and inclusive security by bringing in non-military elements into the discourse. Since the current phase could be, at best, called transitory, it would be not be possible to abandon military and power dynamics altogether. However, it must be brought to a secondary level. Thus, China’s notion of the CCD is a welcome initiative and it must be appreciated. At the same timne, it must be communicated to China through collective mechanisms and bilateral interactions that its quest for power and dominance would be costly and it must refrain from such behaviour.

The Korean peninsula has been tumultuous in recent months. The North Korean domestic situation, rivalry with South Korea, quest for nuclear weapons and missiles as well as non-constructive behaviour pose serious threats regional stability and peace. China has reportedly been trying to persuade Pyongyang bilaterally to give up its aggressive policy and has also been cooperating with the international community to put pressure via economic sanctions. Xi Jinping recently proposed during The Hague Nuclear Security Summit that the six-party talks must be resumed as soon as possible. Jinping has also been trying to reach out to South Korea by responding positively to President Park Geun-hye’s ‘trust politik’, and in mid-2013, during the latter’s visit to Beijing, both leaders demonstrated an interest in working together. South Korea and China both share many common interests and are hugely economically dependent on each other. However, South Korea’s alliance with the US and the US policy to ‘return to Asia’ challenges China’s policy to assert its power dominance in regional politics. South Korea has been ready to work with China bilaterally and intends to bring like-minded partners such as India, Australia and many ASEAN countries to create a common vision on security and non-security issues in regional politics. However, it is not ready to concede to Chinese assertive behaviour.

China must understand that it would not be possible to talk about or propose the CCD one the one hand and pursue defence augmentation and military assertion on the other. China’s confrontation with Japan and less than satisfactory policy towards other neighbouring countries in East and Southeast Asia would not go well with it policy of the CCD. It is up to Beijing to show whether the CCD is a genuine beginning to bring a qualitative change in inter-state relations in the region or just a tactic to hide China’s aggressive intent. The future course of Chinese policy and behaviour would be definitely carefully observed by regional countries and it would be premature to pronounce a verdict on the issue now.

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