Encounters with Chinese Analysts

02 Nov, 1997    ·   24

Report of the Adenauer Stiftung Conference held at Bonn

Regardless of whether Chinese participants are actually present in an international seminar/conference on Asia or not, the subject of what is happening in China at present and what China is likely to do in future always dominates the agenda. The second remarkable characteristic of such seminars/conferences is that the gap between what the Chinese say and what foreign analysts say is surprisingly narrow. The terminology used by the Chinese and the foreign is off course quite different but the conclusions are remarkably similar. This is the impression formed by the present writer after participating in the conference held by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Singapore , the Tripartite Dialogue convened by the Adenauer Foundation in Germany and the Indo-Japan seminar on China held by the IPCS in India .



The emerging consensus is that China has firmly come round to the view that the international trend after the cold war is for peace and development, not towards war and revolution, as China believed in the past. China?s principal concerns are domestic: economic development, legitimacy of its ruling Communist Party of China and its unification with Taiwan . As such, China?s foreign policy is somewhat passive and reactive unless its core sovereignty concerns such as Taiwan or Tibet is externally threatened.



The China Threat



The Chinese themselves go to great lengths to dispel the theory of the " China threat" which the western media seems to be propagating. But non-Chinese expert opinion, except in case of some Indian analysts, has yet to take up the theory for any serious discussion. The consensus is that while China is determined to develop "comprehensive national strength" including military strength, it is unlikely to pose a military threat to any of its neighbors in the foreseeable future, say, for 25 to 30 years. What China will think or do after that cannot even be speculated upon, except to say that increasing Chinese participation in multilateral institutions of regional security is likely to reduce chances of conflict.



In two separate seminars attended by this writer, the Chinese participants expressed complete puzzlement about why many Indian analysts assumed that China posed a nuclear threat to India both directly and through Pakistan . They wondered what more China could do to dispel Indian doubts, particularly since India had never raised these issues in the official India-China dialogues. They said they had come to the conclusion that China had to have patience. It took some thirty years to achieve an agreement over peace and tranquility along the line of actual control and a wait of ten years for the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi?s visit to China . China would continue to seek common ground with India while reserving differences.



Fresh Chinese Views



Encounters with Chinese participants show that China has become a new and enthusiastic convert to the concept of confidence building measures, particularly with its neighbours. Chinese analysts have enthusiastically embraced the concept of multipolarity but they are clearly uncertain about how relations among the poles will take shape or indeed what they should be to realise the goal of "rational international order".



Chinese participants in international seminars today are much less defensive and much more open-minded than ever before. Their perception of the international situation as well as bilateral relations show little or no trace of ideological thinking. One can and must talk to them in a sustained dialogue.