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China's peaceful development anchors regional security

As a country on the rise in the Asia-Pacific, China plays an increasingly important role in regional security issues.

First, through its own economic development, China effectively promoted peace and stability in the region. Since the implementation of reform and open policies in the late 1970s, China has defined its national strategy for peaceful development.

This strategy requires the Chinese government to uphold economic development as its core mission, and all policy formulation must revolve around and serve this mission.

In addition, key diplomatic and defence policy agendas will serve to create a peaceful, stable and healthy external environment for China's economic development.

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China pushed to promote peace through development and used peace to safeguard development in the Asia-Pacific. At present, the Asia-Pacific is the region with the fastest economic growth and the most stable security environment in the world.

In recent years, China launched and actively advanced its One Belt, One Road initiative, which also led to the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund. The initiative brought about stronger interconnectivity and injected new impetus into relations between China and its neighbours.

China's strategy on peaceful development is a strategy to fundamentally safeguard security in the Asia-Pacific, and China's stand on maintaining economic development at its core is a policy to maintain peace and stability.

Second, China advocates the use of political and diplomatic measures to resolve disputes and manage differences. With a vast territory and a large population, China shares land borders with 14 countries and maritime space with eight nations.

Population migration and territorial changes over the course of more than 5,000 years have resulted in many disputes over land and maritime territorial sovereignty claims.

After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, there were also many military conflicts involving territorial claims.

Since its reform and opening up, China has advocated the principle of mutual respect among countries and peaceful coexistence, seeking common ground while putting aside differences.

China maintains that disputes concerning territorial sovereignty and maritime rights should be properly managed and peacefully resolved through direct negotiations.

Past issues should not be allowed to wreak havoc on new partnerships.

Through consultative negotiations, China completed land border demarcation talks with 12 out of the 14 countries it shares land borders with.

As for maritime disputes, China advocates peaceful resolution through negotiations between the countries directly concerned, on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international laws and current maritime laws, which include the fundamental principles and laws set out in the Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) agreement.

In December 2000, China and Vietnam reached an agreement over the Gulf of Tonkin. In December 2015, China and South Korea kick-started talks over their maritime boundaries. And last month, China and the Philippines set up a negotiation mechanism and held their first meeting to resolve their dispute in the South China Sea.

Considering that certain territorial and maritime sovereignty disputes are difficult to resolve in a short frame of time, China urged all parties to exercise control in situations so as to prevent conflicts from escalating and to maintain regional peace and stability.

In fact, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping had already proposed the concept of "setting aside dispute and pursuing joint development" in the early 1980s, with emphasis on seeking common ground while putting aside differences and to reduce differences by expanding cooperation.

For example, given the complexity and intricacy of South China Sea disputes, marine resources and marine environmental research and protection can be part of the cooperation agenda, from which all parties stand to benefit.

Third, China advocates the approach of multilateral cooperation to achieve a mutually beneficial and win-win situation for all. China recognises clearly that the world is undergoing drastic changes and swiftly moving towards multi-polarisation.

In the new world order, multilateral international mechanisms will become more reasonable, fair and effective. Therefore, since the 1990s, China has begun to embrace the international layout of multilateralism, shown support and participated in multilateral security dialogue efforts led by Asean, and pushed to build multilateral security mechanisms in the region.

China also founded the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation with countries concerned, pushed to arrange three-party and six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis, and set up a platform for the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Under the multilateral security framework, China actively participated in the resolution of hot-button issues in the region.

Not only did China play an important role in defusing the North Korean nuclear crisis, much effort was also put in for the resumption of six-party talks.

China has agreed to establish a quadrilateral mechanism with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan, to coordinate with and support one another in a range of areas, including counter-terrorism operations, intelligence sharing, and joint anti-terrorist personnel training.

Lastly, the Chinese army is an advocate, a supporter and a participant in international security cooperation.

Working together with most countries in the Asia-Pacific, China has set up defence negotiation mechanisms, conducted extensive military exchanges and partnerships, held various joint military drills and training exercises targeting non-traditional security threats, and actively organised and participated in various military cooperation exercises within the region's multilateral security framework.

The Chinese army has also actively participated in international peacekeeping, anti-terrorist, convoy, humanitarian relief and non-proliferation missions, making the effort to shoulder more of the international security responsibilities and to provide a better public security environment.

  • The writer is a retired major-general of the People's Liberation Army and Director Emeritus of the Centre on China-America Defence Relations in the Beijing-based Academy of Military Science.
  • Translated from Chinese by Kua Yu-Lin.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2017, with the headline 'China's peaceful development anchors regional security'. Print Edition | Subscribe