The View From Asia

Weighing up China's foreign policy under Xi

Asia News Network commentators reflect on Chinese President Xi Jinping's address at the 19th party congress and its implications for their regions and the world in the next five years of his tenure. Here are excerpts.

Guardian of world order

Wang Yiwei

China Daily, China

Delivering a report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, General Secretary Xi Jinping said the major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics aims to foster a new type of international relations and build a community of shared future for humankind, while stressing that China will never seek its own development at the cost of other countries, nor will it forfeit its legitimate interests.

Along with its economic prowess, China's increasingly ambitious, but mutually beneficial, foreign policy is at times misunderstood. Questions have been asked about where the country stands in the global arena.

The answer lies in the major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, which is reshaping the way China deals with international affairs and participates in global governance.

But the new type of Chinese diplomacy is not a new concept. It is based on traditional Chinese culture and China's role as a developing economy and socialist society.

China's foreign policy, primarily bolstered by development at home, will help create a favourable external environment needed to build a moderately well-off society in an all-round way and defend its legitimate interests overseas.

Beijing will also strive to broaden its participation in global and regional affairs while shouldering more responsibility as a guardian of the world order, as China is now the largest trade partner of about 128 countries and among the most popular investment destinations. As a fast-growing market for exports and a major energy importer, China has contributed more than 30 per cent to global growth, since the 2008 financial crisis.

The scene outside the Great Hall of the People after the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, on Wednesday. General Secretary Xi Jinping talked about a major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics aimed at fostering a new type of international relations. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Another feature of the major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics is the new type of major-country relationship, especially the one between China and the United States with the principles of non-confrontation and win-win cooperation at its core. This is very important, as a stable, healthy China-US relationship could well be the bedrock of world peace.

From a beneficiary of to a leading contributor to globalisation, China is determined to rise above its huge success in reducing poverty by providing constructive proposals and tangible public goods to revive the world economy.

The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Silk Road Fund offer not just wider financing channels for emerging economies but also institutional dynamism to global economic governance.

By helping to build a community with a shared destiny for humankind and proposing the BRI , China has made clear its diplomacy is about offering targeted assistance to countries in need as much as about optimising post-war global governance.

Will Xi intensify hegemonic stance?


The Japan News, Japan

The country's objective of building up its military strength and becoming dominant in the world as a "great power" has been established. But isn't it nothing but hegemonism to assert that the country will make light of such universal values as the rule of law and instead rely more on strength?

Delivering the political report, which summarises the party's achievements during his first five-year term and presents policies for the years ahead, Mr Xi declared that the party will build a "great modern socialist country" by 2049, the centenary of the country's founding. He also said emphatically that China "will become a global leader in terms of composite national strength and international influence".

China can be said to have clearly shown its posture of rivalling the international order led by the United States and European countries since the end of World War II.

Not to be overlooked is that Mr Xi has cited his country's building of artificial islands and converting them into military facilities in the South China Sea as "achievements".

In July last year, an international arbitration tribunal categorically denied Beijing's claims of territorial sovereignty in the South China Sea. Beijing cannot be allowed, under the name of building "maritime power", to positively assess its movements threatening the rules of freedom of navigation.

Regarding Taiwan, Mr Xi said his party has the resolve to "defeat separatist attempts in any form", showing off his hardline stance.

Since the Xi administration was inaugurated, it has become routine for Chinese government vessels to enter Japan's territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture. In cooperation with the United States and South-east Asian countries, Japan must demand that China stop such actions that destabilise the region.

Mr Xi has said his country will build a "world-class military" by the middle of this century. He has also set forth a policy of propelling further the "One Belt, One Road" mega economic zone project. The acceleration of a plan for building a rich country with a strong army would be contradictory to his own remark that "China's development does not pose a threat to any other country".

It is obvious that Mr Xi, who consolidated in his first term the system of his being the "sole dominant leader", is attempting to gain prestige equal to that of both Mao Zedong - the founding father of China - and Deng Xiaoping, who led China's reform and open-door policy. The prevailing view is that he will remain in power even after the usual two five-year terms in office.

What Xi's second term can bring Asean


The Nation, Thailand

Our region has suffered due to Beijing's divide-and-conquer approach in the South China Sea.

Under Mr Xi, China has over the past five years become more aggressive and more authoritarian, even with its healthy economy and remarkable technological advances. While China's economic assistance to countries in South-east Asia is most welcome, territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea have cast our giant neighbour as an arrogant bully.

Mr Xi's "One Belt One Road" initiative is set to create a multitude of opportunities for economic development spanning much of the world, but building physical links over land and sea will also give China the wherewithal to expand its influence into every connected nation.

Its political and economic influence is already evident enough in most member-countries of Asean. Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar rely on China for financial and technological aid. Thailand and Laos are in partnerships with Beijing to build a railway that will connect them all, a project requiring not just Chinese investment and technology but also human resources. Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar have bolstered their military ties with Beijing, purchasing hardware from and conducting joint exercise with China.

All of this, though, proceeds in the shadow of the South China Sea conflicts, which put Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam directly at odds with Chinese expansionism. The volatile combination of fiscal reliance on Beijing and confrontation over disputed maritime territory could well split Asean in two.

Its members with no land in the South China Sea tend to stand closer to Beijing in all other matters. Every Asean summit has at least one member-country imploring the others to tone down the wording of statements objecting to Chinese territorial incursions. China is poised to take full advantage of such disunity and, in fact, might well be encouraging it.

It can be argued that Asean-China relations have suffered under Mr Xi's leadership. In the interest of maintaining and improving stability in South-east Asia, Mr Xi would be well advised to review his dealings with Asean. The bloc as a whole is a valuable trading partner for China.

Will neighbours benefit?


The Kathmandu Post, Nepal

Mr Xi's first tenure as Chinese President has set strong economic imperatives that will have a huge impact on his foreign policy conduct.

In 1978, Deng Xiaoping had rooted out hardline communists from leadership to steer the country towards a more open economy. Deng's Special Economic Zone approach helped the south-east coastal areas - Guangdong, Fujian and Xiamen - become manufacturing hubs with facilities to ship abroad what they made from cheap labour. By the 1990s, the coastal provinces had become the engine to drive economic growth all over China. This model was gradually replicated elsewhere. However, the inland provinces - such as Xinjiang, Gansu, Tibet and Ningxia - still lag way behind the richer coastal states.

One driving force behind the BRI is to create wealth in the inland provinces. This is where BRI countries could become potential beneficiaries. The project, whose "Belt" component connects Central Asia and Europe to China's inland western provinces, aims to establish new value chains through ambitious road and rail networks. If all goes well, Nepal's Rasuwagadhi will be linked to the Chinese railway point Chherung by 2020.

Already, China has developed a state-of-the-art dry port in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu, which has railway connection with Tibet. Through a network of roads and railways, shipments received from eastern coastal Chinese ports and trade with China will be much easier. In the long run, this could potentially develop Nepal into a bridge between the world's largest production factory to new markets in South Asia, home to 1.7 billion people. New South Asian production hubs could come into being as labour becomes more expensive in China.

While greater connectivity will greatly contribute to Nepal's overseas trade, the ambitious infrastructure development will also have multiplier effects. The influx of Chinese tourists into Nepal (already on the upswing with 14 per cent growth between the first half of this year and the last) is bound to rise with cheaper connectivity.

Still, there's a naive thought, especially among Nepal's political leaders, that development will happen by itself.

While China's investment will greatly exact positive change in terms of trade and connectivity, political stability and good governance will remain key to Nepal's development.

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news media entities.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2017, with the headline 'Weighing up China's foreign policy under Xi'. Print Edition | Subscribe