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Behind China’s Changing Approach to Foreign Policy

by Joshua Kurlantzick
January 31, 2011

 	 Add to cart   Add to lightbox (The Chronicle - February Cover Options) Download layout (Watermarked) Paramilitary police recruits take an oath in front of a Chinese national flag during a military rank conferral ceremony at a military base in Suining

Paramilitary police recruits take an oath in front of a Chinese national flag during a military rank conferral ceremony at a military base in Suining, Sichuan province January 28, 2011. (Stringer Shanghai/Courtesy Reuters)

Over the past two years, countries in Southeast Asia – and in some other parts of the world – increasingly have noticed sharp changes in Chinese foreign policy. These have been most evident regarding disputes over the South China Sea, contested territories with Japan, and other hot spots, but a new, more aggressive foreign policy is noticeable even in some of the most minor bilateral issues with China. Yet often China’s new, more proactive foreign policy actually seems to be backfiring, costing Beijing many of the gains it made in winning Asian nations’ trust during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

In the new issue of The New Republic, I have an article (subscription required) looking at the reasons why China has begun to adopt a more aggressive foreign policy – and the ramifications of this change.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by hughes

    “China has begun to adopt a more aggressive foreign policy -and the ramifications of this change”. One of the ramications is to increase our defence spending, even though our country is flat broke. The second ramification is to seek allies around China so as to contain China. This will make sense if China was engaged in a cold war with us, which it does not do. Writting about US-China tensions, Benjamin A Shobert wrote an article in today’s Asia Times entitled “Cold War Role Reversal in US-China Ties”. In one of his paragraphs he says the following: “Only hindsight shows the country’s [Soviet Union]failed efforts in Afghanistan not much a strategic error, but as the sort of mistake declining powers make when trying to convince themselves of their relevance and superiority”. What Mr Shobert is saying here, is the central element of your article.

  • Posted by Andy

    @hughes: both of your conclusions are factually wrong. The USA is not increasing defense spending (the baseline defense budget is expected to increase just over 1% per year to through 2015) and balance of power politics (what you wrongly name “containment”) is not practiced in the sole circumstance of a “cold war”. Far from…

  • Posted by Tony Gillotte

    Another silly posting by Kurlanski who hasnt live long enough in SE Asia to pretend hes an expert on China. The impact of Chinese economic growth has been both positive and negative for SE Asian nations. Positive in that they have a large trading partner to the north but negative in that the relatively new democratic ASEAN states are not always sure what China’s intentions are. For example, in Myanmar, China is helping to build roads that lead to the bound for improvement port of Tavoy. It is not worried, like the US pretends to be, about what the regime is doing in Myanmar. It seems to be willing to provide or sell whatever the regime needs. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore have come to grips with the looming presence of China and have looked for more ways to compete and trade with China being sure to keep out of China’s orbit of influence. Naturally, Indonesia is still the most wary of China’s impact, remembering the days of Sukarno who in 1965 ordered out the military to control and disperse the widely entrenched Chinese business community in INdonesia. So, ASEAN leadership has gone out of its way to find ways to cooperate with China for example on improving the Mekong River, which had been a source of irriation due to the many Chinese dams that have been constructed upstream. In the meantime, China will continue to offer assistance where it benefits them and continue to offer trade to countries like Myanmar which may offer to lend its ports as entry points to China which would shorten the voyage of vessels hauling everything from oil to coal to other commodities to the hungry giant to the north. So, what Kurlanski has to say is poppycock because ASEAN nations have a large enough population base of nearly 500 million to make it attractive for China to trade with and not take over in any serious way.

  • Posted by Frank Lupotelli

    China’s “changing” approach foreign policy is very much an American construct. Anyone with a grasp of history in Southeast Asia has always been aware of the ability of China to influence the region both in times of economic and political strength like the present, and also in times of economic and political weakness, such as during the Malaya emergency and Konfrontasi. Such “changes” in Chinese foreign policy and its relations with its neighbours have occurred repetitively with rise and fall of Chinese dynasties.

  • Posted by Frank Lupotelli

    BTW… the comment should not be perceived as detracting from the article, which is in my opinion, excellent. Rather, it is an expression of hope that more attention be paid to the region as the author of the article clearly intends.

  • Posted by hughes

    hughes responds: Andy you said that “the USA is not Icreasing defense spending [the baseline defense budget is expected to increase 1% per year through 2015”. This theory that it will not lead to American decline if we increase our defense spending by 1% through 2015, is similar to the proponents of the Iraq war who were sure that the Iraq war will cost 40 billion dollars and that the Iraq oil will pay for it. Legendary economist Joseph E. Stiglitz proved this theory wrong by pointing out that the Iraq war will cost America one billion dollars and another 2 billion dollars in unfunded obligations to disabled men and women from the war for the next 70 years. In the strongest of terms, let me say to you Andy and Mr. Kurlantzick that American decline is for real and indeed an irreversible condtion this time around. Infact an Indian scholar [infact I cann’t spell or pronounce his name]wrote an article in the New york Times a week ago about American decline. He said that in order to understand the carnage of American decline, all you have to do is take a ride in the so high speed railway from Boston to Washington, Dc. In doing so, he said that you will bear witness to abandoned Towns, abandoned homes, abandoned factories and depressing sites all over the place. In conclusion Andy, you and Mr. Kurlantzick remind me of an alcoholic who is dying from alcohol poisoning, but insists that he has to keep on dricking because it makes him happy and allows him to know what is best for his community.

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