Bal­ance be­tween China’s hard and soft power

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

China’s for­eign pol­icy has been un­der­go­ing some pos­i­tive changes in or­der to al­low it to play a big­ger role in­Asia and theWest Pa­cific re­gion. The changes gained pace af­ter Pres­i­den­tXi Jin­ping pushed for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the “Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive”, which he pro­posed in 2013, and ad­vo­cat­edAsian peo­ple’s lead­er­ship in Asian af­fairs at the Con­fer­ence on In­ter­ac­tion and Con­fi­dence-Build­ingMea­sures in Asia at Shang­hai in­May 2014.

Be­sides, the Bei­jing-led Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank and the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pa­cific, pro­posed at the 2014 Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion sum­mit, also in­di­cate China is work­ing hard to widen its global in­flu­ence. In par­tic­u­lar, the FTAAP, may cre­ate dif­fi­cul­ties for theWash­ing­ton-led Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship Agree­ment, which is still be­ing ne­go­ti­ated by 12 coun­tries.

To a cer­tain ex­tent, Bei­jing’s ef­forts to play a greater role in the Asia-Pa­cific af­fairs can be cat­e­go­rized as “mil­i­tary strat­egy” and “eco­nomic strat­egy”. The for­mer, in­clud­ing Bei­jing’sUS pol­icy, mil­i­tary com­pe­ti­tions and fric­tions with the US and Ja­pan, and the strong stance on the South China Sea and East China Sea is­sues, plays a key role in strength­en­ing China’s “hard power”, which al­lows it to as­sert it­self on its sovereignty and mar­itime rights and in­ter­ests.

But a tough pos­ture could leave China with lit­tle ma­neu­ver­ing room to use its soft power, and could in­crease the risk of con­fronta­tion with theUS and Ja­pan. That’s why China should ac­cord equal im­por­tance to the “eco­nomic strat­egy” based on its eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial power, as well as ex­ten­sive diplo­macy to bal­ance its global im­age in the com­ing years.

It is likely that the strate­gic com­pe­ti­tions and dif­fer­ences be­tween China and theUS and its re­gional al­lies like Ja­pan could sub­side and in­volve more cau­tious con­sid­er­a­tions from all par­ties, es­pe­cially theUS. All the same, China has to soften some of its as­sertive claims and con­vince some neigh­bor­ing coun­tries of its peace­ful rise, leav­ing lit­tle lee­way for theUS to forge a “con­tain-China front” in Asia.

China needs to re­main can­did to earn the trust of its neigh­bors, in­stead of swear­ing by self­less­ness or claim­ing to oc­cupy the moral high ground. And it can­not em­pha­size enough that a pros­per­ous and safe neigh­bor­hood is con­ducive to China’s peace­ful de­vel­op­ment.

More­over, Bei­jing should fully re­spect the re­li­gious be­liefs of the peo­ples along the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt and the 21st Cen­tu­ryMar­itime Silk Road, and should not make them feel com­pelled to ac­cept Chi­nese aid. But it also has to con­vince all the gov­ern­ments along the trade routes of the ne­ces­sity of par­tic­i­pat­ing in and ne­go­ti­at­ing the transna­tional projects.

China also has to em­pha­size that the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt, which stretches north­west from its coastal re­gion through Cen­tral Asia to Europe, is not part of a re­gional eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion which de­mands that coun­tries com­pro­mise their sovereignty or ac­cept for­eign mil­i­tary pres­ence on their soil.

The “Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive” can be pushed for­ward only af­ter fully un­der­stand­ing what the coun­tries along the routes re­ally want. So in­stead of fo­cus­ing on trade ex­changes and one-sided in­vest­ments, China should make more ef­forts to elim­i­nate the se­cu­rity risks and en­cour­age cul­tural and tal­ent ex­changes.

On the ba­sis of fair dis­tri­bu­tion of ben­e­fits, which fa­vor rel­a­tively less de­vel­oped economies, the “Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive” could be trans­formed into an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion, al­low­ing transna­tional en­ter­prises even from coun­tries not along the routes to take part in the projects. Once this is done, the ini­tia­tive will not only clear the doubts which some states far from the two routes have about China, but also serve the in­ter­ests of medium and small coun­tries that are di­rectly in­volved.

No­tably, the bal­ance be­tween China’s strate­gic mo­men­tum and cau­tion plays a cen­tral role in de­cid­ing the coun­try’s strate­gic fo­cus. In other words, Bei­jing should con­sider all as­pects of its strate­gic moves on the ba­sis of def­i­nite and jus­ti­fied pri­or­ity. The au­thor is di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter of US Stud­ies at Ren­min Univer­sity of China.

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