Asian na­tions’ role vi­tal to ini­tia­tive

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

The sup­port of Asian coun­tries is cru­cial to China re­shap­ing the Asia-Pa­cific re­gional order, which has been dom­i­nated by the United States. De­spite the many po­lit­i­cal and strate­gic dif­fer­ences be­tween Bei­jing and Wash­ing­ton, China has de­vel­oped into a global power based on its grow­ing eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary strength, and its rise will help im­prove the re­gional and global order.

But China’s na­tional strength is yet to be pro­por­tion­ally trans­lated into its global in­flu­ence. Most Asian coun­tries have wel­comed China-pro­posed Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt and the 21st Cen­tury Maritime Silk Road, be­cause it is ex­pected to boost their re­spec­tive economies. Still, many of them are cau­tious about re­gional se­cu­rity be­cause of China’s in­creas­ing na­tional strength and en­gage­ment in re­gional and global af­fairs.

The changed at­ti­tudes of the Philip­pines and some other coun­tries that have ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes with China in the South China Sea can hardly be in­ter­preted as Bei­jing hav­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity of set­ting the se­cu­rity agenda for the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. In­stead, those coun­tries’ changed at­ti­tudes can be seen as a pru­dent move to safe­guard their own na­tional in­ter­ests in order to bar­gain with the US.

Thanks to China’s un­prece­dented eco­nomic growth over the past more than three decades, its diplo­macy has fo­cused more on trade and eco­nomic re­la­tions, and less on po­lit­i­cal and strate­gic lever­age. As a re­sult, de­spite be­ing the big­gest trade part­ner of most Asian coun­tries, China is far from be­ing their first choice when it comes to po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion, which re­flects the “du­al­is­tic pat­tern” of Asian coun­tries when it comes to eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions.

The im­bal­ance in China’s na­tional strength and its im­pact on in­ter­na­tional and re­gional re­la­tions is also af­fect­ing the devel­op­ment of the Asian econ­omy, as Wash­ing­ton con­sol­i­dated its al­liances by ex­clud­ing China from US-dom­i­nated re­gional co­op­er­a­tion mech­a­nisms, such as the Lower Mekong Ini­tia­tive, or has been try­ing to di­lute Bei­jing’s in­flu­ence in re­gional ar­range­ments such as the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship, by en­larg­ing re­gional co­op­er­a­tion mech­a­nisms with its al­lies.

The Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, which high­lights Asian coun­tries’ strate­gic po­si­tion and is aimed at in­ten­si­fy­ing re­gional eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion, also sym­bol­izes the change in China’s pro­mo­tion of its na­tional strength and soft power. To ex­pand its in­flu­ence, China has to com­pete with the most pow­er­ful coun­try, the US, which has been up­grad­ing its de­fenses in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion thanks to its mil­i­tary su­pe­ri­or­ity and a far greater say in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions.

The Asian coun­tries, if they sup­port China’s peace­ful poli­cies, and the strate­gic re­sources China has in­vested in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions can nar­row the strate­gic gap be­tween Bei­jing and Wash- in­g­ton. Chi­nese cul­ture, which is be­ing ap­pre­ci­ated across the world, es­pe­cially in East Asia, can play a sig­nif­i­cant role in ex­pand­ing China’s in­flu­ence through the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive.

Be­sides, con­vinc­ing Asian coun­tries of the need to help China spread its win-win co­op­er­a­tion strat­egy can work bet­ter than de­fense poli­cies and de­ter­rence mech­a­nisms, be­cause it can con­vince even small and medium-sized states that they have con­sid­er­able power to en­hance or dam­age the ma­jor na­tions’ strate­gic poli­cies. But the key rea­son for China oc­cu­py­ing the cen­ter stage in Asia in the long run is to bridge the gap with the US in terms of po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary in­flu­ence, as well as to main­tain an edge in eco­nomic devel­op­ment.

The im­bal­ance in China’s na­tional strength and its im­pact on in­ter­na­tional and re­gional re­la­tions is also af­fect­ing the devel­op­ment of the Asian econ­omy ...

The au­thor is a re­searcher on Asian eco­nomic stud­ies at Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences.

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