By Shi Yinhong
The prospect for China’s foreign policy is still unclear. It is worrying that the two most important aspects for China’s foreign relations and foreign policy, namely its relations with the US and its relations with neighboring Asian countries, are locked into strategic competition, territorial disputes and haggles . Looking into the future, the structural, strategic competition and strategic confrontation will largely come from its adjacent waters and the West Pacific Ocean
Regarding China’s relations with the US in today’s unprecedented level of globalization and complicated geo-politics, the bilateral relationship is multidimensional, complex, interactive, and of huge significance. Where China is a fast-developing country on the west coast of the Pacific Ocean, the US is the most powerful, influential, and developed country on the east coast. The two countries are not purely competitors or purely partners. There is a constant and variable nature in the competition, confrontation, coordination, and cooperation in the bilateral relationship. Both countries must understand that any oversight, misunderstanding, bias, or misjudgment with regard to the other’s core interest, capacity, or fundamental intention, would result in far-reaching consequences and severe losses. Any attempt to subdue the other by threats or by force, and any resulting impulsive overreaction, can be seen as lacking political foresight.
One of our country’s fundamental visions is to adopt a step-by-step, yet decisive and cautious strategy to persuade or coerce the US to make concessions, or accept China’s well-deserved strategic rights, with the ultimate goal to achieve final peaceful coexistence of the two powerful countries in the world.
Good relations with neighboring countries are prerequisite of good Sino-US relations
There is a linkage between China’s relations with the US and China’s relations with neighboring countries. Without good relations with neighboring countries, there will be little hope of good relations with the US. In recent years, the particularly poor aspects and periods in Sino-US relations have stemmed from the troubles in China’s neighboring regions, which then gave rise to friction, confrontation, or competition between China and the US. The US has encouraged, taken advantage of, or even created disputes in China’s neighboring regions. From the standpoint of long-term strategy, if China can win over its neighboring countries to be our friends, strategic partners in a strict sense, or even strategic buffers, while at the same time reducing the number of neighboring rivals and strategic appendixes to the US, then it will help our efforts in fencing off the US.
How to treat the Ukraine issue is a huge test for China
China’s relationship with Russia is an important component in China’s foreign relations with neighboring countries and with major countries. China has developed with Russia a very important and prominent partnership, and China recognizes Russia’s crucial interest in Crimea and its naval base in the Black Sea. However, regarding the Ukraine issue, China has clung to, and repeatedly emphasized fundamental principles of the International Law, namely non-interference, peaceful resolution of conflicts, respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity. China’s belief is consistent that sanctions will not resolve problems, and it is against the US and EU’s economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia. This demonstrates the fact that China strikes a balance between national and moral interest, not sacrificing one for the other in its foreign policy.
However, because of the US’s recently-intensified strategic containment of China, it is apparent that China has markedly reduced its frequency and vocality in voicing its support to the above mentioned International Law principles (after Russia took over Crimea). Russia’s pro-China tendency has recently increased and its dependency on China has deepened. As an important aspect in the Sino-Russian relations, China has agreed to pay an enormous sum to import Russian natural gas as an indirect way to give Russia financial support, so that it is able to survive the financial and economic difficulties resulting from the US- and EU-backed economic sanctions. At the same time, the natural gas import will strengthen the Sino-Russian partnership on the economic dimension.
However, the Sino-Russian partnership is not likely to rise to the level of formal alliance. The Sino-Russia relationship, though important, will not be the highest priority in China’s foreign relations. In a sense, the Ukrainian issue is a test for China on its balance among foreign policy principles, major country relations, and geo-strategy. It is also a test to the reliability of China in its balance between interest and moral.
By Shi Yinhong, Professor in International Relations, China Renmin University
Translated from Chinese by Edward Li from